On the day I woke up with plump, pink lipstick that were free of lipstick or plumping gloss, I thought I'd hit the beauty jackpot. It was as if I'd made a bedtime wish and had woken up as Angelina Jolie.
But before I could revel in my miraculous Angelina-esque makeover, I noticed my lips were stinging. When I looked closely in the mirror, I saw they were covered in tiny red bumps as if my lips had broken out in hives.
It turned out my lips weren't beautifully plump — they were swollen. And they weren't pink, they were irritated. The painful burning sensation that lasted all day made it difficult to concentrate on anything else. I had no idea what was wrong ... or what to do about it.
For the next few weeks, the only relief I felt was when I smeared globs of lip balm over them. For about an hour or so afterwards, the stinging would subside until I had to reapply. Over the course of each day, I doused my lips with lip balm at least twelve times. But despite the temporarily relief, my lips kept getting worse and the pain continued.
During week four of this debacle, I looked down at my lip balm container. That's when my "ah-ha" moment occurred ... what if the problem isn't my lips but my lip balm? To test the theory, I bought the most simple and natural lip balm I could find and applied it.
Within three days, my lips were back to normal and my curiosity was piqued.
What I discovered was a shock. For the last decade, I'd been purchasing skincare products willy-nilly, just assuming everything on the market was safe and harmless. But there are actually several harmful ingredients that you want to avoid when choosing an effective lip balm, including ...
Petroleum Jelly / Petrolatum
The lip balm that caused my allergic reaction was 100% petroleum jelly, an oil byproduct that may contain carcinogens (depending on the company's refining process) and cause allergic reactions. It also suffocates them your lips rather than moisturize.
Though the product might feel soothing upon application, petroleum jelly is water-repellant and seals your pores do moisture can't get in or out. Despite approved as "safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Petrolatum is not a product you want to include in your natural skin routine when there are so many better alternatives.
Like Petrolatum, mineral oil coats your skin with a plastic-like layer and prevents it from breathing. When used repeatedly, it also can cause more severe problems as it's derived from petroleum and may contain cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This can cause the skin to age prematurely. Is that something you want to put on your lips daily?
Phenol is an ingredient used to kill bacteria growth, so it's included in many skincare products. But this chemical has also been shown to cause skin irritation, kidney and liver damage, and even nervous system damage when absorbed through the skin regularly.
When you see it listed on lip balm ingredients — or any other skincare product for that matter — skip it.
Other Chemicals, colors & fragrances
Avoid any lip balms with artificial colors (D&C red no. 6, yellow no. 10, etc.), synthetic fragrances or other harmful chemicals. Check out Dana Lowers' comprehensive list of eight deadly chemicals to look for in your beauty products.
So, what should you look for in a safe lip balm?
Choose products with naturally hydrating ingredients like beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil or cocoa butter. These ingredients work in harmony with your skin to sooth and hydrate while allowing your pores to breathe. If you're unsure about a specific ingredient on the label (i.e. you can't pronounce it), do a little research to make sure it's a healthy choice for your skin.