Is Your Lip Balm Destroying Your Lips

Steve Kroening, ND
January 29, 2020


Winter weather is rough on your lips. The cold, wind, and reflective sun is brutal on this sensitive skin. Then, when you go inside, the heated air dries them out even more.

The answer, of course, is lip balm. But most lip balm is like wrapping your lips in plastic wrap. That’s because they form a moisture barrier that complete seals them off and prevents your skin from breathing. Fortunately, there’s a better answer.

Being a guy, I don't have much experience with skin care. I'm the kind of guy that would rather have his wife hold my hand with dry hands than a handful of lotion. I just don't like the stuff. However, growing up in Colorado, there was always one form of skin care that I never left home without — lip balm. Between the dry, windy, cold air and the intense sunshine, my lips were always dry and chapped if I didn't have lip balm around. And skiing without lip balm was a definite no-no.

My favorite lip balm has always been Carmex. I've never had any complaints with it. It always seemed to work fine (but what do I know about skin care?). Growing up, I thought it was strange that Carmex and most of the lip balms on the market had petroleum products in them. Why were we putting an oil by-product on our lips? It just didn't make sense. But there weren't any other options.

Well, it turns out my young misgivings were well grounded. I didn't know back then that the petroleum jelly in lip balm was first discovered when oil-rig workers in Pennsylvania noticed a paraffin-like material forming on their rigs. The material frustrated the workers because it caused their rigs to malfunction. But they noticed that it helped soothe their cuts and burns.

Why Use Petroleum Jelly?

The real name for petroleum jelly is petrolatum. This product actually has a great purpose in lip protection. If you're in a very extreme climate, whether a dry desert, a snowy mountain, or any other climate where the environment is going to wreak havoc on your skin, petrolatum is invaluable. It's great for protecting your lips. It essentially puts a layer of oil between your skin and the weather. Scientists call this an “occlusive barrier.”

Colorado has a very extreme climate. It's part desert, part snow-bird paradise. When I went skiing, the dry, cold air would chap my lips in no time. So I grew up bathing my lips in Carmex. But, as I've discovered in recent years, this was part of the problem. In order to get the benefit from Carmex (or other lip balms), I had to keep reapplying it. Once the layer of protection wore off, my skin was subject to the elements. It was just a temporary fix, so I had to reapply it all the time.

What's more, once I reapplied the lip balm, it didn't really re-moisturize my lips. It just protected them from getting worse. So if they got a little chapped in-between applications, the Carmex would help them feel better and protect them while I had it on. Once it was gone, though, the chapped pain came back.

While the barrier can keep the weather out, it doesn’t something else to your lips. It causes them to produce less natural moisture. So your lips stay dry. The lip balm simply soothes the dry feeling and makes your lips feel moist. But underneath, they're screaming for moisture.

More Bad News for Lip Balms

Petrolatum isn't the only petroleum product in most lip balms. Phenol is another product that we pump out of the ground with oil rigs. When phenol first came on the scene, it came from coal tar. But today, it comes from petroleum. Industry uses phenol for things like epoxies, nylon, herbicides, and pharmaceutical drugs. What's more, phenol is illegal for use in cosmetics and skin care products in Europe. So what do they know that we don't? In its raw form, phenol is mildly acidic and can cause chemical burns. I'll admit, Carmex has never burned my lips. So I don't worry too much about the burns. But, again, why put an oil by-product or a caustic substance on your lips?

That’s not the only problem with most lip balms. Have you ever noticed that you have to reapply your lip balm every few hours – even if you’re not in an extreme climate? Well, there’s a reason. New research suggests many lip balm products actually make you want to use their products more.

According to New York-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, some lip balms contain ingredients that might irritate your lips and cause them to become dehydrated. And dehydrated lips prompt you to add more lip balm. The result is an endless cycle of applying lip balm, drying your lips, and applying more lip balm.

