Does Vaseline Expire? Is Petroleum Jelly Safe or Toxic?

You probably googled this question as you have a tub of Vaseline that has been sitting in your medicine cabinet for years.

First off, don’t worry; chances are your Vaseline is probably still good. Vaseline is made from a mixture of natural waxes and mineral oils which lasts a long time. 

However, it can lose its effectiveness over time. So odds are you can still use the vaseline; it just might not be as effective as a brand-new tub.

While some say that petroleum jelly (or Vaseline as it is more commonly known) never expires, others say that it will eventually go bad and should be thrown out.

So which is it – does Vaseline expire? 

The short answer is no, Vaseline does not expire. However, according to Unilever, the company that produces the petroleum jelly product, say that they do have an expiry date.

That being said, on my tub of Vaseline I’ve been carrying around for several years, I couldn’t find one. So what’s the story here? Is there or is there not an expiry date?

Turns out, the answer is a little more complicated than you might think.

The mystery continues…

Does Vaseline expire or does it last forever?

So it seems Vaseline may or may not have an expiry date, depending on where you get it. As there are loads of pictures online that do have expiry dates.

Unilever is quoted on several websites telling customers to use Vaseline within three years of production. While that might seem like a good long while, chances are you can use it much beyond that date.

Here’s why.

FDA has no rules for shelf life and expiration dates on cosmetic labels

The reason why some Vaseline tubs have an expiry date and some don’t is that there are no U.S. laws or regulations that require cosmetics to have specific shelf lives or expiration dates on their labels.

That being said, manufacturers are still responsible for ensuring their products are safe, so that’s likely what has happened here; they left it up to the manufacturers. 

Does Vaseline go bad?

Vaseline doesn’t really go bad if it is not opened. If it has already been opened, then all bets are off. It can be exposed when opened to any number of bacteria from your fingers or anything else you might have dipped in it.

Now the reason Vaseline doesn’t go bad is that it doesn’t contain any water. Water helps bacteria to grow, and since there’s no water in Vaseline (and if it’s in an air-tight jar) there is no way for water droplets to get inside and thus no way for bacteria to grow.

This means that Vaseline can theoretically last forever. However, that’s not entirely true. Like all products, it will eventually begin to degrade and lose its effectiveness over time. The law of entropy states in the second law of thermodynamics mentions that nothing can last forever and that all order leads to disorder over time.

So to summarize where we currently stand: there may or may not be an expiry date, the company states we can use it for 3 years, however, if it has not been opened you might have more like 5-10 years based on common sense (and by reading other people talk about how long Vaseline lasts.)

So is that all there is to it?

Not entirely.

Let’s first find out what Vaseline actually is.

What is Vaseline?

Vaseline is made of petroleum jelly, which not surprisingly, is a byproduct of petroleum (hence the name) and a byproduct of the crude oil refining process.

Petrolatum or soft paraffin is actually found in a wide range of products, including moisturizers, conditioners, lip balms, and beauty products.

It was first discovered by rig workers who noticed it building upon the machinery and in the bottom of empty oil barrels. 

Oil workers put the semi-solid substance on cuts and bruises, and they found that it had a sealant-like effect.

While they might have first used it. The first man to package, market, and sell these little cans of jelly was man by the name of Mr. Chesebrough.

History of Vaseline petroleum jelly

Now, Vaseline (petroleum jelly) has been on the market since 1870 and was first created in 1859 by Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist from New York, who, while in the oil fields in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in the United States noted that oil workers used a gooey jelly-like fluid to heal wounds and burns.

He eventually patented the process of making petroleum jelly by distilling the oil which removes the impurities.

The end result was a smooth, pale yellow, semi-solid jelly-like substance. He named his new product Vaseline which was patented (U.S. Patent 127,568) in 1872.

Vaseline quickly gained popularity as a healing balm and was commonly used to treat burns, cuts, and scrapes.

