Is Vaseline (Petroleum Jelly) Flammable?

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One of the most commonly used household products is Vaseline, but a lot of people don’t really know what it is, where it comes from, and even if it presents some sort of fire risk. 

Vaseline is not very flammable. Though it is made from petroleum (which can be very flammable) it will not ignite easily in most situations.

Now, that doesn’t mean that it will never catch fire, but it is not common. Let’s take a closer look at Vaseline and its fire hazards. This is what you need to know about Vaseline. 

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Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?

What Is Vaseline?

Vaseline is a form of petroleum jelly which is also known as petrolatum, white petrolatum, multi-hydrocarbon, or soft paraffin. 

It is, simply a mix of long-chain (more than 25 carbon atoms per chain) hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. 

Vaseline is a world-famous brand that was founded in 1870 in America and is often considered to be synonymous with petroleum jelly products. 

It is an absolute staple ingredient of medicine cabinets around the globe, and it is often used to treat ailments that it doesn’t claim to treat. 

In the United States, the FDA has approved its sale over-the-counter for use in skincare and skin protection. 

What Was Vaseline Originally Made For?

When Vaseline was first put on sale back in 1859, it was sold to help heal burned or wounded skin. This was in part, because Robert Cheeseborough, the inventor of Vaseline, was working in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

It’s an oil town and workers had been using rod wax (another less refined version of petroleum jelly) for this purpose and handily enough it was a byproduct of the drilling process. 

Cheesborough simply saw this process in action and then went about refining and purifying the petroleum jelly to give a higher standard of hygiene. 

He applied for a patent for his product in 1865 as Vaseline Healing Jelly and it remains exactly the same today as it was back then. 

Is Vaseline Flammable?

Vaseline is not considered to be flammable. It will catch fire, but it needs higher temperatures in order to ignite.

However, due to the fact that it only burns when liquid, this is often a bit trickier to do than it might first appear. 

In this video, you can see what happens when vaseline is heated with a torch:

Is Petroleum Jelly Flammable?

No, thanks to the long hydrocarbons present in petroleum jelly it takes a temperature of around 160 degrees Fahrenheit for it to catch fire. And the solid jelly does not burn well, it needs to melt prior to catching fire. 

That means while petroleum jelly will burn, it’s not considered a flammable substance, which is good news if you intend to rub it on your face and then go sit out near a bonfire (as many people do during Winter camping trips). 

I can actually be used to help start a fire, with cotton balls, take a look:

Is Vaseline Flammable With Oxygen?

While, generally speaking, Vaseline is not flammable, there is one exception to this rule. And that’s when Vaseline is in the presence of high levels of Oxygen. 

Oxygen is, of course, essential to starting any kind of fire and because Vaseline has an ignition temperature that is close to flammable, an increase in oxygen reduces this temperature and quite substantially. 

In fact, with enough oxygen present, the Vaseline may react without the need for a spark or heat source and cause a violent reaction. 

Can You Use Vaseline In Your Nose While On Oxygen?

Because of the potential for a violent reaction with oxygen, you should never use Vaseline or other petroleum jelly-based products such as Vick’s or Chapstick when using oxygen equipment. 

In fact, this area is of sufficient interest that a recent paper published in PubMed concluded that when using oxygen – if the skin needs moisturizing or lubricating you should only use oil-in-water or water-based creams. 

Is It Safe To Heat Vaseline?

Obviously, to some extent, it depends on how you heat Vaseline but if, for example, you were to place Vaseline into a bowl of boiling water to soften it, this would be extremely safe because although the Vaseline might melt, there would be no source of spark or flame to ignite the Vaseline.

However, if you were to heat your Vaseline using a burner? That could be much less safe. In general, terms it’s best to keep Vaseline away from naked flames even if the product is not flammable. 

Can You Microwave Vaseline?

Yes, you can microwave Vaseline to melt it. However, there is an outside chance that you might generate a spark that could catch the liquid Vaseline on fire. We don’t think that this is a high-risk issue though. 

At What Temperature Does Vaseline Melt? 

Vaseline will typically melt between 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 160 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the mix of hydrocarbon chains present in that particular batch. 

Can Vaseline Be Used To Treat Burns? 

Yes. In fact, Vaseline can act as a chemically neutral barrier between the burned skin and the air. This helps to prevent further oxidation of the burned skin and thus, should see it heal more quickly. 

If you have a minor burn, you could apply Vaseline to it two or three times daily, to get this benefit. 

If you have a more substantive burn, it’s best to discuss your approach to treating it with a medical professional. Vaseline shouldn’t do any harm, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and discuss the issue with your doctor before taking any action. 

It has also been noted in several clinical trials that Vaseline might also act as a painkiller for burns on the skin and it has been deemed an excellent treatment as it is inexpensive, effective, and completely noninvasive with no side effects. 

Can Vaseline Be Used To Treat Sunburns?

Yes, in fact, Vaseline can help both seals sunburn from further damage and help to rehydrate the burned skin to see that it heals more quickly. It also prevents other impurities or contaminants from getting into any opened part of the wound.

However, if your sunburn is particularly serious, it might be worth consulting a physician before trying to treat the wound yourself. 

Is Vaseline Cancerous (Carcinogenic)? 

Officially? We don’t know. The EU and the US require a full refining history of Vaseline in order to deem them as “not cancer-causing” and this requirement has not been met by the manufacturer.

However, there is absolutely no indication in the medical literature that petroleum jelly presents any danger of cancer when applied to the skin. 

In fact, it appears that Vaseline is generally non-toxic. Though it’s not a good idea to inhale droplets of liquid petroleum jelly – that might damage your lungs. 

Is It OK To Put Vaseline On Your Face?

Yes, Vaseline is, essentially, an unreactive collection of hydrocarbon compounds. Given that our bodies are made up, mainly, of hydrocarbons too, this doesn’t represent any particular risk to our health.

Many people use Vaseline as part of their daily skincare routine, particularly as a moisturizer, and suffer no known ill effects whatsoever from doing so. 

Is White Soft Paraffin The Same As Vaseline?

Yes, Vaseline is also known in some parts of the world as White Soft Paraffin. It’s just another name for petroleum jelly. 

What’s The Difference Between White And Yellow Petroleum Jelly? 

There’s not that much difference between the two but in general, white petroleum jelly is used as Vaseline and its purpose is to help with skincare. 

Whereas the yellow-colored petroleum jelly tends to be used as a lubricant for industrial purposes. It also has a better ability to retain oil and a greater level of viscosity than the white version.

Is Vaseline Made Out Of Whale Sperm?

As you may already have deduced Vaseline is not made out of whale sperm. This, apparently, is a matter of some confusion as Google ranks this particular search as one that is regularly asked by those concerned with researching the properties of Vaseline.

We have no idea how this rumor came about, but we can be 100% positive that it’s not true and that Vaseline is simply made of petroleum products. 

Sources

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