I don’t know about you, but I can’t go a day without lip balm. Is anyone else like that? If I forget to bring it with me to work, it’s probably how most people feel without their phone. Just like with lipsticks, we should be careful about what lip balms we’re using since the ingredients can be ingested throughout the day. I don’t want to be eating a serving of petrolatum along with my Chipotle. No thank you.
What to Look Out For
Petrolatum a.k.a. petroleum jelly is actually a byproduct of petroleum refining. (Fun Fact: The chemist Robert Chesebrough developed Vaseline, and it has been sold in the U.S. since 1870.) Due to its amazing moisturizing ability and long shelf life, a lot of personal care products (15% of lipsticks and 40% of baby lotions) utilize it. Petrolatum works by forming a water-repellent film, which decreases evaporation of our skin’s moisture. It also creates an effective barrier against microorganisms and foreign particles.
If petrolatum is properly refined, then there are no health concerns whatsoever. However, issues arise due to contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) if not fully refined.
How do we know if it has been fully refined? We can’t know for certain unless there’s a complete refining history provided by the company. And who wants to read through that? I know I don’t! The company might indicate that the petrolatum is fully refined by labeling it “white petrolatum” on the ingredient list. Interestingly enough, the European Union requires a full refining history of petrolatum for cosmetic use. The U.S. however has no such requirement, so you’re on your own unfortunately.
So what’s wrong with PAHs?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed 14 PAHs possible carcinogens and 1 PAH a known carcinogen. A study from Columbia University linked PAH sources, like smoking, air pollution, fireplace use, and grilled/smoked food intake with a 30-50% increase in breast cancer incidence. These sources are definitely more concerning than the cosmetic grade petrolatum you’d find in your lip balm. The bright side is you can decrease your risk by modifying your lifestyle habits.
Ok, so assuming the petrolatum is properly refined, are there any downsides to using it in our personal care products? Petrolatum itself is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores. But, remember how good it is at trapping moisture? Well, it’s nondiscriminating, so it may also trap comedogenic ingredients from other products you’re using.
The take-away message is to avoid petrolatum unless it’s listed as white petrolatum or you’ve confirmed with the company that it’s fully refined. As an alternative, you can try puckering up with lip balms made out of beeswax. Here are three of my favorites. Now go kiss someone you love!
Best Lip Balms I Like
Why I Like It: The ingredients are all natural and USDA certified organic. It works well and keeps your lips moisturized for hours. Since you might ingest lip balm throughout the day, choose to go organic on this product. If you want the simplest ingredients, buy the Naked Organic Lip Balm. Otherwise, they also carry peppermint, lemon lime, and orange ginger.
Why I Like It: The lip balms are all natural and have great reviews from users. They even have a lip balm good for cold sore treatment, and one with SPF 15 protection.
Why I Like It: Burt’s Bees lip balm is all natural and comes in a variety of flavors, like pink grapefruit and pomegranate. Again, if you want the simplest ingredients, go with the most basic Beeswax Lip Balm.