Oxygen and Vaseline: A Dangerous Combination or a Myth?

Oxygen and Vaseline have a complicated history. There is much back and forth from medical professionals and scientists regarding whether it is safe to use Vaseline when receiving oxygen therapy or not. However, are these 2 substances a dangerous combination or is that a myth?

In this myth-buster blog post, we will find out once-and-for-all whether oxygen and Vaseline are a safe combination or not. First, let us briefly discuss what Vaseline is.

Vaseline: What Is It?

Vaseline is made with petroleum jelly, which is a semi-solid substance derived from petroleum. Petroleum is a yellow-black liquid found in the Earth’s surface that is refined into many different types of fuel.

You might be wondering how a source of fuel ended up in a consumer product for chapped lips and wound healing. As the story goes, Robert Chesebrough discovered the substance in 1859 when he noticed oil workers applying the jelly onto their skin to heal their wounds. Upon this discovery, he bottled it up and began selling it as a consumer product. Later, other brands started using petroleum jelly in their products such as Chapstick and Blistex.

The Elements of a Fire

Before we answer the question of whether oxygen and Vaseline together pose a fire risk, let us look at what constitutes a fire. When you combine oxygen, any fuel source, and heat (or a spark), you have a classic recipe for a fire. We will break down these 3 elements to explore how they contribute to a fire.

Oxygen
Oxygen in the air can accelerate combustion. While oxygen itself isn’t flammable, it will speed up the rate of combustion when an active fire is already present. These effects are more pronounced when the oxygen source is under pressure, such as oxygen from a tank or a concentrator.

Fuel Source
Petroleum is the unrefined substance that is later refined into gasoline, which we use for cars and other types of engines. Wood and natural gas are also common fuel sources found in the home. Tossing any of these substances into an active fire will immediately increase the intensity of the fire.

Heat
Heating the fuel source with a match, friction, or focused light from a magnifying glass can ignite a fire when a fuel source is present. Fuel sources have varying degrees of flashpoints and ignition temperatures, so the ease at which a substance starts a fire depends on the flashpoint or ignition temperature relative to that substance.

Myth or Reality?

Now that we have discussed what Vaseline is and the elements of a fire, what is the final verdict?

Oxygen and Vaseline, when combined with a fuel source, DO pose a fire risk.

At the level of basic chemistry, we can see that combining oxygen, a source of heat, and any product derived from petroleum (a fuel source) will lead to a fire.

That said, there have been some relatively recent attempts to dispel this as a myth. Some medical professionals have claimed that the small amounts of petroleum jelly typically used to lubricate the skin is not enough to pose a significant fire risk. However, there have been cases where these 3 elements were present (oxygen, Vaseline, and friction), they ignited a fire, and it led to second-degree burns. Additionally, several pharmacists, as recently as 2016, wrote that a general lack of evidence on the issue continues to drive their recommendation to avoid petroleum-based products when using oxygen therapy, and to use water-based products instead.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this blog post puts an end to the debate: oxygen and Vaseline are not a safe combination. If you experience dryness or irritation from your oxygen therapy, it is best to use water-based lubricants or a bubble humidifier to find relief.

Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: October 22, 2018

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About Ryan Anthony: Ryan A., BS, RRT is a registered respiratory therapist and content writer and medical blogger currently located in Los Angeles, California. As a Respiratory Therapist, he performs a wide range of hospital duties including adult and neonatal intensive care, nitric oxide therapy, high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, conventional mechanical ventilation, noninvasive ventilation, BiPAP, CPAP, intubation assistance, bronchoscopy assistance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chest physiotherapy, and nebulizer therapy.

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