Dry lips despite constantly using lip balm? It is not your fault, it’s the balm!

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Did you ever had a feeling that despite wearing “tons” of lip balm your lip remain dry and flaky or even get worse? You probably blamed yourself for not being diligent enough and not using the lip balm as often as you should.

It turns out, the blame is mostly on the lip balm!

It is hardly news that lips get dry easily. Neglect lip care for long when the weather is harsh, and you will be promptly “rewarded” with lip roughness, flaky lips, and lip wrinkles. Fact is that lips are prone to dryness. Even the most luminous and vibrant lips usually contain less water in their uppermost skin layer compared to normal skin. The reason for this is the skin of lips is very thin and more exposed, which leads to higher water loss, roughness and lip wrinkles. By using a lip balm, we create a protective layer on the skin of the lips that prevents water loss and keeps lips soft and plump.

But why some lip balms work and others don’t, despite regular use?  Eiko Tamura and her co-workers from the Make-up Product Research Laboratory of Kao Corporation (Japan) have examined just that.

The researchers first prepared two highly similar lip balms, one that could keep 67% of water in the skin (Formula A) and another one that could keep 85% of water in the skin (Formula B).

Then they asked 20 Japanese female participants aged 20 to 39 with normal skin (but with somewhat dry and rough lips) to use both formulas: half were to exclusively use Formula A and the other half to exclusively use Formula B. To make sure that products used previously by the participants did not interfere with the results, all participants used Formula A for one week before the study begun. The participants were then instructed to use the lip balm they were assigned to four times a day: in the morning, lunchtime, evening and before going to bed.

Before starting the test, the lip skin roughness and vertical lip wrinkles were measured in all participants, from scale 0 to 2. Smooth lips were graded with “roughness = 0”, lips with slight flakes and rough patches with “roughness = 1″ and heavily rough lips with extensive flaking and scaling with ” roughness = 2″. The average score for skin roughness between all participants was 1.3, indicating medium to high roughness. On the lip wrinkle side, lips with no or almost no vertical wrinkles were graded with “wrinkle level = 0”, lips with wrinkles, but no deep vertical ones with “wrinkle level = 1” and lips with many deep vertical wrinkles with “wrinkle level = 2”.The average score for lip wrinkles between all participants was 1.4, indicated medium to high wrinkle level.

After four weeks of trial, the first observation was, that Formula A did not improve the lip skin roughness at all and participants that used it remained at roughness level 1.3. Amazingly, by continuous use of Formula B, the roughness scores improved drastically in the parallel group, from 1.3 on average initially to 0.9 after 2 weeks and to 0.4 (almost normal) after 4 weeks. Lip wrinkle analysis showed similar story: while Formula A did not improve lip wrinkle levels at all, by continuous use of Sample B lip wrinkle scores improved from 1.4 on average to 0.9 after 4 weeks.

The research then looked at what happened in the skin of the lips using specialized measuring devices. The story was similar there too: the surface roughness measured with a special 3D camera, showed improvement for Formula B and no improvement for Formula A. Formula B was not totally useless though: it did decrease the speed water was lost through the skin, albeit to a lesser extent than Formula A did. That however was not enough to have an impact on the lip appearance.

That is quite a contrast in performance for two formulas, that differ by only about 18% in their capacity to hold water in the skin! With so little that separates the good ones from worthless, no wonder many lip balm products will not deliver on their promise!

So next time you are shopping for a lip balm, look for products containing high levels of natural waxes, such as beeswax or plant waxes. Waxes are the Natures shield to water loss (after all many plants cover themselves in wax just for this reason), and they will do the same on your lips. If you unsure about the ingredients, observe how your lip feels after applying lip balm. Is your lip balm too quick to get absorbed? It will probably not work. If, however, you feel a thin and pleasant film remaining on your lips, it will probably work. In any case, if you did not see an improvement after two weeks, it is time to try a new lip balm!

This post is discussing the following peer-reviewed article: Tamura, E., Yasumori, H. and Yamamoto, T. (2020), The efficacy of a highly occlusive formulation for dry lips. Int J Cosmet Sci, 42: 46-52. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ics.12583