Fingers in a tin of Petrolatum

Mineral oil and petrolatum are two different substances with different properties and varying uses, but they originate from the same base substance.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a byproduct of the process that petroleum goes through as it is made into gasoline. It is a colorless and transparent liquid that is made in mass quantities, and is readily available at drugstores. It is also used in many products.

Uses for Mineral Oil

Mineral oil has many medicinal and health and beauty applications. For one, with some fragrance added, it is sold as baby oil and used to ease dry skin and diaper rashes in small children. It is also taken orally and has a laxative, or lubricant effect on the body. Mineral oil is also a very common ingredient in many health and beauty products such as lotions, cosmetics and ointments. It also is used in the preservation of wooden kitchen items such as wooden utensils and wooden cutting boards.


Petrolatum is more commonly known as petroleum jelly. It is formed as part of the oil drilling process. An unrefined substance known as “rod wax” forms on the oil rig and is the raw material for petrolatum. By refining and distilling this substance, petroleum jelly is created.

Uses of Petrolatum

Petrolatum is usually sold as an over-the-counter multi-purpose ointment, the most common brand name being Vaseline. It has long been touted as a moisturizer and healing agent for many ailments. It acts as a barrier between the skin and outside drying and irritation.


Both mineral oil and petrolatum are petroleum products, and the practice of applying these substances to skin has been under scrutiny in recent years. Much of what you apply to your skin is absorbed into your body, and many people feel that having any petroleum-based product absorbed into their bodies can cause health woes, possibly even cancer.

Some people believe the mineral oil or petroleum jelly inhibits the body's natural detoxification and absorption processes, leading to toxicity and malnutrition, especially when used on children.

The use of petroleum-based products is also criticized because of the depletion of oil reserves and the non-renewable state of that resource.