Ask the aesthetician
With so many lip balms to choose from, how does a retailer know which one is best? Helping your customers find the right lip balm can be an experiment. Chapped lips are painful and, for some, can be a chronic condition.
Begin by reminding your customers that prevention is the best cure for chapped lips. Recommend that your customers stay hydrated and properly protect their lips from harsh weather conditions.
It is helpful to reapply lip balm frequently when exposed to wind, sun or cold weather. Lip balm with a natural sun protectant such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is a healthy alternative to chemical sunscreens. The molecules in zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are too big to enter skin. As a result, they shield the rays in a way similar to wearing a hat. In my day-to-day experience, people with sensitive skin benefit by reducing their use of chemical ingredients. There are a number of products in my medicine cabinet with zinc oxide. It is gentle enough to heal diaper rash, gives excellent protection from the sun and can even be used to treat contact dermatitis such as eczema.
Oils are very important in lip balms because our lips do not have oil glands. Most of the oils in natural lip balms are vegetable-based—for example, coconut oil, olive oil, hemp seed oil, sunflower oil, shea butter (which comes from the fruit of the karite tree) and jojoba oil. On the other hand, conventional products like ChapStick are heavy on the waxes and contain only trace amounts of oils. These waxy lip balms cover up the dryness without adding moisture. They mask symptoms and can lead to a chronic condition that results in the need for more and more lip balm.
However, lip balms need some wax to provide a waterproof barrier. Look for waxes that allow lips to breathe and help oils penetrate the skin. My favorite is rose wax, which can be found in Weleda's Everon Lip Balm.
Other ingredients to avoid when choosing a lip balm are parabens, petroleum byproducts, artificial fragrances and alcohols. Many natural lip balms replace these harsh preservatives and detergents with ingredients that are beneficial to the skin. For example, essential oils are safe preservatives and have medicinal qualities. Other things to avoid include medicated lip balms, which seem to be harsh on lips. Look instead for tea tree oil or lemon oil—which have antiseptic qualities—rather than the blend of camphor, phenol and salicylic acid that is in another conventional example, Blistex. Our skin absorbs products into our body just as our digestive system does with food. We also tend to lick our lips and ingest flavored lip balms.
I consider myself the "anti-scrubber." Products that are strong enough to remove dead skin from the heels of your feet are not meant for faces. Even the gentle scrubbers can put tears in your skin. When your customers' lips get dry and flaky, tell them to avoid exfoliation and let the dead skin fall off naturally. Recommend vitamin C to protect and heal lips from sun damage. Signs of sun damage include red and dehydrated lips, which can lead to premature wrinkles around the mouth.
Believe it or not, aloe vera is a drying agent in lip balms. Who would have thought that this soothing botanical dries out our skin? When aloe is used in moisturizing products, it must be paired with oils and vitamin E to counteract its drying effects. Some shoppers avoid it altogether when buying lip balms. Another ingredient to avoid is a chemical drying agent in lip balm, propyl gallate, which is the laboratory version of an antioxidant.
When it comes to choosing the right lip balm to stock, remember to focus more on what is in it than what is not in it. Keeping that in mind can help customers protect their lips as well as their bodies.
Ashley Scroggins is a licensed aesthetician working with Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 11/p. 35