The Make-Up of Make-Up: Decoding Lip Balm

The Make-Up of Make-Up: Decoding Lip Balm

WebMD's guide to the history of, ingredients in, and uses for lip balm.

History of Lip Balm

Around the turn of the 20th century, Charles Browne Fleet, MD, began selling a handmade "chap-stick" from his storefront pharmacy in Lynchburg, Va.  

How Lip Balms Work

The purpose of all lip balms -- even those called salves or butters -- is to protect the lips. They contain a moisturizing ingredient that forms an occlusive film on the lips, which prevents water loss, says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, vice president of Cosmetech Laboratories in Fairfield, N.J.

Lip Balm Ingredients

The most common occlusive ingredient is petroleum jelly. Natural lip balms use petroleum-based moisturizers, shea butter, or sunflower oil instead.

Lip Balms with Lanolin

Lanolin, a thick emollient derived from the sebaceous glands of sheep, helps heal parched, peeling lips.

Wax in Lip Balms

The addition of waxes to help lip balm adhere to lips was an important innovation. Lip balm in a tin or pot has less wax than twist-up balms, but it's just as therapeutic, Wilson says.

Lip Balms with Camphor and Menthol

Camphor and menthol in medicated lip balms act as a mild topical anesthesia to soothe irritated lips. They're also the ingredients that give lip balm its cool tingle.

Sunscreen for the Lips

Some balms contain sun protection as high as SPF 30 and antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10. Other common ingredients are vitamins C and E, which neutralize free radicals that damage the skin's collagen and elastin.

Antiaging Lip Balms

Antiaging formulas add ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (a humectant that hydrates skin by pulling water from the environment, absorbing up to 100 times its weight), atelocollagen (a moisturizer), and dipalmitoyl hydro-xyproline (a line filler), to help plump lips and reduce the furrows around the perimeter.  

Tinted Lip Balms

The wax that's essential to give lip balm its structure keeps even tinted versions from having the shine of a lip gloss or the color saturation of a lipstick. 

Lip Balm Uses

The portable and inexpensive product is often used for other purposes like softening dry elbows, knees, and cuticles; grooming unruly eyebrows; and -- in a pinch -- freeing a stuck zipper.

Lip Balm Tip

Reed Cromwell IV, director of product development for Anastasia Beverly Hills, offers this makeup artist's tip:

"When you're using a bold lipstick or bright gloss, lining the border of your lips with lip balm will keep the color from bleeding into the fine lines around your mouth. Use a lip brush to apply the balm just a slight bit beyond your natural lip line."

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