noun - Petroleum jelly (petrolatum, white petrolatum) is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties and often used by open water swimmers and triathletes as an anti-chafing agent.
It is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an approved over-the-counter skin protectant, and remains widely used in cosmetic skin care. The original United States patent application was for Vaseline.
The raw material for petroleum jelly was discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, United States, on some of the country's first oil rigs. Workers disliked the paraffin-like material forming on rigs because it caused them to malfunction, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing.
Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist whose previous work of distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales had been rendered obsolete by petroleum, went to Titusville to see what new materials had commercial potential. Chesebrough took the unrefined black "rod wax", as the drillers called it, back to his laboratory to refine it and explore potential uses.
Chesebrough discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly by U.S. Patent 127,568 in 1872. The process involved vacuum distillation of the crude material followed by filtration of the still residue through bone char.
Chesebrough traveled around New York demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product. He opened his first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn using the name Vaseline.
Chesebrough originally promoted Vaseline primarily as an ointment for scrapes, burns, and cuts, but studies have shown that Vaseline has no medicinal effect nor any effect on the blistering process, nor is it absorbed by the skin. Petroleum jelly's effectiveness in accelerating wound healing stems from its sealing effect on cuts and burns, which inhibits germs from getting into the wound and keeps the injured area supple by preventing the skin's moisture from evaporating.
After petroleum jelly became a medicine-chest staple, consumers began to use it for myriad ailments and cosmetic purposes, including chapped hands and lips, toenail fungus, male genital rashes, nosebleeds, diaper rash, chest colds, and even to remove makeup or stains from furniture.
It does not help keep swimmers warm in cold water when training or doing channel crossings or long ocean swims.