Chapped lips are a pain, but thankfully, some lip balms actually repair dry lips rather than simply mask the problem.
Summer is fun and freeing for our minds and bodies, yet it can be downright harsh on our skin. It’s important to remember that our lips are a part of our skin and should be protected just as carefully as the rest of our body. Here are some tips on what to look for (and avoid) in lip balm.
Why our lips get chapped:
Our skin produces a natural oil from the sebaceous glands called sebum, which aids in keeping our skin moisturized. However, our lips don’t produce sebum and are therefore exposed to the elements without any protection. In addition, lips don’t contain the same amount of melanin (the substance that gives our skin its color) as the rest of our skin. This means that lips don’t become tan, but burn instead when exposed to sun. Thank goodness for lip balm! But remember to read the ingredients list on lip balm products…some ingredients included in many conventional lip balms are just plain scary.
So, which ingredients are safe and which should be left off your lips?
Beeswax: Known for its healing, antiseptic, emollient, and softening properties, beeswax is an excellent alternative for petrolatum-based lip balms. Beeswax also has a smooth and less sticky feel than petrolatum. The wax used for cosmetics is purified (which gets rid of the thick gluey feel beeswax has in the raw) creating cera alba, which is in turn used in lip balm. Beeswax is completely safe and nontoxic. So look for this ingredient (beeswax or cera alba) in lip balm.
Coconut oil: A potent antioxidant, coconut oil is ideal for rubbing on your lips. A popular vegan alternative to beeswax, coconut oil’s antioxidant properties protect against skin damage on the cellular level. It also contains vitamin E, which is essential for keeping skin healthy. In addition to lip balm, virgin coconut oil’s antioxidants soothe sunburned skin.
Jojoba oil: Hailing from the jojoba tree, jojoba oil is technically a wax ester, which imitates the natural oil (sebum) that our skin produces. Since the lips don’t produce any sebum, using jojoba oil in lip balm is a fine way to protect your skin. Leaving a non-greasy, smooth feel, jojoba oil absorbs quickly into the skin.
Hemp oil: Like the above mentioned oils, hemp oil doesn’t simply coat your lips to retain moisture; it’s 80-percent makeup of essential fatty acids allows your lips to absorb the oil and thus be effectively treated. Hemp is also the only plant oil that contains vitamin D.
Shea butter: Extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, shea butter provides cellular restoration and moisturizing properties. It can also be used in cooking but is more popular in North America as a cosmetic ingredient. Natural UV-filtering properties make shea butter ideal for use in lip and sunscreen.
Other safe and effective ingredients include sunflower oil, candelilla wax, caranuba wax, and cocoa butter.
Many lip balms, including those with SPF protection, contain petroleum (sometimes listed as petrolatum). While petroleum does help moisturize your lips by sealing in existing moisture, it does not treat dryness. Essentially, petroleum is a temporary fix. If environmental impact is something you’re worried about, skip petroleum based products; oil definitely is not a renewable or sustainable resource.
Titanium dioxide is commonly found in sunscreens and lip balms with SPF factors since it effectively blocks UV rays. However, the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products found that titanium dioxide becomes dangerous to human health when it makes up 25 percent or more of a product’s composition. Ultrafine particles, which are the size of titanium dioxide particles in cosmetics, are more toxic than larger particles due to the fact that they are more likely to enter and be stored in the lungs. This wouldn’t be an issue if the titanium dioxide (or other small particles) stored in your lungs weren’t known to be a carcinogenic. Look for lip balms that do not contain nanoparticles; titanium dioxide is safe to use while in its standard particle form.
Ingredients such as menthol, camphor, and phenol (sometimes listed as carbolic acid), commonly found in lip balm, lead to dryness, irritation, and peeling or flaky skin. These ingredients are more helpful when treating cold sores or acne due to their drying properties. While menthol, camphor, and phenol may not be deadly, they definitely do not help protect or treat dry lips.
In addition to drying out your lips, the U.S Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry states that, “Phenol is a manufactured substance found in a number of consumer products. Skin exposure to high levels of phenol has resulted in liver damage, diarrhea, dark urine, and hemolytic anemia.” It should also be mentioned that phenol is used in embalming fluid as a substitute for formaldehyde. It’s best to keep phenol off your lips while you’re still alive.
Mineral oil also dries lips, so you have to keep applying the lip balm in order to get the desired, moisturized effect. It’s a vicious cycle.
The Downright Ugly
Parabens are used due to their antimicrobial properties and are specifically known under the names methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and benzylparaben, which are are commonly used in cosmetics. More than 13,000 different cosmetic products contain some form of parabens. The problem with parabens is that they act like estrogen in the body and disrupt normal endocrine (hormone) function.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. The paraben with the highest concentration was methylparaben, which, unfortunately, is the most commonly used paraben in cosmetics.
Pay attention to ingredient labels closely; even if you don’t see a paraben listed, there are more likely than not parabens within the term “fragrance.” If you’ve ever wondered what exactly “fragrance” is on a cosmetic label, well—no one really knows. “Fragrance” is considered a trade secret by law. Even cosmetics that boast a “fragrance free” label use synthetic fragrances to cover up the harsh scent of the chemicals within the product. Look for products that say “unscented.”