Why Your Lip Balm Doesn't Work — Expert Advice

13 Sep.,2022


lip balm ball shaped

By now, you're well aware that the key to beautiful lipstick is keeping your lips healthy and hydrated underneath. That's far easier said than done in the winter, though, when cold and bitter weather whisks in and zaps the hydration from our faces. For that reason, there's probably a lip balm in your pocket or bag at this very moment. You might consider it your lord and savior when a pesky flake or crack rears its ugly head, but I have some bad news: Certain lip balm ingredients can actually contribute to chapping.

Ever reapply a lip balm all week long, then realize later that your lips are still chapped and it makes absolutely no sense? Or experienced a minor lip rash after switching balm brands? According to experts, it might be an irritant or something you're allergic to keeping you in chapped-lip purgatory. We asked a crop of dermatologists to explain what those ingredients are, if and how you should avoid them, and why they're even there in the first place.

What ingredients should I look out for?

The good news is that avoiding common lip balm irritants is rather easy, but first, you need to know what those are. Board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara advises first and foremost to avoid balms made with fragrances due to their drying properties. "They just add cosmetic appeal to the product but are irritating to the skin barrier, causing more dryness and irritation," she explains.

Additionally, the American Academy of Dermatology reports that fragrances are the biggest cause of allergic contact dermatitis (otherwise known as rashes). The Food and Drug Administration requires cosmetic companies to label all scented products with the simple mention of "fragrance" in the ingredient list, so they're easy to look for and steer clear of.

Gohara also lists camphor, phenol, and menthol as "very, super, ultra-common" causes of contact dermatitis in lip balms. Fellow board-certified dermatologist Craig Kraffert agrees and adds that even though eucalyptus and peppermint oil are naturally derived, they have similar tingling effects and can still cause slight irritation.

Why are those ingredients there in the first place?

All of this begs the question: Why would brands use so many ingredients they know can cause irritation to the customer? Certain internet forums like the now defunct Lip Balm Anonymous suggest companies use these ingredients in an intentional ploy to keep customers dependent on their products. But cosmetic chemist Ginger King has a much simpler answer: They all have basic practical functions within their formulas.