‘COULD your lip balm be poisoning you?’ wondered headlines earlier this month after a French consumer group claimed that a number contained toxins. UFC Que-Choisir tested 21 lip products and, based on what they found, advised that ten — including balms from well-known brands sold in the UK such as Garnier, Carmex, Labello and La Roche-Posay — should not be purchased.
According to the group, some contain materials that can interfere with hormones, while others contain mineral oils that, while not a problem on the skin, can be troublesome if you swallow them — which you’re likely to do with a lip product.
So should you be worried enough to start binning your balms? No, says Dr Chris Flower, director-general of industry body The Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, and also a chartered biologist and toxicologist.
‘Lip balms are not toxic and there is no cause for alarm,’ he says. ‘All cosmetic products in the UK and EU are governed by strict safety laws that ensure human safety and protect consumers.’
And that’s not all. ‘Mineral oils have been safely used in cosmetic products for more than 100 years and do not present any health risks,’ he adds. ‘Manufacturers of lip products use highly refined and high-quality mineral oils in their products.’
Part of the issue is that tiny traces of toxins are detectable by modern analysis — but that doesn’t mean they’re a risk to your health. Most of the research that suggests this material might be dangerous was not done on humans but on mice, and with far higher doses than you’re likely to use on your lips. With a lip balm, it’s very unlikely you’re getting anywhere near enough to worry about.
Still not convinced? OK, then, start looking at ingredients labels. The specific compounds aren’t listed so you’ll have to avoid anything that contains any mineral oil, usually listed as liquid paraffin or petrolatum, and butylated hydroxytoluene, the ingredient UFC suggested could interact with the hormone system.
Alternatively, you can make your own. Neal’s Yard has a recipe that uses one tablespoon of shea nut butter, one teaspoon of castor oil, one teaspoon of sunflower oil and one teaspoon of beeswax with a few drops of essential oil — all ingredients you should be able to get from your local health food store. You heat it all in a bain-marie, then pour it into a jar or a tin. Job done.