Geography 300: Global Awareness
Object of Concern Paper: Vaseline
It’s a cold windy day, and your skin and lips are getting chapped by the harsh winter weather. Many people might think to use lotion and chapstick. However, Vaseline is both of those in one. In fact Vaseline helps heal wounds, burns and chafed skin. Vaseline doesn’t actually add moisture to your skin it just seals in the existing moisture. It is also commonly used as a lubricant. It is also often used as a makeup remover as it dissolves most types of makeup gently and is safe to use around your eyes. Many people use Vaseline to style their eyebrows. It is commonly used as a chapstick as they have flavors such as Rosy Lips, cocoa butter and creme brulee for use on the lips. Vaseline is even safe and recommended for people with skin conditions such as Rosacea and Psoriasis and helps with aging. (Watson and Cobb, 2019) Beyond skincare uses, Vaseline can also be used to shine leather shoes, remove lipstick stains, remove gum from surfaces, lubricate old or rusty hinges, protect chicken combs from frostbite, stop fungal growth on turtle shells, prevent corrosion in car batteries, control split ends and moisturize dog paws. (Ganninger, 2014)
What are the drawbacks to using Vaseline on your skin? For starters, Vaseline does not actually moisturize your skin or infuse it with anything. It simply locks in what your skin already has. That being said, it can also lock in dirt and oils present your skin if you don’t apply it to clean skin. It is also thick and might lead to breakouts in people with acne prone skin. If your skin is oily Vaseline is most likely not going to be a good moisturizing option for you. It also absorbs into your skin much slower than many other moisturizers and a layer of it will always remain on top of your skin. (Watson and Cobb, 2019)
Personally I used Vaseline Rosy Lips everyday as a chapstick and it is my favorite chapstick. I have very sensitive skin and my lips used to peel off when I used Burt’s Bees Pomegranate chapstick. I loved the little bit of color that came with it but hated the reactions I would have. When I found the Rosy Lips Vaseline it was amazing, a little touch of color and moisture that really lasted. I never actually knew it doesn’t add moisture to your lips until I started researching for this project.
A Short History of Vaseline
Petroleum jelly was initially a byproduct of oil production. It was discovered by Robert Cheseborough in 1859. (Ganninger, 2014) Oil workers in Titusville, Pennsylvania were using what was known as “rod wax” at the time to heal cuts and burns. The wax was removed from oil rig pumps. The wax caused equipment to malfunction so Cheseborough began collected the unwanted substance. By 1872, he had created and patented a process of distilling the thinner and lighter oils from the mixture. As a result of this he created a light colored gel. The whiter jellies have been refined more.
To demonstrate how his product worked, he would travel around New York and burn his skin with acid. He would then show how he could heal himself using the new petroleum jelly. He opened his first factory in 1870 and called the product Vaseline. Vaseline is a mix of hydrocarbons with water-propelling properties which make it extremely effective at sealing in what it is put over. Cheseborough believed in Vaseline’s healing properties so strongly that he advocated for eating a spoonful of it a day. (Ganninger, 2014)
On Vaseline’s website they have a timeline of their company. This timeline notes important events in the products history. For example, the first ever successful North Pole expedition where Vaseline was thought to play a very crucial role. They also state that their product was essential in World War II. They then joined forces with Ponds, created lotion and launched a “Healing Project” which provides dermatologist care, Vaseline and other medical supplies to people in need. They hope to aid 5 million people by 2020. (Vaseline.com, 2019)
Lens/Framework 1: Environmental Ethics
Is dry skin an environmental issue? It is the result of environmental conditions and most people spend any range of money on products to combat their dry skin. Therefore the first lens I am going to approach Vaseline with is that of environmental ethics. (Robbins, 2014) Vaseline is a special product as it is made from refined petroleum. Is the simple moisturizer that most people in the world are familiar with, a result of a process causing so many of the environmental hardships we face today? The simple answer is yes, but is its role big enough to say the product is unethical? Luckily someone has already asked this question which lead me in the right direction to finding the answer.
