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Petrolatum vs. Petroleum Jelly — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Urooj Arif — Published on March 4, 2024
Petrolatum and petroleum jelly are often used interchangeably, both being derivatives of petroleum refining, yet petroleum jelly specifically refers to a purified mixture used for skin care.
Petrolatum vs. Petroleum Jelly — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Petrolatum and Petroleum Jelly


Key Differences

Petrolatum, a semi-solid mixture derived from refining crude oil, serves as a base for various products, including skincare and cosmetic items. Petroleum jelly, a form of petrolatum, is highly refined and purified to meet stringent safety standards, making it suitable for direct skin application. This refinement process is crucial, as it removes potentially harmful compounds, distinguishing petroleum jelly from broader petrolatum-based products.
Both substances are used for moisturizing and protecting the skin, while petroleum jelly's purity makes it a preferred choice for personal care products. It's specifically formulated to be gentle and safe for sensitive skin, whereas petrolatum might be used in a wider range of industrial and less refined applications. The distinction lies in the level of refinement and the intended use of the product.
The terminology can sometimes cause confusion, as "petroleum jelly" is often used to describe any petrolatum-based product intended for skincare. However, not all petrolatum undergoes the rigorous purification process that petroleum jelly does. This is why consumers might find products labeled with either term, but it's the context and the purity levels that truly define their differences.
Regulatory standards also play a significant role in these distinctions. Products marketed as petroleum jelly must meet specific pharmacopeia requirements in many countries, ensuring they are free from impurities and safe for consumer use. This regulatory aspect underscores the importance of distinguishing between petrolatum and petroleum jelly in product labeling and marketing.

Comparison Chart


A semi-solid mixture derived from crude oil
A highly refined and purified form of petrolatum


Varies, may contain impurities
Highly purified, suitable for skin application


Broad, including industrial applications
Primarily in skincare and medical products


Depends on the level of refinement
Meets high safety standards for personal use

Regulatory Status

Less strictly regulated
Must meet pharmacopeia standards

Compare with Definitions


A byproduct of petroleum refining used in various applications.
Petrolatum serves as a lubricant in machinery.

Petroleum Jelly

A refined form of petrolatum for skin care.
Petroleum jelly is commonly used to treat dry skin.


Versatile in usage.
Petrolatum is used in waterproofing and rust prevention.

Petroleum Jelly

Often used in medical settings.
Petroleum jelly is applied on wounds to keep them moist.


Safety depends on the refinement process.
Unrefined petrolatum may contain substances harmful to the skin.

Petroleum Jelly

Must meet specific safety standards.
Petroleum jelly used in lip balms is highly purified.


Requires refinement for safe use.
Before being used in cosmetics, petrolatum is purified to remove impurities.

Petroleum Jelly

Considered safe for sensitive skin.
Petroleum jelly is recommended for diaper rash.


Not specifically tailored for any application.
Petrolatum can be found in both industrial products and skincare items.

Petroleum Jelly

Known for its healing properties.
Petroleum jelly accelerates skin healing by retaining moisture.


A semisolid unctuous substance, neutral, and without taste or odor, derived from petroleum by distilling off the lighter portions and purifying the residue. It is a yellowish, fatlike mass, transparent in thin layers, and somewhat fluorescent. It is used as a bland protective dressing, and as a substitute for fatty materials in ointments.


A semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum; used in medicinal ointments and for lubrication

Common Curiosities

Can I use any petrolatum product on my skin?

Only use products labeled as petroleum jelly or explicitly intended for skin care, as not all petrolatum is sufficiently purified.

How can I tell if a product is safe for sensitive skin?

Look for products that meet pharmacopeia standards and are labeled as suitable for sensitive skin.

Are there different grades of petrolatum?

Yes, petrolatum can vary in purity and refinement, affecting its application and safety.

Is petroleum jelly environmentally friendly?

As a byproduct of petroleum, its environmental impact depends on factors like sourcing and manufacturing practices.

What makes petroleum jelly effective for skin care?

Its ability to form a protective barrier on the skin, locking in moisture and aiding in healing.

How does petroleum jelly help with dry skin?

It creates a barrier that prevents moisture loss, helping to keep the skin hydrated.

Why is petroleum jelly recommended for wound care?

It keeps the wound moist, which can aid in the healing process and reduce scarring.

Is petroleum jelly the same as petrolatum?

Petroleum jelly is a purified form of petrolatum intended for skin care.

Why is petroleum jelly considered safe for skin?

It undergoes a rigorous purification process to remove impurities, making it safe for sensitive skin.

How is petrolatum purified?

Through processes like filtration and distillation to remove impurities and ensure safety.

Can petrolatum expire?

While it has a long shelf life, it's best to follow the expiration date provided by the manufacturer for safety.

Is petrolatum harmful to the environment?

Concerns include its non-renewable source and potential impact on marine life if not disposed of properly.

Does petroleum jelly clog pores?

Pure petroleum jelly does not clog pores, but it's important to use it as directed and consider individual skin reactions.

Is there a natural alternative to petroleum jelly?

Yes, alternatives like beeswax and shea butter can provide similar moisturizing benefits.

Can petrolatum be used in food products?

Only food-grade petrolatum, which has undergone even more stringent purification, should be used in food applications.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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