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Can Vaseline Cure Acne?

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can vaseline cure acne

Can Vaseline Cure Acne?

Can Vaseline cure acne? In short, No. Vaseline can’t cure acne. But that would make a very uninformative blog post. So allow me to expand a little.

Today I came across an article on StyleCaster.com entitled “Vaseline is curing peoples acne and the internet is freaking out”. Which discusses the latest REDDIT skincare hack called slug-life!

I know media websites rely on catchy headlines to grab peoples attention and entice them to read the article. But seriously? Not only is it not true but it could also potentially be damaging the skin in other ways.

Can Vaseline Cause Acne?

First of all a few facts. While I am not a fan of anything mineral oil or petroleum jelly based, I will admit that over the years it’s been given more of a bad rep than it probably deserved. One of the biggest misconceptions was that it clogs pores. This is not true and as the StyleCaster article points out, there is a scientific study to prove it [1]. The reason for this is that the molecule is too large to enter the pores. So this means that Vaseline can’t cause acne. But it doesn’t mean that Vaseline can cure acne either.

How Vaseline Works On The Skin

Another fact about petroleum and mineral oil is that our skin won’t / can’t absorb it. It also provides no nutritional or moisturising benefit to the skin at all.

What Vaseline does do however is provide an occlusive barrier over the skin. Some people will claim that Vaseline makes a good moisturiser for the skin. This is not strictly true. It may make the skin feel more moisturised but it’s not the same as actually moisturising the skin.

Coming back to the fact that Vaseline can’t be absorbed. If the stratum corneum doesn’t absorb the ingredient, then it’s not truly moisturising or hydrating the epidermis. What Vaseline does do however is it prevents the skin from losing moisture. By providing an occlusive barrier over the surface of the skin, then water can’t evaporate from the skin. Retaining moisture in the upper layers of the stratum corneum. Sounds like a good thing right? Well, Yes and No.

As well as preventing water loss, Vaseline also prevents other things from leaving the skin. Including sweat and waste materials. Aside from sounding gross, by trapping acidic sweat and toxins against the skin surface can cause irritation leading to dermatitis.

Occlusion and Skin Barrier Function

You see occlusion on its own is not a good thing. In fact in another scientific study they found that occlusion over time can weaken skin barrier function. Yes, actually cause the skin barrier to become weaker! This is never a good thing for managing any skin condition, including acne. Preservation of the skin barrier integrity should always be your number one objection!

To understand this is more detail it’s important to point out that the stratum corneum is made of keratinised cells and a lipid bi-layer structure. Comprising of fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterols in a 2:1:1 ratio. This helps to retain water in the lower layers of the skin. A healthy stratum corneum is actually only around 10-20% water. If this water level is too low it impacts the skins protease enzymes and the skin can’t exfoliate itself effectively. However problems can also occur if the water level is too high! Yet as a nation of moisturiser lovers we are obsessed with moisturising and hydrating the skin. If the water level is too high it essentially dilutes the lipid bi-layers, causing the barrier function to weaken.

The study indicated Occlusion can block diffusional water loss from skin surface, thereby increasing stratum corneum hydration, swelling the corneocytes and promoting water uptake into intercellular lipid domains. Water under occlusion may disrupt barrier lipids and damage the stratum corneum in a way similar to surfactants. Leading to a compromised barrier function and conditions like dermatitis.

So How Does Vaseline Cure Acne?

There are clearly people who have seen benefit from using Vaseline and an improvement in acne symptoms. But does Vaseline Cure Acne?

If not, then why are people seeing improvement? One of the reasons will be the increase in epidermal hydration. A mentioned a skin lacking water in the stratum corneum, will have impaired enzyme activity and unable to desquamate effectively. In other words dehydrated skin doesn’t exfoliate itself properly and can lead to blockages within the pore. In turn leading to spots.

Using Vaseline will provide occlusion and therefore increase hydration. However as the study above has found, if this is done over a period of time it may weaken the skins natural barrier further.

One benefit occlusion does have though is in wound healing. Which was also proven in a scientific study [3]. By keeping a wound moist it heals faster with lower infection rate.

The increase in water to the area would reduce inflammation and the occlusion also blocks oxygen from entering the pore, so the Aerobic bacteria can’t proliferate. So Vaseline could speed the recovery of a healing spot.

However the p.acne bacteria is an Anaerobic bacteria so it thrives in a low oxygen environment. Depending which stage the acne lesion was at, the occlusion / Vaseline could actually make things worse.

Do You Even Have Acne Though?

Where people are likely to see improvement is where their condition is directly being cause by overzealous exfoliation. In fact, the before and after images covered in the StyleCaster article (which you can see HERE) is not showing acne at all. There are no comedones present. Instead it’s showing a skin that appears to be irritated and over-exfoliated. Therefore the barrier function has been compromised. Cutting out harsh cleansers or exfoliants and slathering on an occlusive barrier is going to help in the short term. But replacing barrier function with a barrier cream (or jelly) is not the same thing as repairing barrier function.

However, real Acne is a chronic inflammatory and complex skin condition with many internal factors. Acne also can’t be “cured” but the condition can be managed and you can live symptom-free. As much as I wish something cheap and accessible as Vaseline could cure acne I’m afraid it can’t. At least not a true acne.

In Summary

Can Vaseline Cure Acne? No. Vaseline can’t sure acne. Or anything else of that reason. It may however help the skin to heal faster post-acne breakout. Vaseline is merely maintaining epidermal hydration through preventing water loss. So if your spots are directly caused by a lack of water then it may help. But preserving the integrity of the barrier function by not stripping it of its own natural lipids and over-exfoliating in the first place would prevent these issues from happening in the first place.

My personal approach to treating skin is using products that fortify and strengthen the natural barrier function of the skin. Therefore enabling the skin to prevent excessive water loss naturally. I’m afraid Vaseline doesn’t qualify because it provides no direct benefit to the skin and as already outlined, could actually weaken the skin barrier.

My advice. If you want advice on acne (or any other skincare advice) then consult with a skincare professional. Not REDDIT.

References

[1] – Petrolatum is not comedogenic in rabbits or humans: A critical reappraisal of the rabbit ear assay and the concept of “acne cosmetica” – Albert M. Kligman – © 1996 Society of Cosmetic Chemists Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, Vol. 47, No. 1, 41-48

[2] – Occlusion vs. skin barrier function – Hongbo Zhai and Howard I. Maibach – © Dec 14, 2015 Department of Dermatology, University of California, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California, USA

[3] – Moist wound healing with occlusive dressings. A clinical review – Kannon GA1, Garrett AB. – Dermatol Surg. 1995 Jul;21(7):583-90.

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About The Author
Andy Millward

Andy is a qualified facialist, advanced skin aesthetician and beauty writer with a passion for all things skin and a keen interest in health, nutrition and wellbeing.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Andy. Lots of sensible advice. R

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