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The secret behind why lip balm makes your dry lips worse

Cracked skin, bleeding sores, dry lips — these are the types of things we use lip balm to prevent, especially in the winter. But some people are saying that not only did their EOS lip balm not prevent these problems, it actually caused them. And they’re suing.

Even though EOS lip balm has been taking store shelves (and purses) by storm with its adorable egg-shaped case, pastel colors and wide variety of flavors, some customers are alleging that the cute balm has done some very not-cute things to their lips.

People are reporting some serious skin damage, ranging from a burning feeling and excessively dried-out lips all the way to open sores around their mouths that take months to heal. Now injured customers have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, whose name, ironically, is an acronym for “evolution of smooth.”

I actually have the the lemon drop flavor on the table next to me right now and I’m giving it some serious side-eye.

So what causes this?

This kind of reaction isn’t as unusual as you might think, says Marina Peredo, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist. “We see a lot of reactions like this to cosmetic products in general,” she says, adding that it appears to be an allergic reaction, called contact dermatitis or cheilitis, to one or more of the ingredients in the lip balm.

More: Lip balm addiction: What it is and what you can do about it

Public enemy number one? Fragrances are the primary allergen in cosmetics, causing far more reactions than anything else, Peredo says. Numbers two and three are artificial colors and flavors. And after a quick scan down the EOS ingredients list, she finds several other common allergens including olive oil, coconut oil, vitamin E and even the beeswax used as the base ingredient of the popular balms — ingredients that are common in many lip products. She cautions that just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean you won’t have a problem with it, adding that all the different types of extracts could also cause a reaction.

“Some people are more sensitive than others, but it’s also possible to develop an allergy over time,” she explains. “And when you’re sensitive to one ingredient in a product, then you become sensitive to the whole thing.” Plus, people who have asthma or eczema have a higher risk of allergic reactions.

More: What exactly is happening under your skin when you pop a pimple

There may be another, subtler reason behind all the swollen lips, Peredo says. And it’s something we all do, especially in the cold, dry weather: lip licking. “Saliva itself can break skin down, and so constantly licking your lips can open up cracks, making you more susceptible to infection or a reaction,” she explains. “Combine that habit with lip balm and it can be a problem waiting to happen.”

What to use instead

Whatever the reason for the problems, however, she says there is a simple solution: products that have just a few ingredients and are free of all fragrances, flavors and colors. She recommends Vaseline and Aquaphor (, $5) particularly for dry lips. And if your lip product ever stings or burns, she says to stop using it immediately instead of trying to solve the problem by using more of it.

80s lip balm
Image: Twitchery/Flickr

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