Styling your hair can often lead to a somewhat sticky situation. Certain gels and hairsprays can leave strands stiff and crunchy, while tight elastics can lead to endless knots. One such clingy culprit: Petroleum jelly (perhaps best known by the brand name Vaseline), which "can cause a buildup of product, [potentially leading] to scalp irritation and hair breakage," says healthy hair expert Tonya Thompson. "It can leave a greasy buildup that is difficult to remove and can prevent hair from growing."
Textured hair educator Stacey Ciceron agrees, as petroleum jelly is comedogenic—it clogs pores and stops hair from getting moisture—which can lead to excessive buildup and dandruff. And according to Mixed Institute of Cosmetology and Barber co-founder Sharie Wilson, petroleum jelly isn't water-soluble, making it particularly difficult to remove.
To help, we dug into the research and consulted Ciceron, Wilson, and Thompson to find the best ways to remove vaseline (or any petroleum jelly-based product) from hair.
Meet the Expert
- Stacey Ciceron is a textured hair educator and Oribe brand ambassador.
- Sharie Wilson is the co-owner of Mixed Institute of Cosmetology and Barber and a co-founder of DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports and Salon.
- Tonya Thompson is a healthy hair expert and co-founder of DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports and Salon.
Use a Clarifying Shampoo
All three experts agree: Clarifying shampoo is your best bet for removing Vaseline from the hair. Work the shampoo through wet hair, focusing directly on the areas where the buildup and petroleum jelly are most concentrated. Massage thoroughly with your fingertips, rinse, and repeat as needed. Thompson suggests trying the DreamGirls Renewing Shampoo ($25).
Once you've successfully scrubbed out the petroleum jelly, your hair will likely be left brittle and moisture-stripped. To combat this, Ciceron suggests using a moisturizing shampoo like Oribe's Shampoo for Moisture and Control ($49) and following with a nutrient-rich mask like Oribe's Hair Alchemy Strengthening Masque ($68) to build your strength and moisture back up.
Try a Household Powder
While Ciceron warns that this can cause some damage to the cuticle of the hair, there's ample anecdotal evidence that using a household powder like baking soda, baby powder, or cornstarch can help remove Vaseline from hair.
To try this method, you'll want to start by blotting your hair with paper towels, focusing on the spots coated with Vaseline. Be gentle—you want to dab and blot, not rub (which could potentially work the petroleum jelly deeper into the hair). Once you've removed some excess product, coat the greasy hair with the powder of your choice. Use your fingers to lightly pat the powder into the hair, completely covering the greasy areas.
Using shampoo and warm water (cold can potentially make the Vaseline clump and thicken), cleanse the hair. Pay special attention to the Vaseline and powder-coated areas, really working in the shampoo to help break down the product. After rinsing, shampoo again to ensure all Vaseline has been thoroughly removed. Condition hair as usual, then air dry.
If your hair still feels greasy or you don't think you got all the Vaseline out, wait around 12 to 24 hours and repeat the process.
Spray on Some Apple Cider Vinegar
Technically any vinegar will work here, but apple cider vinegar is known to be one of the best for hair—after all, there are tons of hair products with ACV on the market.
For this method, you'll want to first blot as much excess Vaseline out of the hair as possible using a regular towel or paper towels. Once you've removed as much as you can, fill up a spray bottle with ACV and spritz the affected areas. Gently work the vinegar into the hair and wipe in a downward direction.
Continue this process, using a clean paper towel each time, until all traces of petroleum jelly are gone. Follow by washing your hair as you usually would.
Fight Oil With Oil
As we said before, Vaseline isn't soluble in water since it's an oil-based product. So using another oily substance to remove it tracks. You can use pretty much any oil you have for this—olive, baby, jojoba, coconut, almond, whatever you've got.
First, remove any major clumps by hand and blot hair lightly. Apply a small amount of oil to your fingertips, gently massaging it into the Vaseline. You want to really work it into the affected area and then let it sit and soak in for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
Then, use a few paper towels to blot the area and gently wipe out the oil and Vaseline in a downward motion. Repeat as needed and follow with your regular wash routine.
Use Eggs as Shampoo
Definitely not the most ideal option, but whisked eggs are fairly effective at removing Vaseline from the hair. Simply whisk together a couple of eggs and use them as you would a shampoo, focusing on the areas with the most product buildup. Follow with your regular wash routine (though we'd suggest using something really nice smelling to combat the egg of it all).
Try Dish Soap
We'll be honest: The idea of putting dish soap in our precious locks fills us with anxiety, but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do. And liquid dish soap happens to be a fantastic degreaser that cuts through oil with ease.
If you're in a pinch (and we mean a real pinch here), sub out your traditional shampoo for a few squirts of dish soap, focusing it on the areas with the most buildup. Rinse and follow with shampoo and your most hydrating, nourishing hair mask.