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The mysterious reason why vaseline in France is hard to find

Finding one of those classic tubs of vaseline in France is next to impossible. Here’s why and what to buy instead.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
French woman holding a container of vaseline in her left hand looking very content
French woman holding a container of vaseline in her left hand looking very content

Vaseline is a famous brand of petroleum jelly, known for its many uses, from a moisturizer and stain remover to leather polish and even as a sex lubricant.

However, petroleum jelly made by the brand Vaseline is sometimes hard to find in France. Here’s why, where to buy it, and some vaseline alternatives you can find in France.

Where’s the Vaseline in France?

Vaseline in France is very well-known, however, you won’t find any of those big tubs of Vaseline you may be familiar with sold at French stores in France

What gives? 

Before we dig into the mysterious reason why Vaseline in France is so hard to find, let me give you a little context about how Vaseline is viewed in French culture. 

Vaseline in France is a generic term.

two hands holding a container of vaseline intensive care petroleum jelly

Despite being a popular brand and a registered trademark that now sells a multitude of creams and petroleum jelly-based products, the term “Vaseline” in France (and many countries) has become a generic term for any petroleum jelly

Vaseline isn’t the only brand or protected trademark that became so popular that it eventually became the generic term for its own product, a process called “Genericide.”

Escalator, Pyrex, Neoprene, Post-it, and Scotch, as in Scotch tape, are also brands that became known as the generic names of their own product.

By the way, these are well-known generic terms in France too. 

How to say and pronounce in French:

  • Vaseline = pronounced /VA-Zuh-Lean/
  • Petroleum jelly = “Gelée de pétrole” pronounced  /JHUH-lay Duh PEY-troll/.

Petroleum Jelly is hidden in products everywhere in France (and the world)

flat lay of cosmetics and beauty products that contai by products of petroleum

As I mentioned before, Vaseline in France is just a generic term for any petroleum-based product.

And although you can’t find the Vaseline “Brand” sold in physical stores in France, you can find it online.

More on that later. 

But petroleum jelly isn’t just a product you buy at a store for personal use. Petroleum-based products are everywhere, even in France.

Most people, including Europeans, unknowingly use products on their skin that contain Petrolatum, aka petroleum jelly, aka soft paraffin— best known under the generic name Vaseline.

They’re all byproducts of the oil industry and the process that petroleum goes through when it’s turned into gasoline.

Petroleum-based byproducts are hidden in a wide range of products in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries under inconspicuous names like:

  • mineral oil
  • toluene
  • methanol
  • paraffin
  • and anything that begins with propyl or butyl. 

Example of products Containing Vaseline aka Petroleum Jelly by products!

Conditioners, face creams, moisturizers, lotions, lip balm, salve, hair removal creams, lipstick, deodorants, make-up removers, baby care products and health products such as Neosporin, paraffin candles and many commercial fragrances and perfumes.  (this list is not exhaustive)

What gives? Why is vaseline so hard to find in France? 

To get to the bottom of why Vaseline is nowhere to be found in France except online, I decided to go directly to the parent company Unilever.

Unilever owns the Vaseline Brand and many brands sold throughout the world, including Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Tabasco, Axe, Amora and Brut. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Vaseline Brands’ history, here’s a quick summary. 

The Vaseline Brand started out with just one product, “petroleum jelly,” in the US in the mid-1800s and grew a cult following that spread to other countries, including France.

In 1987, a British multinational consumer goods company purchased the Vaseline brand from Chesebrough-Pond for $3.1 billion. 

The Unilever France website is missing the Vaseline brand.

Unilever website showing Vaseline missing from the range of products offered in France

Unilever has a localized corporate homepage for each country. 

I first went to the Unilever USA and Unilever UK websites and found many of the brands they own, including Vaseline.

However, when I searched the Unilever France website, Vaseline was mysteriously not listed as one of their products despite a small image of it in the header photo. (see the screenshot of the Unilver France website above.)