How is Vaseline made?

Vaseline is made from refined petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly is also known as petrolatum or soft paraffin.

It has a melting point that ranges anywhere from 38° to 54° C or (100° to 130° F). Vaseline’s chemical composition is a mixture of hydrocarbons, chiefly of the paraffin series. Unilever claims that it goes through three stages of filtration and so they claim it is safe….or is it? (more on this later in the article)

How do you know if Vaseline is expired? Signs Vaseline has gone bad

If the Vaseline has an off smell, is discolored, or has any mold or fungi growing on it, then that is a tall tale sign it is bad and should not be used.

Additionally, if the Vaseline is lumpy, gritty, or has any crystals growing in it, then it is also likely past its prime and should be tossed. There are some ways to make it last longer.

Is it ok to use an old tub of Vaseline?

As we have been saying, there is no one answer to this question. Depending on the ingredients (if there is any extra stuff in it) and how it is stored, Vaseline can last anywhere from months to years, and even longer.

So even if it does expire, it’s not like your jar of Vaseline will suddenly turn into a jar of toxic sludge if it goes past some arbitrary 5-year date, it will just start to lose its effectiveness.

However, with that said, there will likely be signs if a Vaseline tub has gone bad.

For more DIY Hacks read:

Can bacteria grow in Vaseline?

Bacteria can not grow in an unopened tub of Vaseline because it is a sterile environment. If it is opened, dirty fingers can transfer bacteria pretty easily and that is usually how a jar becomes contaminated. 

Once a jar is opened it is exposed to an environment that might have bacteria found in water droplets that hang in the air. To prevent bacteria from getting into the tub (as much as possible) use a spoon, spatula, or any other clean instrument.

Does unopened Vaseline last longer?

Unopened Vaseline lasts longer than opened Vaseline because once it is opened it is exposed to a nonsterile environment. This happens whenever anything is opened.

That being said, you can still use your tub of Vaseline for many years even if it has been opened. 

no expiry date on a vaseline
no expiry date

Does Vaseline have an expiration date and does it expire?

As we mentioned, Vaseline petroleum jelly may or may not have an expiration date as there is no FDA regulation. The company states that they recommended tossing it after 3 years that doesn’t mean it’s expired.

Even if it doesn’t have an expiration date (or even if it does) it should be just as effective 5 – 10 years after purchase as long as its storage is in a cool temperature, out of the sun and is sealed.

Petroleum jelly has no active chemicals so it can not really expire.

Check your Vaseline expiration date here

If you want to check the date of manufacture of your Vaseline, for some reason if you can’t find it, or if it’s actually not on the jar, you can go to CheckFresh.

Just put in the batch code that should be on the jar that you purchased, go to the website and it will tell you when the date of manufacture is for your particular jar (pretty neat)

How to store Vaseline?

To extend the shelf life of your Vaseline, make sure to store it in a cool, dark place. 

Vaseline should not be kept in a damp environment or left open, as this will likely increase the chance of bacteria getting into the container. 

In order to reduce exposure to any potential bacteria, do not use your fingers rather, use a clean utensil.

What happens when you use expired Vaseline?

If you use expired Vaseline nothing will happen. Expiration dates are only so that the manufacturing company can have some form of quality control.

Meaning they can not guarantee anything about the product after a certain date. Though as we said the FDA does not require any expiry date on cosmetics and Vaseline, which makes it not much of an issue.

There is a difference between using expired Vaseline and Vaseline which has gone bad.

And as we said for the tenth time – Expiration doesn’t necessarily mean its bad.

So that old Vaseline jar in your cabinet is probably just fine.

If you haven’t opened the container and it’s expired and if you notice a strange odor or color then that’s likely a good sign to throw it out (as you likely put your dirty fingers in there); otherwise, use away.

Any other uses for Vaseline petroleum if it’s gone off?