When asked the question “Are Vaseline and other Petroleum products environmentally sound?” The Guardian answered that not all Petroleum products are environmentally sound and we should move away from our dependency on them. However, they place Vaseline at the bottom of the list of byproducts to be concerned about. That being said, they do point out that if the woman who asked the question is concerned about putting petroleum jelly on her face that there is a growing portion of the cosmetics industry that is creating products free of petrol carbons. For the most part, the Guardian does not seem concerned about Vaseline depleting the world’s oil reserves but recommends that if you are worried about impacts on your skin that you should switch to a different product.
The “Healing Project” in which Ponds and Vaseline are working together to offer aid to survivors of natural disasters and those in need, also plays a role in their environmental ethics. These two companies have joined together to help combat the human health crisis. Vaseline is also a byproduct of an already existing mining process. If the “rod oil” was not made into Vaseline it would be disposed of some other way. The process of turning “rod oil” into Vaseline is itself not very harmful to the environment. There is minimal packaging on most Vaseline and it is much more affordable than many other products, making it accessible to the masses for all of its various uses.
Lens/Framework 2: Risks and Hazards
What are the risks with using Vaseline? Like most things, this will depend on your culture’s way of looking at it. (Robbins, 2014) For the most part, I have not found a lot of risks or hazards that are associated with the production or usage of Vaseline. However, the obvious environmental hazard that is associated with the production of Vaseline is where it originates. Oil extraction can be extremely hazardous to the environment that it is being rigged out of. When oil spills onto water, it does not allow oxygen to get through to the plants which stops photosynthesis. It also harms and kills animals and insects, disrupts the food chain and takes a very long time to recover. (Oilcare.com)
Oil spills can also have severe consequences on the human environment as they can destroy drinking water and are very expensive to clean up. They can also make water unsuitable for irrigation and damage the effectiveness of water treatment plants. (Oilcare.com) If oil spills occur next to buildings the vapors can make the building uninhabitable. This can be very expensive and in some cases if there is too much damage, the entire building may need to be demolished.
Oil and gas drilling have serious consequences on the environment even beyond spills. These include disrupting wildlife habitat, species like Antelope and mule deer in Wyoming have been dramatically affected by drilling. Water and air pollution also harms local environments. More than 12 million people in the US live within ½ mile from oil production or processing plants. Their emissions contribute to climate change and ruin gorgeous landscapes. Extraction also turns away visitors because people don’t want to see or hear drilling when they go into the wilderness. (wilderness.org)
All things considered, I think Vaseline is an environmentally sound product. While it is a by product of an extremely destructive process, this process does not exist solely for the product of Vaseline. In fact, when the process originated the “rod oil” slowed down oil production and was a nuisance to the process. Vaseline has also launched the “Healing Project” in order to give back to the global community. While this does not lessen the effect that oil production has on the environment, it does make it easier to feel okay using the product and in turn supporting the company responsible for it. Vaseline is a fairly inexpensive product that works wonders on the skin, lips and has many other uses, bodily and elsewhere. The next time Humboldt has a cold and windy day, you burn yourself, or you get gum on your clothes, you can feel okay about reaching into your backpack or medicine cabinet and pulling out your Vaseline. However, I do not recommend eating a spoonful of it a day.
Ganninger, D. (2014). The Amazing History of Vaseline (aka Petroleum Jelly) - Knowledge Stew. [online] Knowledge Stew. Available at: https://knowledgestew.com/2014/12/the-amazing-history-of-vaseline-aka.html [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019].
“The Impact of Oil on The Environment.” Oil Care Company, 2015 OIl Care Campaign , 2015, http://oilcare.org.uk/what-we-do/impacts-of-oil/.
Robbins, Paul, et al. Environment and Society: a Critical Introduction, Critical Introductions to Geography. Wiley, 2014.
Vaseline.com. (2019). Home. [online] Available at: https://www.vaseline.com/us/en [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
Watson, K. and Cobb, C. (2019). Vaseline on Your Face: What to Know, How to Use It, Pros & Cons. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/vaseline-on-face [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019].
“7 Ways Oil and Gas Drilling Is Bad for the Environment.” The Wilderness Society, 9 Aug. 2019, https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/7-ways-oil-and-gas-drilling-bad-environment.