The Lip Balm Scam (or what ingredients to avoid)


If you are like me, your lips are like the skin of reptiles: they dry and they moult. Like my lizard friends, my lips are always peeling and go through various phases of death and renewal. In this cold and windy London winter (though my New York friends tell me I should not complain), the season is unforgiving to my lips. And so I do what common sense tells me to do: buy a lip balm.

I have been a dupe in doing so, falling victim to the clever and opportunistic beauty retailers that produce lip-balms in hives in order to appease our ails, so they say. But be wise. Many of the ingredients found in lip-balms are actually part of the cause as to why you buy more, and then more, and then more lip-balms until your pockets and hand-bags are brimming with them. Exhibit A: me.

After purchasing every lip-balm I heard people rave about, I wondered why my lips were in an even worse condition than before. I felt as though I was constantly tending to them, and yet, my lips were a disaster. It wasn't until I applied a newly purchased Blistex and that my lips were screaming in pain seconds later that I decided to check the ingredients and get to the root of it: what could cause both the irritation and perpetual chapping? Petroleum, Menthol (or other perfumes), Phenol, Camphor, mineral oil and alcohol are all guilty. And guess what? They were present in almost all of them (the only one not to have any of the above was my most reached for Nivea one. I found that it did soothe, though it didn't necessarily have the magical powers I was looking for). 

Here's why you should avoid those ingredients:

  • Petroleum/Mineral Oil. Though it might soothe upon application and feel as though it's doing something, it's not. It might "seal in" the moisture, but it's certainly not moisturizing your lips. (Mineral oil is derived from petroleum). Paired with the right ingredients, it will aid in locking them in to your lips, but by itself it prevents rather than aids already chapped lips.
  • Carmine. This is not necessarily "bad" for you. But I thought you deserved to know that carmine is basically crushed-up red beetles (they use them as a dye). There, now you know. Think about that and decide if you want crushed-up dead beetles on your lips. 
  • Menthol. You might love that tingly sensation, but menthol can be irritating and in fact dry out your lips even more. Other fragrances, especially when an alcohol is present, also prevent moisture from reaching your lips. 
  • Phenol. Phenol is an aromatic organic compound, so it will act in similar ways as menthol does. It might seem to soothe at first, but will in fact suck out the moisture. Not only is it a carcinogen, it's also known as a disinfectant. Your lips do not need to be disinfected. 
  • Camphor. Another irritant (though advertised as being soothing). In fact, high amounts cause toxicity and an obsessive amount is potentially lethal. Avoid. 
  • Alcohol. Self-explanatory. When you're hungover after a night of too much drinking, part of the reason is because you're dehydrated. Dehydration is exactly what your lips are already experiencing.

What ingredients to look for:

  • Natural oils like coconut or olive oil. Both are hydrating and fast to penetrate.
  • Shea or Cocoa Butter. We slather both on our bodies for a reason. 
  • Beeswax. Some report allergies to this, so make sure you're not one of those people, but otherwise this helps to seal in the moisture. 

The bottom line: read the ingredients. Avoid stick lip-balms, as those are usually more waxy and less penetrative. Also, just make your own. Get a tub of coconut oil, some beeswax, and get cookin'. 

Some people praise Nuxe's Reve de Miel lip balm. I used-up an entire pot. My verdict? Meh.

- Coline




SkincareColinelips, lipbalms