If you’re like me, you go through lip balm like there’s no tomorrow. And if you’re like me, you’re also always misplacing your lip balms so you need lots of them spread around the house (one in each room, if possible!). It was lip balm that first got me into skincare formulating and I still can’t get enough of it. But what exactly is it that makes lip balm so appealing and how does it work?

Before we dive into our pot of lip balm and discover what magic ingredients they normally contain, let’s have a look at our lips…

The Skin On Our Lips Is Very Thin

LipsLips are used in so many different activities – we use them in facial expressions, when we talk, when we eat, when we drink and when we kiss. Given how much we use them, it’s important to keep your lips soft and supple and to keep the skin on your lips healthy.

The skin on your lips is comprised of only 3-5 cellular layers, which is why your lips can so easily start to bleed if they are chapped or dry, or if you pick the skin off them. In comparison, the skin on your face contains up to 16 layers.

The skin on your lips is also generally much lighter in colour than the rest of your body’s skin. Particularly in light-skinned people, your lip skin contains fewer cells called melanocytes – these are the cells that produce melanin which determines our skin colour. So your lips are essentially more translucent than the rest of your body which is why the blood vessels are more visible through the lips, giving them their pinky/reddish colouring. For those people with darker skin tones, the skin on your lips contains more melanocytes which is why your lips can be significantly darker in colour.

Given that your lip skin is only 3-5 layers deep, there are no sweat glands. This means that your lip skin doesn’t sweat and it doesn’t produce sebum, your skin’s natural oil. Without sweat and sebum your lips dry out quicker than other parts of your skin. Dry skin is damaged quicker, which is why chapped lips are such as a common occurrence.

What Does A Lip Balm Do?

Lip BalmA lip balm effectively provides that protective layer that you would normally get from your skin’s natural oils. In covering your lips with an occlusive layer, it does two things – firstly, it locks moisture in and secondly, it makes it harder for the heat and cold to dry out your lips.

When your lips get dry, you might be tempted to lick your lips (I know I’m very guilty of this when I don’t have a lip balm to hand!) but saliva contains salt and the salt will further dry out your lips. So that’s why lip licking will only offer temporary relief before things go from bad to worse. Nonetheless, a certain amount of lip licking is necessary to wash away dead skin cells so don’t avoid it altogether.

What’s In Your Lip Balm?

All lip balm recipes are different of course, but the general natural lip balm recipe contains the following ingredients:

  • Butter – plant butters often form the foundation of natural lip balms as they add moisturising properties and add a creamy texture to the overall balm. Examples include shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil (yes, I know that’s not a butter, but it’s solid at room temperature so I’m going to lump it in this category).
  • Oil – oils form that occlusive barrier in combination with butter which stops your lips from losing moisture. Lip balms can use any natural oils but popular ones include sweet almond oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil and castor oil.
  • Wax – solid waxes set the balm hard enough for it to stand in a tube or remain solid in hot weather. Beeswax is typically used, but so is candelilla wax – a vegan equivalent, derived from a Brazilian Palm.
  • Functional additives – Vitamin E is a popular addition in lip balms given its rich gloopy texture and moisturising properties. Other options include lecithin derived from sunflower or soya, or lanolin which some people prefer not to use given that it can contain residues of pesticides.
  • Essential oils – rather than use synthetic fragrances, natural lip balms tend to include essential oils in low percentages. It is best to stick to no more than 1% essential oil as the skin on the lips is very thin and essential oils contain very potent chemical compounds which can irritate the skin if in high enough percentages.
  • Flavourings – because most of us lick our lips and inevitably ingest some of our lip balm, some skincare formulators add flavourings such as vanilla extract or various herbs or spices.
  • Colourants – although many lip balms are colourless, some skincare formulators like to make tinted balms with natural ingredients such as beetroot powder, alkanet root or spices such as turmeric.
Are You Addicted to Lip Balm?

Lip BalmI have to admit that until I started researching and writing this blog post, I’d never considered that there could be such a thing as a lip balm addiction. Then I stumbled upon http://www.lipbalmanonymous.com which was initially started as a spoof site but then quickly had thousands of people flocking to it to share their stories of lip balm addiction.

Perry Romanowski in his book “Can you get hooked on lip balm?” puts forward the idea that using lip balm will slow down the cycle of the skin’s cell regeneration process. You shed dead skin cells and then the bottom layers of your skin produce health cells which migrate to the top layers of your skin until they are shed as dead, flattened discs. With only 3-5 thin layers to move through, the process of shedding dead skin cells must be quicker although I haven’t found any evidence of this anywhere (any dermatologists care to comment below?).

But when you add lip balm into the mix, it creates a barrier and locks in moisture which means that your lip stay moisturised and hydrated. This hydration means that fewer dead skin cells are being shed from our lips which in turn means that the skin on your lips doesn’t receive a signal to produce new cells.

Then all of a sudden you’re outside, the cold wind is blowing in your face and suddenly your lips are dry again. Your skin is then trying to frantically produce new cells to help but… oh wait, you’ve found your lip balm. Your skin gets told that everything is OK again and your craving is satisfied.

It’s an interesting theory and one I’d love to look into more one day. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my lip balm. And if you fancy making your own, I suggest you check out my latest blog post over at DIY Beauty Diva about “14 Unmissable DIY Lip Balm & Lip Gloss Recipes“.

Do you think you are addicted to your lip balm? Tell me in the comments below!


tagged in skincare science