Your mother used it, your grandmother most definitely used it, and perhaps you even still use it on your hair and scalp. So, what is the "it" that has been a staple to the beautification of black or African American hair for well over a century?
You may know it by some of its other aliases, petrolatum, petroleum jelly, soft paraffin, white paraffin, or even mineral oil, but it's still the same thick blue, white, green or yellow stuff with fingerprint tracks in the jar that we all grew up with, and that we did not dare run out of.
Petroleum was a jack of all trades for the majority of people I knew growing up, making us pretty and solving many problems for us along the way from removing eye makeup to mixing laxatives.
Most of us were raised never questioning that it was hands-down the best moisturizer on the market for the body (and the big plus was that it was so inexpensive). Now, its use on hair and skin has become highly debatable.
Here is where it becomes important to know the facts.
Fact is that petroleum is not a "moisturizer," but rather a "barrier" which means that having no moisturizing properties of its own it reinforces and seals the moisture into skin provided by other sources. For instance, if after applying water to your skin, you coat it with a layer of petroleum, you will have effectively sealed in some of the moisture from the water into your skin, along with whatever was already residing on your skin, oil, sweat, etc.
Fact is, petroleum is excellent when strong absorption is needed for topical aids, medicines, creams and so on, as it helps provide a more concentrated delivery to the point needing attention. People have slathered some on after applying other treatments first to ensure absorption. The down side and actual danger of doing this is that as a barrier applied to the skin, petroleum disallows the natural and normal release of toxins, in various forms, from the skin. Ever been around someone who had eaten too much garlic or drank alcohol and you were able to smell it through their skin?
Fact is, the human skin is our largest organ and it "breathes," taking in both the good and the bad. When petroleum is applied, it in effect smothers the skin. Imagine wrapping your head and face in cellophane and trying to breathe, it would be pretty hard, if not impossible.
Take this new information in and apply it to what you know about your scalp. As a part of your skin, your scalp sweats, itches, and may be oily or dry. Bottom line: it does what it is supposed to do and does the best job it can alone to encourage a healthy environment for the growth of your hair. But what happens when something gets in the way to discourage growth by offsetting its ideal balance of moisture and favorable conditions? When petroleum is involved, things can get complicated and extremely messy, literally.
So, if you are on the journey for healthier hair and scalp ask yourself, knowing what you know now, is petroleum the best way to help you on your quest?
If you still are not convinced, visit a search engine and do a search on the single word "petroleum" and see what it turns up. After exploring some of the links hopefully you will have a clearer picture of what it really is and what it is intended for.