As a beauty writer, one of my favourite things to do is let people in on the products that I believe will completely revolutionise their routine. I wax poetic about everything from must-have moisturisers to lipsticks that stay put for hours, but there’s one product I don’t need to put on a pedestal. Why? Because it’s already there.
This ointment is often praised to the high heavens. If TikTok is anything to go by lately, people are losing their minds over it, while skin care aficionados in the r/SkincareAddiction subreddit (arguably the Internet’s most knowledgeable skincare community) have gone as far as to refer to it as the “nectar of the gods”. With that in mind, I’m pretty certain that I know some beauty editors who would leave their entire life fortunes to the brand if they could. So what is it about this affordable — and let’s be honest — very simple product which makes editors, dermatologists, TikTokers and aestheticians alike, all worship at its altar? In the name of very serious journalism, I had to investigate.
What is Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment and what are the skin care benefits?
For those who aren’t aware, Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment is a multi-use skin and body care product. The brand as a whole was launched in 1925 in the Beiersdorf Inc Laboratories, USA. They must’ve known they had a winner on their hands, as it was trademarked that year. In 1936, Aquaphor's first product — an absorbent ointment — was sold to doctors, pharmacists and hospitals, no doubt to treat skin conditions and other skin-related ailments. But it wasn’t until 1982 that the product was sold in tubes for consumers.
So what’s in it? The popular Healing Ointment, as well as the equally popular Skin Soothing Balm, specifically combine petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly, which acts like a barrier to seal in moisture) with lanolin (a waxy substance, which also keeps moisture under lock and key), as well as ultra-moisturising glycerin and panthenol (or vitamin B5, which makes skin soft and smooth). Together they make up the clear pot of jelly goodness that has been propelled to fame lately.
@littlemissplumful I'm a big fan of the thick oily texture of @Eucerin US #aquaphor skin balm. It's great to smooth over dry sore patches as a protective layer 👌🏼 #eucerin #eucerinaquaphor #eczema #eczemabalm #eczemaointment #eczemacream #eczematreatment #eczemaawareness #eczemaskin #eczemaeyes #eczemaface ♬ original sound - littlemissplumful
Perhaps it has TikTok and its countless skin care trends to thank for that. Think: ‘slugging’ (coating your skin in a rich moisturiser before bed to wake up with renewed, soft skin come morning). Not to mention ‘skin sealing’: applying skin care underneath reusable eye patches as a quick hydrating under-eye treatment.
TikTokers are using the ointment (currently sold out at Amazon, it’s that popular) on chapped lips, superficial burns, dry hands and cuticles, parched feet, flaky eyelids and even as a glow-boosting highlighter. The list is endless, though. “Aquaphor before anything,” said one obsessed TikToker @mendmybffl, while slathering it onto their lips. “I love u more than anything,” said another TikTok user in a viral video referring to the skin care product, which amassed thousands of likes in agreement. In fact, you could argue that TikTok has broken the beauty industry’s bad habit of gatekeeping products — and this one is simply too good not to share.
It’s not untrue to say that Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment is one of the most effective products to prop up your winter skin care routine with. Gone are the days of complicated, 12-step routines, which require layering expensive and often skin-clogging serums and moisturisers. Why? Because experts agree that there isn’t much Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment can’t do.
“Aquaphor Healing Ointment is a cult favourite because it is the ultimate multi-tasker in skin care,” explains New York-based dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner. “Unlike other ointments, this one combines petrolatum with lanolin to protect and soften at the same time.” Not only that, says Dr Zeichner, but when used regularly it calms irritation, hydrates tight, uncomfortable-feeling skin and even works to repair a damaged skin barrier (which may present as itchy, inflamed, red and flaky skin).
It’s not lost on Refinery29’s deputy beauty director Jacqueline that plenty of the heavy lifting ingredients in Créme de la Mer’s Moisturiser, (£415 for 100ml) mirror those found in Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment, like mineral oil, glycerin, petrolatum and lanolin.
