Just reading the label should make you cringe. Looking at the average chapstick or lip balm1 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 raised 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)benzoate2
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration consider sunscreen a drug, European agencies classify them as mere cosmetics. Intended to mitigate the negative effects of long-term overexposure to the sun, the skin absorbs sunscreen over time3. Long term biological effects of this process remain unknown. You should, therefore, look to minimise the quantity of any skin application you use with a sunscreen element, including lip balm4, 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 lip balm, industry uses White Petrolatum in the manufacture of animal feed supplements, shoe polish, modeling clay, food packaging, fruit waxing and various lubricants. White Petrolatum is a decolourised, purified mixture of semisolid 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 substance5
- 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 - cacao butter
And the Rest
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
- As well as varied fragrances and flavouring.
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 everytime 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 wants 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.