How to Moisturize and Protect Your Lips

If you want to really moisturize and protect your lips, you need to avoid lip balms that contain petroleum jelly, salicylic acid, menthol, or fragrance. These all can irritate and dry out your lips.

Some dermatologists recommend using lanolin. But lanolin has its own problems. Lanolin comes from sheep wool. It's a natural product that can be safe if it's harvested properly. Unfortunately, many ranchers dip their sheep in pesticides, which gets passed on through the wool. And some people are allergic to wool alcohol, which is a component of lanolin. If you develop contact dermatitis after using a lanolin product, you may have an allergy to wool alcohol.

A simple way to avoid all of these problems is to use a lip balm that contains sunflower seed oil, extra virgin olive oil, rosehip oil, and hemp seed oil. These oils give your lips a breathable occlusive barrier that doesn't cause your lips to dry out. These oils are similar to your own body's oils, and they don't cause your lips to stop producing natural moisture.

Why Rosehip Oil?

Rosehip oil is, perhaps, the most intriguing of these oils. It comes from Chile, where Chileans have used it for centuries to treat their skin. Rosa mosqueta is a species of rose found around the Andes Mountains. The oil from this plant has seen tremendous scientific support in the last 30 years.

Back in 1985, researchers from the University of Santiago used the oil on 180 individuals. All of these individuals had extensive facial scarring, acne scarring, deep wrinkles, UV damage, radiation damage, burn scars, surgical scars, premature aging, dermatitis, and other skin-related problems.

When applied to their damaged skin, the researchers found that the rosehip oil actually regenerated the skin. It reduced their scars and wrinkles and helped their skin regain its natural color and tone. On the areas of skin that weren't damaged, the researchers noticed that the oil prevented wrinkles and other signs of aging from developing.

Five years later, researchers followed 20 women between the ages of 25-35. All of them suffered with extensive premature aging to their skin. Their skin was wrinkled. And they had sun spots from overexposure to the sun. Amazingly, after four months of applying rosehip oil every day, their wrinkles and sun spots had almost completely disappeared.

How can rosehip oil have such an impact? The oil is high in linoleic and linolenic acids. In fact, it's made up of 77% fatty acids. When your skin absorbs these essential fatty acids, it converts them to prostaglandins. And it's these prostaglandins that help regenerate your skin cells.

But that's not all. The seeds also have high levels of vitamin C and vitamin A (retinol). Both of these are great for your skin.

The Chileans soak the petals of this rose plant in raw milk for an hour. Then they mix the two until they have a paste. They put this paste on their lips to treat and prevent chapped lips. But you don’t have to make your own. You can get a lip balm with rosehip oil and many other natural healing ingredients in Système 41’s Lip Therapy. It actually works to remoisturize your lips so you don't have to reapply the lip balm as often. Dry air, sun exposure, and pollution have a way of drying out your lips anyway. You don't need your lip balm making it even worse.

When I first tried this lip balm, I could feel the difference immediately. It soothes and moisturizes without feeling waxy or like a goopy gel. More importantly, it doesn't contain any petroleum by-products or even any so-called “natural” products like salicylic acid (which is an exfoliant that acts like fine sandpaper on your lips). These products can leave your lips drier and more chapped than they were before using them.

I've also noticed that I don't have to reapply it nearly as often as did the Carmex. It doesn't feel slimy or oily either. It feels very natural on my lips and keeps my lips feeling great long after it wears off. Yes, it costs a little more than Carmex or ChapStick. But since you don't have to apply it as often, it lasts longer. Give it a try and let me know what you think.



Valladares J., Palma M. Sandoval C, Carvajal F: Universidad de Concepcion, Concepcion: Chile. Cream of rosehip oil (Rosa Aff. Rubiginosa) 1.Formulation, preparation and first results in regeneration of damaged tissues. Anales de la Real Academia de Farmacia: Instituto de Espana.Vol 51 (2)(pp 327-332), 1985.

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