Those who haven’t used the product before might ask, what’s the difference between Aquaphor and Vaseline? Well, Vaseline is 100% petrolatum. It’s often referred to as an emollient or an occlusive, which means it traps moisture and stops it from escaping so that skin doesn’t end up getting dry. Aquaphor, on the other hand, only contains around 41% of this ingredient, according to the FDA. Without putting you through science class, a handful of the rest of the ingredients (such as glycerin) are humectants, and so they draw in moisture at the same time.
The combined action of drawing and locking in moisture means skin is in much better condition instantly and cumulatively. Essentially, the Healing Ointment forms a semi-occlusive barrier on the skin. But those prone to breakouts need not worry. The product is also non-comedogenic, which means it’s much less likely to clog your pores.
Why is Aquaphor having such a big moment right now?
As Dr Zeichner said, increased interest in the skin barrier (the hashtag now has 117.5 million views on TikTok) is exactly why Aquaphor is having a big moment right now. The boom for exfoliating acids, not to mention potent ingredients like retinol, has seen lots of people (both skin care connoisseurs and novices) inadvertently take it too far. Overusing either of these ingredients can easily impair your skin barrier — the outermost layer of your skin which serves a protective function against the elements, infection and moisture loss.
Dermatologists have reported wrecked skin barriers in droves as a result of patients layering these two ingredients without proper guidance from an expert. When the skin barrier is damaged, it calls out for soothing, moisturising ingredients just like the ones you’ll spot in a tub or tube of Aquaphor. Certainly, TikTokers are using Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment to protect sore skin and to smooth over flaky patches.
Avid Aquaphor obsessive Krynne K has been using Aquaphor for nearly fifteen years after being introduced to it by a tattoo artist thanks to its healing properties. Artists say it even helps to prevent ink discolouration and keeps the skin moisturised as the tattoo recovers. “It's like my second skin,” Krynne told me. “Nothing can make my itchy skin go away or leave it so silky smooth.” Krynne would go as far as to say that using it makes her feel like a baby. “Seriously, my skin is like a fresh newborn’s afterwards.”
@bailey.dee Aquaphor is honestly my favorite makeup product 🤷🏼♀️ #minimalmakeup #skincare #makeup #clearskin ♬ Melting by Kali Uchis - 😹🔫
What can you use Aquaphor for?
The skin-like, comfort blanket feeling which the Healing Ointment provides is actually shared by generations. Many Aquaphor stans or #AquaPhans (the name I’ve coined for Aquaphor obsessives) who were interviewed for this article found the product through a familial relationship. Several people told me they learned about Aquaphor from their mothers and grandmothers, including Pittsburgh-based fashion historian Sarah Sebetich.
She was introduced to Aquaphor as a child by her Croatian grandmother, or her Babba. “When my sister and I would have sleepovers at Babba’s house, we would watch her do her skin care routine before going to bed,” says Sebetich. “Babba always finished her routine by putting Aquaphor on her hands from a bottle she kept on her nightstand.” Sebetich hints that the ointment isn’t simply a product. “For me, it’s a special reminder of beauty and power.”
Talking of family, New York-based social media manager Yasmine sees similarities between themselves and Costas or “Gus” (the father of the bride in 2002 rom-com My Big Fat Greek Wedding) who has a fascination with glass cleaner Windex. From breakouts to warts, he is convinced it can cure all ailments. Like me, Yasmine also uses the Healing Ointment as a makeup remover (it’s especially great for taking off foundation) as well as a makeup primer. Sure enough, TikTokers who use the Skin Soothing Balm under foundation or concealer seem to have nailed the formula for the glowiest skin I’ve ever seen. Combined with a lip liner, Yasmine even says it’s like a homemade lip gloss.
