How should we maintain our skin daily?
Let’s face it, our lips have to cope with a lot: rapidly stretched when speaking, eating and drinking; continuously wetted and dried with saliva, causing osmotic stress; often overlooked when it’s time to apply sunscreen, yet one of the most vulnerable sites when it comes to sun damage. Thankfully, a well-formulated lip balm can help address your lips’ distress and help you maintain beautiful lips.
The skin of the lips is very thin, only 3-4 cell layers thick, as opposed to 15-16 layers in other areas, making them very sensitive to temperature and touch since the nerves are closer to the surface. Lips have very few melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), allowing the red colour of blood vessels beneath to show through. Our lips are also quick to dry out because they don’t have any hair follicles or sebaceous glands, meaning they miss out on sebum, the body’s natural waterproofing agent.
The lips provide a unique challenge for formulators. The key function of a lip balm is to keep lips moisturised, but while a skin cream or lotion is designed to be absorbed quickly, that strategy won’t work on the lips. With lip balms, it all about forming a long-lasting film. Lip balms should be firm but still easy to spread, smooth and not gritty, easy to apply across a wide temperature range, they shouldn’t have any unpleasant tasting ingredients, or ingredients likely to cause irritation, and they shouldn’t be too sticky, greasy or shiny. Oh, and let’s not forget UV protection. The ideal lip balm won’t leave your lips to fend for themselves under the sun.
One advantage of not having any hair follicles or sweat glands on the lips is that lip balms can be more occlusive than a body or face product. Often, balms are water-free, and since microorganisms need water to grow, they don’t require preservatives. As we said, the skin of the lips is very thin, so it’s best to avoid any ingredients that could irritate sensitive skin, like preservatives, botanicals, sweeteners, as well as flavour and colour additives.[1,3]
A typical lip balm’s base is a balanced blend of oils and waxes. The oil is thickened with wax, or a blend of waxes, to form a sponge-like structure of wax crystals arranged in a lattice. Waxes can be of animal origin (like beeswax), vegetable origin (candellila, rice), mineral origin (paraffin wax), or synthetic (polyethelyne, carbowax). A blend of waxes will lower and broaden the melting range of the balm.
The oil component could be mineral oil, or any number of vegetal oils, like castor seed oil or shea butter. When formulating with vegetal oils, however, it’s important to include an antioxidant system to prevent the oils from turning rancid.
Finally, there are the ‘special ingredients’. Oil-soluble vitamins like A and E are commonly included, and UV filters are a must, particularly when formulating for the Australian market.
The blueprints for a lip balm might seem straightforward, but all formulating involves a careful process of trial, error and innovation to give a product that not only delivers on protection, but also feels great to use so that maintaining beautiful lips is slightly easier.
Always read the label and use only as directed.
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