The UK lip market is currently worth about £200 million every year, with the lip balm market making up a huge proportion of its growth. It seems that, as a nation, we’re all a little addicted to using lip balms. I for one always have at least one lip balm in my bag, if not four or five, as I hate the feeling of dry and tight lips. There are so many brands and products available now that lip balms become second nature, but are they actually causing more problems than they’re solving?
The primary purpose of lip balm is to help seal moisture into lips and protect them from external exposure. Wind, cold temperatures, and air conditioning all have a drying effect on skin by drawing moisture away from the body; lips are particularly vulnerable because the skin is so thin. However, the active ingredients in some lip balms can actually dry out the lips themselves, causing users to constantly re-apply. They may feel fine at first, even easing the tightness you can sometimes feel in the lips, but this often makes way for a vicious circle whereby people become reliant on the product. Ingredients such as alcohol, camphor and phenol dry quickly and cause the moisture in lips to evaporate. Salicylic acid is often added to remove dead, dry skin from the surface, but for some sensitive souls it can leave lips dry and peeling – only causing re-application of balm as an instant relief.
Another common ingredient is menthol; this often provides a tingling sensation on the lips, which marketers use to make the consumer think the balm is actively doing something. Although when used sparingly this can be a pleasant experience, if used too much the menthol can irritate and cause the lips to dry further. Furthermore, excessive scents or colouring can irritate the delicate top layer of the lips, so those cherry pop flavours may be doing more harm than good.
A common misconception is also that Vaseline helps to hydrate lips. Back in the 90’s big tubs of Vaseline were extremely fashionable to carry around in your schoolbag; they became rather additive because lips then became dry and in need of additional moisture – a viscious circle that was hard to break until you went cold turkey. Vaseline is effectively pure petroleum jelly (a bi-product of oil,) that creates a barrier on lips to prevent moisture loss. However, when used excessively it also prevents the lips from absorbing moisture from the environment; this causes lips (over a longer period of time) to become dull and dehydrated. It’s much like locking yourself away in a windowless room for a month and wondering why your skin is pale, vitamin starved and in need of a serious moisture injection. When used sparingly as a lubricant Vaseline can be great, but when used in excess it’s only going to cause more problems.
The safest option when it comes to lip balm, is to look at the ingredients and only use when necessary. Excessive application will leave your pout in a poorer state than when you started.