I had read that petroleum might be banned in Europe and parts of the EU, so I checked the Unilever website for other EU countries, and the same thing happened. NO VASELINE is listed on those websites either. 

This confirmed that the lack of Petroleum Jelly made by Vaseline in France was not an isolated case. The exceptions were the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal. The Unilever website for these countries don’t even list Vaseline as a product on their website. 

Unilever country website that makes no mention of Vaseline: 

Unilever websites in the EU
NO: Vaseline NOT listed YES: Vaseline Listed
Austria Greece Netherlands
Belgium Hungary Spain
Czech Republic Slovak Republic Portugal
Denmark Sweden  
Finland Switzerland  

There was no explanation on the Unilever France or UK website about why Unilever doesn’t sell Vaseline in France and some EU countries, but I did read a small blurb about the company restructuring and consolidating in the 1990s. 

“The 1990s see a period of restructuring and consolidation, starting with the number of categories in which Unilever competes cut from over 50 to just 13 by the end of the decade. This includes the decision to sell or withdraw many brands and concentrate on those with the biggest potential. (source)

Could this mean that Unilever withdrew Vaseline from stores in France in the 1990s as part of its decision to concentrate on bigger markets? OR…

Is Vaseline Banned in France and some EU countries?

Petroleum products are not completely banned in France or the EU. This is just a myth.

Remember that Petroleum byproducts are in a multitude of products we use on our skin, even in France. 

Through my research, I discovered that only certain types of petroleum products are banned in the EU. 

Petroleum used in cosmetics and beauty products must pass stringent standards in some Europe countires.

Before 2004, Eastern Block countries flooded the European Union market with low-quality petroleum jelly that contained high levels of toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been linked to cancer.

Consumers had no way of knowing if the products containing petroleum were low in carcinogenic PAHs so the EU’s “Dangerous Substances Directive” stepped in and banned all products containing petrolatum, aka petroleum jelly unless it was refined properly to remove toxic carcinogens and could prove the refining history.

In other words, cosmetics, beauty products and personal care products that contain petrolatum can only be sold in the EU if the Petroleum is properly refined and contains no carcinogens.

According to Aiglon, the only French company in France that produces petroleum jelly for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry, France has the most stringent purity requirements for petroleum Jelly in all of Europe.

Aiglon claims that its products are so pure that it’s safe for human consumption. Beauty brands such as L’Oréal and Clarins use Aiglon petroleum jelly. 

Petrolatum is often not fully refined in the US, which means it can be contaminated with toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

I couldn’t find any concrete proof, but I’m pretty sure that Vaseline’s petroleum Jelly is banned in Brick and mortar stores in France and parts of the EU due to EU regulations; however, this doesn’t explain why it’s so easy to find Vaseline made petroleum jelly on websites that operate in France and the EU. 

So I emailed Unilever. 

I emailed Unilever, and this is what they told me.

jar of Vaseline intensive care petroleum jelly sold on amazon france store

If tubs and tubes of the Vaseline brand petroleum jelly are not sold at physical stores in France because they are banned in parts of the Eu, then why is it so easy to find it online “in the EU?”.

I emailed Unilever to see if they could fill me in and got the following response. 

email from Unilever about the sale of Vaseline in France

Basically, Mme Nadège, who works at Unilever in France, confirmed that

  • Vaseline is not sold in any physical store or pharmacies in France.
  • The reason why we can buy Vaseline petroleum Jelly online is that they come from other countries not associated with the Unilever company. 

Does this mean that Petroleum Jelly made by Vaseline is being sold illegally online?

Or is there a different set of rules for these smaller third-party merchants who sell Vaseline online in France?

To be honest, I have no idea what the answer is to either of these questions. 

Where to buy Vaseline alternatives in France

As I mentioned before, Vaseline is a brand and a trademark that’s become a generic term for petroleum jelly. 

When you ask for Vaseline, you will most likely get a generic brand of Vaseline, and you can easily find other brands of petroleum jelly in France if you know where to look. 