Here are a few neat ideas. If you have an old jar of petroleum jelly and do not want to use it for cosmetic purposes because you suspect it has gone off, there are tons of DIY home repair-type stuff you can use it on.

  • Lube the hinges or wheels on any door or drawer
  • Use a dab to shine any old leather shoes
  • Use as a natural lubricant on anything that needs a little grease
Vasaline jar

What cosmetic uses can Vaseline be used for?

Vaseline has a number of uses as it nourishes dry skin and is a good moisturizer and helps heal mild burns and abrasions. It can be used for things like:

  • Healing cracked heels
  • Preventing razor burn.
  • It can also be used as a lip balm
  • To remove makeup
  • Diaper rash prevention
  • aid in the healing of minor cuts, scrapes, and burns.
  • Relief for Eczema and Psoriasis
  • Blister Prevention

Vaseline cosmetic questions

How long does it take for Vaseline to work?

This will depend on what you are using it for.

If you are using it as a moisturizer it will work right away, however, if you are using it for something like acne it can take up to two weeks to see any results. Petroleum jelly is known to lock in moisture so that the skin can heal itself.

Is Vaseline good for your skin?

Vaseline is good for your skin (depending on who you ask) as it is non-irritating and can help to lock in moisture (depending on your source) As I have seen that being debated. It is also hypoallergenic, which means it is unlikely to cause any allergic reactions (although again some say watch out).

Can Vaseline clog pores?

No, Vaseline does not clog pores. In fact, it can actually help to protect the skin from dirt and bacteria. (While many articles state this, there are other articles and doctors claiming otherwise).

How often should you use Vaseline?

Again, this will depend on what you are using it for. If you are using it as a moisturizer, know that it offers a false feeling, as it doesn’t allow any more moisture into the skin, which keeps it dry, even though it may have an immediate soothing effect.

Can the life span of petroleum jelly be extended?

Yes, the life span of petroleum jelly can be extended by using a clean instrument when you apply it and by storing it in a cool, dry place.

Safety concerns of using petroleum jelly

While you have likely heard all about the uses and advantages of Vaseline, there might be a dark side to the sticky substance. Before we go into it, this is a disclaimer: there is no conclusive evidence that suggests it is harmful to use, but there is a lot of suggestive data that is important to consider.

What studies and websites are saying

There are a few safety concerns that Healthline speaks about, namely:

  • Allergies: from petroleum-derived products.
  • Infections: not having dry and clean skin before using the product, which can lead to fungus or bacterial infection.
  • Aspiration: risks if used around the nose area which may cause aspiration pneumonia.
  • Clogged pores: the jelly does not allow the skin to breathe.

While all of those issues might be understandable with nothing to be anxious about, you would probably be right.

However, a very short article by ThoughtCo piqued my curiosity as it mentioned that petroleum jelly contains the presence of:

Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOHA) and polyaromatics, which may be carcinogenic.

For a quick introduction into mineral oil. Mineral oil is a:

“colorless, odorless, light mixture of higher alkanes from a mineral source, particularly a distillate of petroleum.”

Saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH), both of these are:

“mineral oils are mixtures of hydrocarbons containing thousands of chemical compounds of various sizes and structural configurations mainly derived from crude oil.”

The European Food and Safety Authority states,

The potential human health impact of MOH varies widely; so-called 'aromatic' MOH may act as genotoxic carcinogens (that is they may damage DNA, the genetic material of cells, as well as cause cancer), while some 'saturated' MOH can accumulate in human tissue and may cause adverse effects in the liver. In the European Union, some low- and medium-viscosity MOH are authorised for use as food additives

European health and safety requirements are usually much more strict than here in the USA, which is likely why this is not published in the US.

Now all of this info might be worth considering. At least it looks more serious then the few issues noted above. This opens the door to many more questions, but not a whole lot of answers. Let’s continue.

