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Why Petroleum Jelly is not a Friend to Your Tattoo

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If you’ve just got your first tattoo or are planning on getting one, chances are you’ve seen a number of recommendations on how to take care of it. Opinions range from “dry healing” (using nothing) to over the counter products that aren’t made for tattoos but tend to pop up either through artist recommendations or via a simple Google search. As with most decisions, an informed choice is always the best choice. Especially when it comes to something as personal as your skin.

Petroleum jelly is a common product that is recommended by some as a method for healing tattoos. This option may work for some — but before you consider putting it on healing inked skin, we wanted to break down where petroleum jelly comes from, what it actually does, and how that relates to your skin once it’s gone through the tattooing process.

To get technical for a second, when you get a tattoo the ink has to get into the dermis, which is the inner layer of skin underneath the epidermis. As most of you probably know (and maybe painfully remember) your artist uses a machine with a needle that injects the skin thousands of times, depositing ink into that lower layer of skin.

By going through the epidermis to deposit the ink, you’re temporarily destroying the skin’s surface and the moisture it contained. Why is this important? Your skin needs moisture to repair itself. In fact, it’s been proven that moisturized skin heals faster than a “dry heal”.

So now that we know what happens to skin when it’s tattooed, let’s look the origins and purposes of petroleum jelly.

4 facts about petroleum jelly you may not know.

Petroleum jelly originated as a byproduct of oil drilling

Petroleum was discovered in the mid-1800s as the by-product or residue of the oil drilling process. Then called “rod wax” it was a gunky substance that workers disliked because it caused their equipment to malfunction. A chemist named Robert Chesebrough collected this rod wax, and over the next 10 years discovered a way to refine it into a substance that was usable on human skin. From there it was marketed as a treatment for everything from diaper rash to dry skin.

Petroleum jelly doesn’t add moisture to your skin, rather it creates a barrier. 

When you apply petroleum jelly to the skin, it can seem like you’re applying moisture as it does leave a greasy, slick surface on your skin. But what you’re actually doing is applying a barrier that prevents other essential components like air and outside moisture from gaining access to your fresh wound and helping it heal.

Petroleum jelly repels water

Sounds innocent enough, but when it’s time to clean your healing tattoo with soap, it can be difficult to break through the layer of petroleum jelly you’ve applied to the skin. After all, it is a barrier and water on its own will just roll right off. Plus, it’s a good idea to be gentle to the tattooed area and the last thing you want to do is scrub or use any aggressive friction to get the petroleum jelly off so the area can be properly cleaned. So by using petroleum jelly on a tattoo, not only are you preventing much needed outside moisture from getting in, you could also be preventing dirt from getting out. 

More products have petroleum than you think

If you’re generally icked out by putting petroleum on an open wound, know that other products like Neosporin, A&D Ointment, Aquaphor, Bacitracin, and Lubriderm are all petroleum based products.