Vaseline, a staple of grandma’s medicine cabinet, is going hot on TikTok

The Flaming Lips claimed it could be used as a spread on toast in their 1993 hit song “She Don’t Use Jelly.”

Jennifer Aniston puts it all over her eyelids for better lashes. Freida Pinto does the same, for a rosy look. Tyra Banks proclaimed it her “greatest beauty secret of all time!”

The miracle product? Good old-fashioned Vaseline, or more generally Vaseline, which has been around since the 19th century.

Now this staple of grandma’s medicine cabinet is having a moment on TikTok and Instagram, with teens and beauty influencers promoting it as the go-to product for “slugging” – the practice of slathering on your skin with the stuff before bed to lock in moisture and keep skin hydrated. (The term is meant to conjure up the thick, slimy trail of mucus a slug might leave behind if it crawled across your skin.)

Over the past year, the number of views of TikTok videos in which influencers have mentioned Vaseline has increased by 46%, according to Traackr, which monitors influencers’ social media data; on Instagram, the number of videos mentioning petroleum jelly jumped 93% over the same period. According to Unilever, the multinational consumer goods company that owns Vaseline, mentions of the product rose 327% on social media in the first week of February, compared to the same week last year.

One influencer, Brooke Paradise, dabbed Vaseline on her lips in a recent video and stared at the camera.

“Girls who get it, get it,” she says with a famous soundtrack on TikTok. “Girls who don’t, don’t.”

The newfound popularity of a product that costs as little as $1.79 is amusing and disconcerting to longtime Vaseline devotees, many of whom are black and have childhood memories of parents slathering it on their faces. to protect them from the cold and the wind.

“I’ve been raising my eyebrows about this for a while now,” said Robyn Autry, a sociology professor at Wesleyan University who teaches racial identity and blackness, of the product’s ancestry in some corners of America. Internet. For the past two months, she says, she has watched, in disbelief, YouTube videos of dewy-skinned white women singing the praises of Vaseline, a product her mother forced on her as a child.

“I remember my mum was smearing us,” Prof Autry said. “You would just have to smile and bear it. Well, don’t smile, bear it.

According to Unilever, Robert Chesebrough, a New York chemist, invented petroleum jelly after a visit to the oil fields of Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859.

Over the next decade, he discovered how to purify the residues of petroleum processing and convert them into “a thick, oily, pasty substance” that was “semi-solid in appearance, odorless,” according to the patent. .

He named it Vaseline. It has been promoted as a skin product and healer for wounds, burns, and irritated or dry skin.

“In 1875, Americans were buying Vaseline Petroleum Jelly at the rate of one jar per minute,” according to Unilever. It ran into a marketing problem at the turn of the 20th century when it was advertised as a hair loss prevention product for men, said David Cadden, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship and strategy at the Quinnipiac University.

“Women didn’t want to have facial hair,” he said. “This was a great example of one suggested use of the product sabotaging another use of the product.”

Even today, people worry that spreading it on their face could cause acne or even cancer because the jelly is derived from crude oil, said Toronto dermatologist Dr. Geeta Yadav.

She tells patients that Vaseline is non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores. As for cancer issues, Dr Yadav, who uses Vaseline to treat her daughter’s eczema and to cover the skin after surgery, said she has never seen any reported cases of cancer. of the skin due to the use of petroleum jelly.

“I smeared my children with Vaseline every night when they were babies to retain moisture in their skin,” Dr. Yadav said.

Professor Autry, the youngest of four children born in Detroit and raised on military bases across the country, said she dreaded going to school after her mother covered their faces in petroleum jelly for the protect from severe cold.

“We were teased a bit for that,” she said. “It appears brighter on darker skin, and I’m a darker-skinned person.”

And, she added, “it was associated with not having a lot, because it wasn’t expensive.”

His mother stayed home to look after the children, so the family relied on his father’s salary as an army sergeant, Prof Autry said.

“I was always told, ‘Well, that’s all we can afford,'” she said.

Now 40, Prof Autry says she forgot about petroleum jelly, instead spending her money on expensive luxury skin products.

“Now I’m thinking, ‘Should I buy a jar of Vaseline?'” she said.

Still, Prof Autry said the promotion of it by so many white influencers on social media seemed problematic to him.

“It’s almost like they’ve discovered something that poor, dark-haired people have known for a long time but didn’t make videos,” she said. “Here is another example of a mundane thing that is almost exotic.”

Part of Vaseline’s appeal is its low price, said Olivia Markley, 19, a TikTok influencer who studies marketing at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and regularly posts skincare videos.

“People are trying to up their skincare game right now,” she said. “Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a skincare routine.”

Ms Markley said she was amused by how some people on social media treated slugging as something new.

She said she started doing it three years ago when she learned about it on Reddit. But, really, the slugging for her started when she was a child and her mother used it to protect her skin from the cold.

Her Thai-born grandmother showed her a jar of petroleum jelly with a label written in Thai that she used on her face, Ms Markley said.

“She’s been using some kind of petroleum product since the 1940s,” she said. “It’s not a new trend. It’s part of a recurring popularity cycle.

Ms Markley compared Vaseline to cleansing balms and cold creams popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s that also seem to find favor with people on TikTok.

“It never went away,” she said. “It’s just the younger generations who are discovering it.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.