Recently the HuffPost published a piece stating:

Though generally regarded as safe, the components that are removed from the oil during the refining process of petroleum jelly are carcinogenic in some cases. "Vaseline supposedly has all of these [components] removed," Dr. Dattner says. "But there are probably plenty of petroleum jelly imitators, and one doesn't always know the extent that they're removed." Denno also points out that, since petroleum jelly can be found in "different grades of purity," you don't always know how non-toxic your petroleum jelly-based beauty products really are.

It appears that HuffPost, unlike the European Food and Safety Authority is pointing out that their issue is not so much about what it contains but, how it is refined.

While it appears that Unilever (the makers of Vaseline) reached out to HuffPost for clarification on a few points, as you see where the article has been edited and a few things added, most notably: 

“For the record, Vaseline is highly-refined, triple-purified, and regarded as non-carcinogenic.”

It seems Unilever’s argument rests on its triple refinement process that the company believes makes the product safe and from being considered a carcinogen. While that is a conclusion that may not be entirely clear, there is still more to be said on this.

Is Vaseline toxic?

We can not answer that question just yet. For something to be considered toxic there has to be studies that suggest that there are chemicals in a substance that are over acceptable thresholds that could pose health risks.

Let’s continue with the investigation.

Guardian article states:

There is, of course, a fast-growing corner of the cosmetics market that meets the demands of those who seek products free from any petrochemicals. Ingredients such as propylene glycol, acetone and the various parabens are being increasingly shunned by consumers fearing they might be triggers for a wide range of problems.

It seems that even in this 2010 article, the public was catching on. This led to several studies in the next decade.

This question seems to be investigated by a Study Published by PubMed which sought to study mineral oil-saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in cosmetic raw materials.

Out of the 27 samples of petrol jelly, they tested, 4 of them were Vaseline, and were found to contain levels of MOSH and MOAH. Although those levels are low as seen in the snapshot below, the presence of any carcigenic material that we use as a cosmetic should alarming and should be the focus of more studies.

pubmed MOAH toxicology tests
PUbMed Screenshot of study, reference:

The study’s conclusion was seem to support that by stating:

“Further toxicity studies are necessary, as well as epidemiological studies that need to confirm that MOSH concentrations may accumulate in human fat tissue, with cosmetics being a potentially relevant source of the contamination.”

All the data is starting to suggest that there is some linkage between petroleum products used in the cosmetic industry.

While this does not mean Vaseline is inherently dangerous, it does mean you might want to watch where you put the substance. 

A popular skincare website states:

To learn why it's bad to put petroleum jelly on your skin, it's important to understand the process of dermal absorption. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Dermal absorption is the transport of a chemical from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into the body." Moreover, the CDC explains that when chemicals are applied to the skin, they can pass into the bloodstream, where they can cause health problems in other areas of the body. 

The Environmental Working Group also did a study which can be seen in the screenshot below.

While this at first glance doesn’t look too bad. If you look at the bottom right corner, there it shows some concerns of toxicity and contamination.

Enviromental Working Group study on Vaseline

So why is this a problem?

The problem is that, even though Healthline and just about every other site out there, advise the use of petroleum jelly for cuts and burns and just about everything else. There is quite a bit of evidence coming forward as noted above about of the potential harm of petroleum jelly.

A paper published by research conducted at the University of Leeds, was looking into how cuts and scrapes heal. They looked into the use of oil-based adhesives stating:

“The researchers also observed that oil-based substances disrupted the process and warned that treating breaks in the skin with petroleum jelly, a technique used in some contact sports and following minor surgery, may increase the risk of infection.”

The article continues to say:

“The researchers also noticed that if oil was applied to the clot it would perforate the protective film and they warn that the common practice of applying petroleum jelly to a wound would increase the risk of infection.”

While the information presented here may not be conclusive evidence to suggest that petroleum jelly is a carcinogen, it does make you question its use.

All of this information is not to show anything other than: you can not take information as truth.

Today’s truth can be tomorrow’s falsehood.

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