At Grocery stores in France (In the condom and personal lubricant aisles)

Carrefour website personal lubricants and condom section selling vaseline also

If you can’t find generic Vaseline in the cosmetics or beauty section of the grocery store, head to the condom and lubricant aisle of your local food store in France.

Yes, you heard me right.

Not every grocery store in France has this section, but that is where you will most likely find some generic Vaseline. 

Surprised? Don’t be!

Vaseline in France has strong sexual connotations.

a box of tissues, jar of vaseline on a bed nightstand

Like the iconic KY Jelly, Vaseline in France has a double meaning and conjures up images of sex lube. Here’s a French article that recommends using vaseline as a personal lubricant.

**Warning, petroleum jelly will make a latex condom melt and fall apart.**

Interestingly, both Ky Jelly and Vaseline were never intended as sexual lubricants, but because of their lubricating effects have been used for that exact purpose. KY Jelly actually changed its whole business model and focused on personal lubrication, while Vaseline went on to diversify its products for the skin care industry. 

Here are 50 other uses for vaseline

You can find generic Vaseline in French pharmacies.

front of parapharmacie cap3000 in Saint-Laurent-du-Var France

The most likely place to find moisturizing petroleum jelly products like generic Vaseline in France is at a French pharmacy.

 There are about 20,000 pharmacies in France, each brimming with a selection of dermatological remedies, beauty products, ointments, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicine and more. There are no greeting cards, food, cigarettes or cleaning supplies sold at pharmacies because French pharmacies only sell health and well-being products.

Don’t bother looking on the shelves for vaseline products; just head to the counter and ask for vaseline or petroleum jelly. The pharmacist may ask you what you intend to use it for. Otherwise, they might make assumptions.

Then the pharmacist will most likely disappear into the back stock room and come back with a little white tube of a petroleum jelly product. This isn’t unique to Vaseline. This is the only way to get many over-the-counter drugs and products, including aspirin and cold medicine. 

vaseline officinale pommade

Vaseline equivalent products you may be able to find in France. 

Vaseline isn’t the end-all be-all.

There are plenty of other products that you can use in place of vaseline the brand. Here are a few suggestions. And remember, if you can’t find these in brick-and-mortar stores, look online. 


Waxalene botanical Jelly

Waxelene, soothing botanical jelly, is marketed as the number one alternative to petroleum jelly.

The company claims it uses only natural and organic ingredients for all of its products. There are no yucky additives, chemical preservatives or petroleum derivatives either.

Steripan Vaseline

bottle of steripan-vaseline

If you’re ever in a supermarket or hypermarket in France with a beauty product section, keep an eye out for Steripa vaseline. 

Steripan was the first brand to launch pharmaceutical products in supermarkets. As of this writing, you may find Steripan Vaseline in the following supermarkets in France with personal care and cosmetics departments. Intermarche, Carrefour, Centre E. Leclerc, Hyper U, and Auchan.

Alba Un-Petroleum

bottle of Alba un-petroleum

Alba Un-Petroleum Jelly is a multi-purpose skin moisturizer and protectant made from only pure plant oils and all-natural waxes.


Aquaphor healing ointment

While vaseline is mostly petroleum jelly (99%), Aquaphor is made with 41% petroleum jelly. Aquafor is thick and greasy compared to most lotions but not as much as Vaseline.

Cacao Butter

Cacao butter is also an excellent alternative to petroleum-based products. It’s a plant-based fat extracted from roasted cacao beans used in food and cosmetics products with a rich moisturizing creamy texture.

Wrapping up vaseline in France

Although I couldn’t find undeniable proof that Vaseline is banned in France and maybe even parts of the Eu, I’m convinced it’s not freely available in France due to EU regulations. 

Don’t despair. There are still ways to get your hands on some if you need to. 

Wink Wink!

You can find generic petroleum jelly products in French pharmacies and some grocery stores in France. These will always be more refined than the Vaseline brand.

And if you really must have a big tub of Vaseline, you can always buy it online in France. 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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