Is Your Chapstick Making You Sick?

“Because of an apple Eden fell and Troy was destroyed.”
~  Marty Rubin

I know, it’s only Chapstick, right?  How could this favorite American brand cause harm?   The funny thing is, it’s the buildup of these “little things” that make us sick over the years!  So, if you’re going to make the effort to change your diet to improve your health, why would you leave the little, obvious, things to wreak havoc on your body, especially since changing them is so simple!

So, why would one worry about this tiny little tube of lip lubrication?  Because there is more junk in this tiny tube than there is anything helpful for your sensitive, kissable lips.  It’s time we take a look at the products we use on our skin, and seek alternate, healthier options.

alt="toxic chapstick"Chapstick wasn’t always filled with chemicals.  It was first created by a physician, Dr. C. D. Fleet, in the early 1880s, in Lynchburg, Virginia. The first chapsticks resembled small, wick-less candlesticks wrapped in tinfoil. Dr. Fleet decided the sales of his lip balms weren’t lucrative enough to be worth his time, so he sold his recipe for $5 to John Morton in 1912.

John Morton and his wife made their first chapsticks in their kitchen at home. Mrs. Morton melted the pink concoction on her stove, poured it through a small funnel into brass tubes and set them out on the porch for cooling.  After being cut into sticks, they were placed into containers for shipping.  The Mortons sold their successful “at-home” business to the A.H. Robins Company (originally a small apothecary, also known for originally introducing Robitussin) in 1963.

In 1988, as a result of huge losses due to litigation, A.H. Robins Company was acquired by American Home Products, renamed to Wyeth in 2002, which was eventually purchased by Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the current manufacturer, in 2009.

The first variety in the product came along in 1971 when they (A.H. Robins Company) began to offer four different flavors of Chapstick, and then changed again in 1981 when they began adding SPF15 sunblock.  It was in 1985 when petroleum was added and morphed into the Chapstick that we know today. 

This is really where our story begins.  The harmless lip balm made in the 1800’s is no longer so harmless!

What nasty ingredients really lurk inside of this seemingly harmless tasty tube?  It might surprise you!  Because there are so many formulas available, let’s take a look at some of the more common ingredients used in all varieties, leaving out the obviously terrible artificial sweeteners and flavorings to make it taste like candy (brilliant considering it would be toxic to children who chose to sample a bite):

Petrolatum is one of the main ingredients in many lip balms.  A study linking the petrolatum impurity polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs to breast cancer was completed at Columbia University. The study indicates that breast tissue of women with breast cancer were 2.6 times more likely to have increased amounts of PAHs attached to their DNA than the breast tissue of women without breast cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in oil, coal and tar deposits as byproducts of fuel burning.  It’s important to note that PAH’s were also found by researchers in mutated genes of test animals with mammary gland cancer. 

Isopropyl myristate is a synthetic oil used as an emollient, thickening agent, or lubricant in beauty products.  It is easily absorbed by the skin and ensures quick, deep penetration of the formulas ingredients.  Skin irritation may be one potential concern with isopropyl myristate, especially when used by individuals with sensitive skin, or in areas where the skin is thin like around the eyes or the lips (umm, hellloooo?).  Often, such irritation may be the result of isopropyl myristate’s ability to increase skin penetration by other chemicals. If these other ingredients happen to be known irritants, the deeper penetration may also cause more severe irritation.  This ability to increase skin penetration can become an even bigger problem if the product formula contains known carcinogens or other harmful chemicals. Therefore, when considering personal care items with isopropyl myristate, it’s vital to carefully assess other chemicals in the formula and whether the increased penetration can cause unexpected side effects.

Mineral oil is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum (often just called liquid petrolatum).  There are over 4,000 studies in the PubMed Science Library regarding the toxicity of mineral oil.  According to EWG’s Skin Deep, it may be an organ and immune system toxicant as well as a carcinogen.   (Now think about this ingredient added to isopropyl myristate!) 

Paraffin is a petrochemical (a byproduct of petroleum) and by-product of kerosene.  It’s known to trap toxins and excess oil on the body so that your skin can’t breathe properly. It has been shown to have trace amounts of 1,4 Dioxane, a known carcinogen.

Methylparaben and Propylparaben are both preservatives used to discourage the growth of microbes.  They are known endocrine disruptors, which means they disrupt hormone function (in both men and women) and are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.  Endocrine disruptors mimic estrogens in the body by binding to estrogen receptors on cells and wreaking havoc on the body’s organ systems, especially the reproductive system.
Artificial Colors such as red 6 lake are yet another petroleum based product. It increases hyperactivity in children, increases brain tumors in lab rats and other abnormal cell development. Yellow #6 can cause cancer, hyperactivity, allergic reactions, diarrhea, vomiting, nettle rash, migraines and swelling of the skin where applied.  Others include (depending upon the variety) FD&C Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5, and Red 33 to name a few.  Derived from coal tar, FD&C color pigments all contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins onto the skin, causing skin sensitivity and irritation. Animal studies have shown almost all FD &C colors to be carcinogenic as well (as if that wasn’t enough on its own). 

Chapstick even carries a warning label on their lip balm that should worry anyone.  “Keep out of reach of children. If swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away”.  Why in the world would anyone want to apply this anywhere near their mouth?! It makes no sense!

I’ve picked on Chapstick quite a bit, but keep in mind there are many other drugstore brands from Lipsmackers to Carmex that are no better.  Luckily there are many good lip balm alternatives as well!  One of my favorites is Zambeezi!  It is 100% USDA certified organic and a fair-traded product of Zambi, Africa.  Others that are safe and effective are Ecolips, and Dr. Bronner’s, just to name a few.  Just read the ingredients and be a smart shopper! 

For those of you who have the time, or just love doing projects with the family, lip balm is easily enough made in the comfort of your own home! (It also makes a really terrific, meaningful gift!)

Homemade Lip Balm  lip-balm-1117571_1280

1 Tbsp. Organic, Unrefined Coconut Oil

1 Tbsp. Organic Cocoa Butter, or 4 Organic Cocoa Butter Wafers

2 Tbsp. Organic Sunflower Oil

1 Tbsp plus 1 Tsp. Grated Beeswax or Beeswax Pastilles

10 Drops Organic Lavender Essential Oil

5 Drops Organic Clary Sage Essential Oil

A Few Drops Vitamin E Oil (Optional but Recommended)


Place chopped beeswax and oils in a small pot or glass Pyrex measuring cup and gently heat in the top of a double boiler until the beeswax has melted. Once melted, remove from the stove top and stir in the essential oils and Vitamin E oil. Immediately pour the mixture into lip balm containers. Allow your balm to cool completely before capping the containers. Makes enough to fill 10 lip balm tubes or three 1/2 oz tins. Enjoy! 

Keep in mind that you can substitute several of the ingredients and really make it your own!  For example, use mango butter instead of cocoa butter, or mix and match the organic essential oils to achieve the scent that you enjoy!  Mountain Rose Herbs is also a great resource for ingredients as well as containers for your creation! (Shipping can be a little slow though, so order early!)


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  1. says: Lena

    Thank you for the article! We just read it to our 9 year daughter and she gladly threw all of her lips balms away. I consider that a miracle since “chapstick ” has been her currency since she potty trained at 2 years old!

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