Should you use petroleum jelly to treat burns?

Petroleum jelly is a common, multipurpose salve found in most households. In India, it is used mostly during the harsh winter months, when the dry air strips the skin of its moisture. It’s also used for a wide variety of skin problems: from soothing dry lips to removing under eye makeup to taming eyebrows. Here are 50 uses of petroleum jelly. Although petroleum jelly is believed to be greasy and unsuitable for acne-prone skin, many acne sufferers also apply petroleum jelly to their face without any adverse effects. In fact, it is one of those rare ointments that don’t cause a breakout because its molecules are too huge to clog the pores. However, the infallible petroleum jelly may not be suited for every skin problem according to experts. And one of those problems is burns.


Burn injuries are common among those who spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. And most of the minor ones heal on their own without any medical intervention. Some also go so far as to treat the burn by smearing petroleum jelly on it immediately. The most popular brand of petroleum jelly we use in India also suggest using the salve to treat minor burn injuries on its box. As safe as it may sound, applying petroleum jelly on the burn could do more harm than good.

In a case presented in the BMJ in 2003, a group of doctors discussed a case involving a 3-year-old Nigerian toddler who suffered burns in his back and perineum area. The child’s mother immediately treated the burn with some petroleum jelly. When she was asked why she did it, she said it was a common practice in Nigeria and it was also instructed on the box of the jelly.

However, the doctors contradicted the claim that petroleum jelly can heal wounds.  They said that it these claims are not only misleading but can be dangerous. You should not apply petroleum jelly on a fresh burn, especially if the surface layer of the skin is missing. Any substance with a greasy texture like petroleum jelly should be kept away from the burn injury because it can create a moisture barrier and slow down the healing process. Since it is non-sterile, it can promote the growth of bacteria in the wound, worsening the injury. It could also trap the latent heat from escaping the burn injury, making it go deeper into the skin tissues and causing more harm. The doctors, however, recommend using the ointment as a subsequent dressing for minor burns but not as a first aid.

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