Why You Shouldn't Use Vaseline to Treat Acne

Everyone has dealt with acne at some point. As such, the internet abounds with remedies and quick fixes for bumps and pimples. Among those purportedly helpful remedies is Vaseline, also known as petroleum jelly.

Petroleum jelly is a mixture of natural mineral oils and waxes, a gel-like substance commonly used to moisturize dry skin and protect skin against blisters and rashes. Many internet users claim that slathering Vaseline on your face—a practice known as slugging—can treat cystic acne.

Health asked Ted Lain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist from Austin, Texas, to weigh in on this dubious claim. The conclusion: No, Vaseline does not treat acne. In fact, using Vaseline on your face may actually cause breakouts. Here's what you should know.

What Is Acne—And How Does It Occur?

Acne is a skin condition usually consisting of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or acne cysts and nodules (painful acne). A person can have just one blemish or a combination of them. Acne tends to get better with aging for some people, but individuals in their 30s, 40s, and 50s can still get occasional blemishes.

Adult acne can happen for many reasons, including: 

  • Changing hormone levels
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Family history
  • Undiagnosed medical conditions
  • Hair and skincare products

Furthermore, acne can still cause issues even after it is gone. People might be left with acne scars or dark spots but also lowered self-esteem or depression due to having acne.

How Is Petroleum Jelly Typically Used for Skin Care?

Petroleum jelly is incredible for softening rough cuticles, taming unruly brows, and soothing cracked winter skin. Plus, dermatologists often recommend Vaseline for people with eczema.

However, petroleum jelly shouldn't be used as an acne treatment regimen. People should avoid products that contain oil or will clog pores, as well as those that are comedogenic (tending to form blackheads) and acnegenic (increasing the likelihood of acne).

"Petrolatum is inherently comedogenic, which means it will clog the pores," explained Dr. Lain. "It won't heal acne. It will literally cause it."

That said, petroleum jelly does have anti-inflammatory effects that may diminish the look of redness, said Dr. Lain, adding there are "so many better ways" to treat acne.

What Does Treatment for Acne Look Like?

Essentially, you want to use products that treat the type of acne you have based on its severity and age. That means that what works for others may not work for you, and what worked for you as a teenager may not work on adult acne.

Dr. Lain's number-one pick was the acne-zapping ingredient benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Lain suggested using La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment. It boasts a powerful combination of benzoyl peroxide and LHA to exfoliate. And for a more affordable option, try drugstore favorite Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, which contains 10% benzoyl peroxide.

If you find that your acne is more than you can handle on your own, consider talking to a dermatologist who can help you determine what other treatments might reduce the appearance of acne in your situation.

In general, an acne treatment plan from a dermatologist for whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples may include one or more of the following:

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Retinoids
  • Azelaic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Topical antibiotics

The treatment for acne cysts or nodules may consist of topical medications, oral antibiotics, hormonal therapy for female patients, and isotretinoin (medication used when other treatments have not helped). Other acne treatments might include corticosteroid injections for severe acne breakouts and laser or light therapy.

Also, be gentle during your skincare routine. In other words, care for your skin in a way that doesn't cause further irritation. 

But most importantly, you'll want to be patient: Seeing improvement in your acne may take a while, as you may not see results until after approximately six to eight weeks of treatment.

Summary

Even though slugging, or slathering your face with Vaseline, to combat cystic acne is popular on the internet, dermatologists warn against the practice.

Luckily, there are other techniques and products that you can add to your skincare routine to treat and prevent acne. Try products that have benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or salicylic acid. Or, visit your dermatologist to discuss implementing a retinoid or topical antibiotic in your daily regimen.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Overview.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Adult acne.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Signs and symptoms.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 5 ways to use petroleum jelly for skin care.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Diagnosis and treatment.

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