L is for Lip Balm
For today, I return to h2g2 where I spent many great years. I mean years – given this entry comes from 2007 and my original entries appeared in 1999.
Here I handled the subject of Lip Balm Addiction, something that I have struggled with myself.
I started playing musical instruments – like the tenor horn and the trombone – back in the early 80s. I lay sole blame for the state of my lips with these formative years puffing through brass instruments.
In the 30 years since I have never had lip balm (or salve) far away – and if I go a day without, my lips start to wrinkle, crack and bleed. While I appreciate the medical community have a lot of really nasty addictions to deal with and serious conditions to research a cure for, I’d really love a way out of ‘balming.’
h2g2 had this thing called the Flea Market, where abandoned articles went to seek out new owners. Excited newcomers to the site would post something neat, but not get through the process of Peer Review. The idea – you write something, post it for Peer Review, edit until shiny, and then submit for consideration to the Editorial team.
Many articles got left half completed that way.
I took this one on because of my connection to the subject matter. You can see the original pre-review copy of Lip Balm Addiction here and understand I did a fair amount of research to turn it into something substantial and complete.
I have left the old connections and links all intact – so if you follow any of the links in the article you will end up wandering the corridors and passageways of h2g2, which is no bad thing.
I have chosen to leave the footnotes out. You can check the original on h2g2 for this content, which appears to have remained largely information-based and pun-free.
Lip Balm Addiction
Just reading the label should make you cringe. Looking at the average Chap Stick or lip balm you see stuff like ‘Octinoxate 7.5%’, ‘Oxybenzone 3.5%’ or ‘White petrolatum 38.7%’. You might wonder what this stuff is, and just why you keep wanting to slather more on your lips…
With increasing concern about skin cancer caused by the depletion of the ozone layer, many lip balms now include a sunscreen as well as moisturising ingredients. Examples include:
- Octinoxate – chemical name: 2-Ethylhexyl 3-(4-methoxyphenyl)propenoate
- Oxybenzone – chemical name: 2-Hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl
- Padimate – chemical name: 3-methylbutyl 4-(dimethylamino)benzoate
While the US Food and Drug Administration considers sunscreen a drug, European agencies classify it merely as a cosmetic. Intended to mitigate the negative effects of long-term overexposure to the sun, the skin absorbs sunscreen over time. The long-term biological effects of this process remain unknown. You should, therefore, look to minimise the quantity you use any skin application with a sunscreen element, including lip balm, exercising some common sense regarding sun exposure.
Most balms use White Petrolatum to provide basic protection for the skin of the lips. As well as in lip balm, industry uses it in the manufacture of animal feed supplements, shoe polish,modelling clay, food packaging, fruit wax and various lubricants. White Petrolatum is a decolourised, purified mixture of semi-solid hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum. And you’re putting this stuff on your lips.
In addition, lip balms use other waxes to enhance protection:
- Beeswax – also used to make candles and as a protective coating for cheese
- Copernicia cerifera – carnauba wax (also used in car wax)
- Euphorbia cerifera – candelilla wax (once used in chewing gum)
Lip balms use a plethora of moisturisers, both artificial and naturally derived, to enhance the condition of the skin.
- Aloe barbadensis – aloe vera leaf extract
- Arachidyl propionate – skin softener obtained from coal and limestone
- Butyrospermum parkii – shea butter
- Cetyl alcohol – a waxy, flaky chemical substance
- Cocos nucifera – coconut oil
- Helianthus annuus – sunflower seed oil
- Isopropyl lanolate – skin softening lanolate
- Jojoba esters – odourless, colourless wax
- Lanolin – wool wax, water-proofing; used to retain moisture
- Limnanthes alba – meadowfoam seed oil
- Mangifera indica – mango seed butter
- Phenyl methicone – skin-conditioning emollient
- Prunus amygdalus – sweet almond oil
- Symphytum officinale – comfrey
- Theobroma cacao – cocoa butter
And the Rest
As well as varied fragrances and flavourings, lip balms also contain a range of other ingredients, intended to improve the whole experience:
- Isopropyl myristate – propane-derivative that improves absorption
- Isocetyl stearate – chemical that helps smooth application of cosmetics
- Methylparaben – preservative, used in lotions and similar
- Octyldodecanol – thickening agent
- Propylparaben – prevents growth of bacteria and fungus in products
Beating Your Addiction
Lip balm addiction is just another form of substance abuse. Over time, you become dependent on it, and getting out involves some necessary and unavoidable discomfort. In truth, you don’t need the product, because most of the time you create your own problem – by licking your lips.
Effectively, your lips get dry, so you lick them, but that doesn’t help and, indeed, can make it worse. So, you apply balm, which provides a moisturising and protective layer; then you lick it off, probably without even noticing you’re doing it. So, you stick more balm on and the downward spiral continues. Even lip balm manufacturers make it very clear that it can only provide temporary protection and relief and suggest you consult a doctor if you use the balm for more than a week or so.
So, try the following steps to get out of the habit:
- Cold Turkey. Throw all your balms and chapsticks away. It won’t be comfortable and it may hurt, but you need to get them out of your life. You might consider a gradual withdrawal, moving to some very basic aqueous cream moisturiser, perhaps, if a complete dead stop proves too painful. Expect broken skin, bleeding, some irritation and a desperate need to moisten your lips.
- Quit Licking Your Lips. This is one of the tougher parts of the recovery process. Bite your tounge every time you get the urge to lick. It is a bit Pavlovian, but it will work. Licking your lips started the whole business off, so you really need to stop – and, if necessary, put yourself off somehow. You could try sticking something disgusting on your lips to stop you licking, though exercise caution not to offend others with whatever you coat them with!
- Seek Assistance. Ask a friend to keep an eye on you and slap you if they catch you licking your lips. Or join a support group. Or start one. Others do have this problem; just get them to admit it. Online anonymous groups work well, considering who would want anyone to know they have this kind of problem. Maybe you could start a topic on a message board to seek similarly troubled individuals and support/encourage each other through the process.
- Move Somewhere Nice. If all else fails, move to a warmer climate where the cold will not dry out your lips so fast.
Is it the Balm?
Some individuals have postulated that lip balm itself might contain addictive ingredients that aggravate the problem and keep you hooked. Nothing supports this view with absolute certainty, but you can see from the ingredients that the average balm contains a lot of stuff – and you could probably do without having it all slathered over your lips.