There's a clear winner, according to dermatologists.
opened petroleum jelly jar on blue background
Credit: Towfiqu Barbhuiya / EyeEm / Getty Images

A quick fix for chapped lips or a patch of dry skin often involves a dab of Aquaphor ($4.99, here or Vaseline ($4.49, there. Both topical ointments have a long list of advantages, but when it comes to a flaking, irritated complexion, which one is best? We chatted with two dermatologists to determine, once and for all, which product better addresses dry skin.

Vaseline is not a true hydrator.

According to Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of AVA MD, SKIN FIVE medical spas, and The Box by Dr Ava, both Vaseline—the most widely-recognized brand of 100-perecent petroleum jelly, which is also known as petrolatum—and Aquaphor are fragrance-free occlusives; this product category prevents water loss, but doesn't impart true moisture to the skin (think of occlusives as seals). "It's a misstatement to call Vaseline a hydrator or moisturizer," affirms Dr. Shamban. "It keeps skin soft and supple and boosts moisture levels, but it does not hydrate. Vaseline does not function as a humectant, which attracts moisture to the dermis."

Aquaphor is a hybrid product—it contains occlusives, emollients, and humectants—that can provide moisture.

Yes, Aquaphor is an occlusive, thanks to its petrolatum content, but it also contains a host of other ingredients that make it a partial moisturizer. According to Miami-based dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, who recommends this product over Vaseline for hydration, Aquaphor is a triple threat: It contains humectants (namely glycerin and panthenol, a vitamin B5 derivative) that draw water into the skin, and emollients (lanolin and mineral oil), which are lighter-weight sealants, in addition to fully occlusive petrolatum. As a result, the formula raises moisture levels by attracting water from the air and introducing it into the dermis, which stops dehydration, adds Dr. Shamban; she notes that Aquaphor's mineral oil and cesarin content keep skin soft and supple while minimizing transepidermal water losses (TEWL) or evaporation.

Ultimately, Aquaphor is best for dry skin.

While incorporating an occlusive, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, into your routine is one step towards fighting dry skin, which is often low in sebum, it's just that—one step. "It is only one facet. We also want to look for a specific set of ingredients that address or help to compensate for the loss of lipids in the skin, such as squalene and ceramides," Dr. Shamban notes. Since Aquaphor provides a little something extra, it's typically the product dermatologists recommend to patients with dry dermis, affirms Dr. Ciraldo: "I've continued to recommend this for my post-op surgery and post-procedure patients, as well as for anyone with dry seasonal changes on their extremities and even on their faces, when either climate conditions or overworking skin with aggressive actives has made skin dry, red, and sensitive."


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