If you’re in possession of naturally and adequately nourished lips, you will never know the pain of having perpetually dry ones. It doesn’t matter how many balms you own, or the frequency with which you apply them, lips remain as parched and inflamed as a cracked desert floor. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the world of lip balms is, quite frankly, a minefield. Remember the rumours from school that Carmex contained tiny shards of glass? The thinking was that it lacerated your lips so that you'd keep applying, and obviously buying, the stuff. Hilariously, as evidenced by this 2019 Quora thread, the rumour lives on. Then there was Chapstick, which contained all kinds of addictive ingredients. To caveat: these are all unfounded. Other whispers, however, bore more weight. For example, that formulas with menthol and camphor – the ingredients that make lips tingle – exacerbate dryness and encourage licking. And just when you thought licking was allowed, it actually wreaks havoc on your lips, because spit contains irritating digestive enzymes. Told you this was tricksy.
“Like on the rest of our face, skin on our lips ages and needs to be taken care of in the right way,” says Lars Fredrkisson, Founder of Verso Skincare. But why is it so hard? “Skin there is particularly thin, and there are very few oil producing glands which makes them susceptible to cracking and chapping”, says Dr Anjali Mahto.
“Balms and salves come off easily when we touch, pick, eat and drink, so it’s best to use richer products with more staying power,” says Consulting Dermatologist for Keihl’s Dr Alexis Granite. She recommends looking out for “petrolatum, ceramides, shea and cocoa butters, glycerin and natural oils” which, all emollients, lock in hydration.
Holidays call for extra backup, whether you’re on a beach or a ski slope. “UV exposure dries lips out which means SPF is critical. Sun damage can cause soreness, or worse, skin cancers – yes even on your lips”, says Dr Granite. There are also vanity considerations, because just like your face and body, overexposure to the sun will accelerate ageing on and around your lips, leading to thinning and smoker's lines.
So what's the deal with using skincare on your lips? Moisturisers are effective, but Dr Mahto warns against active ingredients as they can worsen irritation and soreness. Think lemon in a cut (*audible intake of breath*). First try treating flakes with moisture, and if they persist, use a sugar scrub, or brush very gently, almost gingerly, with a toothbrush. After that, use a formula with almond oil (Hurraw! Almond Lip Balm, £4.99 or vitamin E (Body Shop Vitamin E Lip Care SPF15, £5.50), to quench and soothe.