@asianndra I could dowse myself in Aquaphor@ and this ain’t even sponsored 😩✨ #slugging #makeup #sluggingwithaquaphor #PepsiApplePieChallenge ♬ Remember (Remix) (Feat. Hailey Knox) - Russ
A truly pro tip comes from social strategist and freelance beauty writer, Utibe Mbgawu, who uses Aquaphor as a final step in her makeup routine. “My favourite moment to add Aquaphor is when I'm getting ready to go out and my makeup is already done but could use some sumptuousness.” Mbgawu generously applies a face mist, and then dabs the Healing Ointment onto areas where the light hits the skin, such as the eyelids, under the eyes and the tops of their cheeks. Thanks to the rich, melting texture, Mbgawu says that the dewy effect lasts longer than face oil, and looks more natural than highlighter.
Sometimes, beauty products like these are passed down intergenerationally, too. My personal love for this product comes courtesy of my best friend, Hillary Sussman, who only started using it because her older sister Rachel and her group of friends (the coolest of kids) all had a tube. And how did Sussman’s sister discover Aquaphor’s healing ointment? A dermatologist. Because yes, it truly is expert-approved.
A prescription of Accutane during Rachel’s teen years was intense and immediately dried her skin out. The Healing Ointment was the first product Rachel’s dermatologist recommended to counteract the chronic parched patches that are typical of the medication. “That's when my ‘addiction’ began,” said Rachel referring to her love of the product, “and I've used it every day since.” For Rachel, keeping a tube or tub nearby is something of a balm for the soul as well as the skin. Knowing it’s there is soothing. “I keep a jar of it next to my bedside, a tube in my desk drawer and I carry the Lip Repair (with SPF) around in my bag so I'm never without it,” says Rachel.
Aside from being beneficial for Accutane users, entrepreneur and podcast host Anthara Patrice loves it for increasing moisture in the skin and helping to prevent hidradenitis suppurativa, which is a chronic inflammatory skin condition resulting in bumps and sores. It tends to happen in places where skin rubs together, such as armpits and inner thighs. The Healing Ointment makes for a brilliant chafing remedy too, says Patrice, especially mixing it with cold-pressed almond oil. Writer and brand consultant Liz Black also considered it a must-have during her pregnancy thanks to her long suffering dry nipples.
Is Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment a good moisturiser?
The Healing Ointment is available at most good drugstores, and the affordable price tag is certainly welcome in a cost of living crisis, where countless beauty brands have announced price increases — even wallet-friendly types, like The Ordinary and The Inkey List. It’s also not lost on Refinery29’s deputy beauty director Jacqueline Kilikita that plenty of the heavy lifting ingredients in Créme de la Mer’s Moisturiser, which will set you back £415 for 100ml, mirror those found in Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment, like mineral oil, glycerin, petrolatum and lanolin. .
“It’s so fun because the brand has all these sizes,” adds Sussman. “There’s Mommy Aquaphor, Daddy Aquaphor and even Granddaddy Aquaphor, which is the huge tub.” Sure enough, if you head to social media, you’ll see that the product has become something of a collector’s item — but one you’ll actually use.
@mendmybffl aquaphor before anything #aquaphor #aquaphorsavestheday #fy #girls #gfs #love #fyp ♬ shame by summer - t🦋
Only a few brands have managed to pull off something quite so buzzy in the past. Think: Glossier and its Balm Dotcom dynasty (which just dropped in Wild Fig, FYI) or Homeoplasmine, the French pharmacy tube of ointment which most celebrities, makeup artists and models we’ve interviewed at Refinery29 say is a staple in their daily skin care routine. If you have a tub of Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment to hand, you’re in the beauty know. You’re part of a community for whom good, simple, effective (and most importantly enjoyable) skin care is gospel.
Sussman says the Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment has never led her astray, and I’m certain that this is what anyone wants from their skin care in 2023: something that works from day one and continues to come through for you, whether your skin is having a good, bad, or an in-between day. Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment is that girl, and she’s got my back every single time.
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