Person putting vaseline
Applying petroleum jelly in your eyes can prove harmful in the long run and can cause infections like milia. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit:

The internet is a smorgasbord of self-proclaimed life hacks, and TikTok is at the wheel with "wow, that might actually work?" moments. However, not every viral trend is the ticket to health and wellness. The latest one is: Smearing petroleum jelly into the corner of the eyes to prevent it from watering during dry, cold, windy or rainy days. The idea is that it acts as a protective barrier, which can shield against the harsh effects of the cold weather and reduce excessive tearing.

How did this trend become such a rage?

The hashtag watering eyes has now gathered more than 92 million views on TikTok, with several users advising their followers to put petroleum jelly or Vaseline (a branded version) in the corner of their eyes.

It all began last year, when people shared that their eyes were watering during cold, windy or dry days. Last year, TikToker @yazmoore appeared to post the solution: A simple hack that involves dipping a Q-tip into Vaseline and placing a small amount at the corners of the eyes. “All you need is just some Vaseline, and then little cotton buds,” she says. “My makeup used to run really badly, because my eyes were so watery. All you need to do is just apply [the Vaseline] to the corner of your eyes. Try not to poke yourself in the eye. That is literally it… Try this out, this works.”

The trend caught fire, and more people have shared videos saying that it is the solution to the problem. “Saw a video of a girl putting Vaseline in the corner of her eyes before leaving the house to stop the eyes from watering and it’s been the best thing TikTok has taught me,” one video states.

TikTok user Dani, who has a follower list of around 468,000 people, became a sensation after a video where she puts petroleum jelly as a moisturiser to create a luminous effect, which she says Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe used to do. Recently, Dani put petroleum jelly in the corner of her eye using a Q-Tip, which stops her eyes from watering altogether. While this “hack” received rave praise in the comment sections, others were rather sceptical and dubious.

One person commented that it causes eye infections. Another added that they tried this little trick, and their eyes grew puffy. Yet, people still continue to follow this hack.

Is it safe? Does it work? US-based ophthalmologist Vicki Chan endorsed the trend, too, in a video, saying, “I definitely see how this works. By putting a little bit of petroleum jelly here on the corners, you’re basically creating a barrier, so that the tears don’t come out.”

Well, skincare specialists are particularly nonplussed and concerned about this trend and have a couple of things to say.

A problem for the tear glands

Person putting vaseline.
By applying petroleum jelly on the rim of your eyes, you are preventing the tears from draining properly. Image Credit:

Your eyes water for a reason, folks. Tears keep the eyes lubricated and protected, shielding you from dust and allergens. As experts explain, they contain powerful antimicrobial elements that can fend off harmful bacteria and other infections.

As Ghazal Youssef, a Dubai-based dermatologist explains, “The eyelids contain meibomian glands, which help to regulate the quality of the tears. Vaseline, which is the brand name for petroleum jelly, can disrupt this natural process. By applying Vaseline on the rim of your eyes, you are preventing the tears from draining properly, explains Ilami. “This leads to a build-up of tears, which results in your eyes feeling watery and uncomfortable. Not just this, Vaseline acts as a deterrent to the natural production of tears, which finally leaves your eyes vulnerable to dryness and irritation.”

The irony is, putting petroleum jelly on your eyes to prevent dryness might actually make them drier in the long run, she adds.

‘Eyes are delicate ecosystems’

You need to exercise caution when applying anything to your eyes for a start, warns Hina Khan, a Dubai-based dermatologist. They are rather delicate ecosystems and something foreign, non-sterile like petroleum jelly has the potential to do more harm than good, she says. Worse, it can clog the tiny glands in your eyelids, which results in painful styes and cysts. Not quite the aesthetic, you wished for, right?

Putting petroleum jelly close to the eye can even cause milia, as Khan explains. Milia are small, white bumps that appear on the skin, around the eyes. “This develops when keratin, which is a protein naturally found in the skin, gets trapped under the surface and forms a cyst,” she says.

Eye creams are different, as compared to face creams, reminds Dalya Sager, a senior medical aesthetician and skin expert. "They are specifically formulated for the delicate eye contour region, so they can be absorbed efficiently into the dermal layer. Petroleum jelly is not formulated like eye creams and cannot be asborbed," she says. It sits on the skin's surface and blocks the pores, causing issues for the skin. 

Should you apply petroleum jelly on your eyes at all?

Do not attempt if you already have eye irritations, say experts. If you absolutely must attempt it, use a minimal amount and ensure that it doesn’t directly enter your eyes, warns Khan. A tiny dab is key. However, the moment you experience any irritation, wash your eyes with clean water and give the hack a boot. This is more of a quick fix, and not suitable for the long run, she says. Skip it, to be safe.