Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/16/2022
If you had the chance to play in grandma’s bathroom as a kid, you remember a mountain of pill bottles, tins for bandaids and toothpaste brands that were so comically old-fashioned they might have been fake.
Chances are, in all that bygone era, nostalgia medication, you remember seeing (or being salved with) the contents of a small, blue-topped jar of a greasy medicated balm called Vaseline® or petroleum jelly.
Vaseline has been used as a bit of a cure-all for many skin issues over the decades, but where it shines brightest is as a treatment to moisturize and soothe dry, cracked skin.
So, what about dry, cracked hair? Can Vaseline help keep and replenish your luscious locks? Perhaps. Vaseline is no stranger to follicular applications, but the question of whether there’s any scientific evidence that Vaseline can help your hair is answered with murky responses at best.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.
While it’s understandable to knock all the century-old salves and jarred medications in your Mommom’s medicine cabinet, petroleum jelly is surprisingly free of eye rolls.
Vaseline is a compound of mineral oils and other ingredients, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the name brand and its generic competitors can help your skin in a number of ways.
A pea-sized amount can relieve dry skin, including the skin of sensitive areas like your eyelids or lips. This thin skin benefits from the moisture protection of petroleum jelly, which can create a barrier, sealing in the existing moisture.
It can prevent friction-based injuries, like chafing. This is especially helpful for babies, of course, but anyone who deals with skin irritation from two body parts rubbing together (or blisters) can benefit from the application of petroleum jelly on their thighs, feet or elsewhere.
Fun fact: marathon runners popularly use petroleum jellies like Vaseline to prevent nipple chafing during races.
Petroleum jelly can do the same things for diaper rash, along with other injuries such as cuts, scratches and scrapes. it keeps injuries moist and prevents the wound from drying out, preventing a scab from forming and ultimately speeding up the healing process.
Vaseline may even inhibit scar formation — or at least limit the size or depth — and prevent the wound from getting itchy. You don’t even need to use antibacterial ointments when using Vaseline, so long as the wound is cleaned daily.
Another thing Vaseline can do? Rehydrate your nails. Anyone who gets frequent pedicures, manicures, or other nail treatments — or works with their hands in rough environments — can reduce brittleness, improve their cuticle health and prevent their nails from chipping.
One thing it is decidedly not good for? Acne. If you’re prone to acne, Vaseline is a possible contributor to breakouts. Have acne-prone skin but chapped lips? That’s a decision you’ll have to make on your own.
Okay, the moisturized skin benefits sound good, and maybe you’re going to keep a jar of Vaseline on hand for just such emergencies. But what about hair? Can Vaseline benefit your hair like it does your skin?
Vaseline and petroleum jelly are considered occlusives — substances that physically block something called transepidermal water loss, which is the fancy term for water loss through your skin.
Occlusives are great at preventing chapped lips from getting more chapped, and they include waxes and other ingredients commonly found in lip balm and other barrier-creating products.
Well, there’s an argument to be made for their ability to do this for hair, too. Hair damage, after all, is caused by the deterioration of the armor-like cuticle, which happens as it’s damaged by friction, heat or other external sources of damage.
Hair damage is increased when your hair is dry — something that happens when the natural oils coating the cuticle (which protect it from friction) are washed away or go unreplenished after shampooing, for instance.
Petroleum jelly may be able to act as a stand-in, protecting your hair from water loss and from friction in a similar manner. Research indicates that petroleum jelly is 170 times as effective in preventing water vapor loss as olive oil in skin.
The thought, of course, being that if it can work that well on the skin, it can work in your hair.
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“I’m a 34 year old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid twenties.”
Unfortunately, there’s scant evidence that proves any significant benefits to plying your scalp with Vaseline, and while the internet seems full of non-expert testimonials saying otherwise, there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies considering or even checking the merits of this treatment.
That leaves petroleum jelly mostly in the realm of wishful thinking. However, that’s not to say that we’re outright refuting the idea that Vaseline may offer some benefits for hair.
But as for cold hard evidence goes, there’s nothing we can point to. And claims of Vaseline as some hair growth elixir, Vaseline for dry hair or Vaseline for healthy hair are all unsubstantiated.
Protecting your hair from hair, hair loss and other dangers is always a more complicated job than, well, greasing up.
That’s partly because hair loss isn’t just about oil. There are many causes of hair damage that might be causing — from the struggles associated with different hair types, nutritional deficiencies and smoking, to dry climate or sunlight.
Damage to the cuticle and any existing hair on your head is permanent, insofar as you can’t reverse damage on hair that’s already grown. Instead, you’re better off managing the damage while protecting the new growth at your scalp going forward. Doing this with an eye toward moisture retention and cuticle protection is essential.
One way to do this might be with products like hair thickening shampoo, which generally include nutrients shown to help new hair grow thicker and stronger.
The AAD suggests other ways to prevent hair damage, as well, including some major changes to the ways you do or don’t take care in your hair care routine.
One of these might indeed be over-washing. We mentioned that shampoo has a tendency to remove those crucial oils from your hair, and while replacing them with Vaseline might work, the smarter option is to wash less.
You can do this by washing only your scalp and letting the water run down the length of your hair, rather than scrubbing every single inch.
In place of Vaseline, a conditioner might benefit your hair health. Conditioners are designed to replace the oils and other benefits lost from shampooing too often.
Gently drying your hair is essential to protect it, and while we’d advise air-drying as the ideal, if you’re forced to use a mechanical means, use a towel by squeezing rather than rubbing to reduce the damage due to friction.
Skipping an aggressive styling product or more exotic and complicated hairstyles may take a little fun out of the styling process, but avoiding tight ponytails and other styles that can contort your follicles will help mitigate additional damage and protect you from traction alopecia (a type of hair loss caused by pulling).
It goes without saying that straighteners, chemical straighteners and other heating or burning tools are doing damage to your hair, too.
Vaseline still deserves a place in our medicine cabinets, but whether it should be organized next to your hair care products is sketchy, at best.
The truth is that many of the benefits you get from Vaseline can be achieved with some changes to your hair care routine and a few other products like conditioner. Even if you could see additional benefits from Vaseline, the practical problems of greasy hair make it an option of last resort, unless you’re ready to buy new pillowcases every few weeks.
One final option if you’re seeing serious hair loss problems may be consulting a healthcare professional with questions.
There’s also finasteride, which is backed by science and approved by the FDA to help treat the effects of hair loss.
Supplemental vitamins may also benefit your hair growth (though typically this is most helpful in people who are deficient), and the likes of vitamin A, vitamin D and biotin are high on that list.
Regardless of what treatment options you think are best for your hair issues, talk to a healthcare professional about them before jumping in. They’re not just there to sign off on prescriptions — a healthcare professional is uniquely trained to help you identify root causes of hair loss, pun not intended.
Your life and your scalp are worth the extra time. It may take a little more time to seek professional support than to track down that jar of Vaseline, but we can assure you it’ll all work out when you include the time spent getting it out of your hair.