Aquaphor Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy costs less than $6, is used by millions of families, daubed on the frayed lips of young and old alike, recommended by some dermatologists and, despite its innocuous looks, can incite even the calm and timorous to impassioned debate.
Before entering the fray, I thought I should give Aquaphor a thorough try and approach it with an open mind (which I might add included the selfless act, in the pursuit of science and the truth, of going to the corner deli looking like a burn victim). But I shall come back to all of this after briefly reprising what it is about Aquaphor that arouses controversy.
Aquaphor comes down to petrolatum, which it describes as an "active ingredient." The world seems to be divided into three camps: those brought up with petroleum in the form of Vaseline and think nothing of it, those who regard it as an evil carcinogen, and others who are less extreme, but not enamored of wearing oil industry by-products.
Petrolatum is a "complex combination of hydrocarbons obtained as a semi-solid from dewaxing paraffinic residual oil," according to the Inci Directory. Or, put simply, it's an oil by-product that has been refined. The refining part is essential and there are strict guidelines for doing so in the UK, US and EU. Unrefined petrolatum can contain contaminants that are carcinogenic and because of this the EU demands that the refining history is known to show that the end product in the hands of the consumer does not contain carcinogens. The EU has not banned petrolatum, despite an urban myth claiming otherwise that's circulating on the internet. For more background on petrolatum, see our post on petroleum jelly uses and safety and load the comments section to see what a hot potato topic it is.
I fall into the camp of people prepared to accept that Vaseline and Aquaphor have been refined to the point of perfect safety, but still I don’t love the idea of slathering on "dewaxed parrafinic oil." Aquaphor’s other ingredients include mineral oil, which like petrolatum is an oil-industry product that needs to refined in order to be safe, ceresin, a kind wax that can cause dermal irritation, as can lanolin alcohol. More benign are panthenol (vitamin B), hydrating glycerin, and bisabolol from chamomile.
When Aquaphor says petrolatum is an “active”, what it really means is that it restricts water loss. It is also occlusive, meaning it is air and water-tight. This explains why smeared over the lips, it prevents chapping. And I must say, it does a pretty good job at this. Aquaphor is thick and gunky, not a pleasant feel on one’s kisser if you ask me. But between me and a wind whipping up from the Hudson, it seemed impenetrable.
Cheered by this discovery, I decided to give Aquaphor the benefit of doubt with some further experiments. These were much less successful. Aquaphor, at least in my experience, does not heal scratches, reduce rashes or deal with insect bites. It is certainly not a moisturizer (unless you want to go around looking like an oil slick). So while the tube seems to be good value at $5.99 for 1.7oz, it is really just a lip barrier. Although not at all a comparable price at $26, I will stick with my all natural and amazing multitasker, the CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm ($26), which goes way beyond chapped lips to deal with dry, rough skin, cuticles, eczema and rashes, cuts, bites and, according to CV Skinlabs, new scars.
Ingredients in Aquaphor Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy: Petrolatum, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum), Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol (L-Alpha)