Pros: The fact that petroleum jelly has been in use since 1878 seems to attest to its effectiveness as a salve for dry skin—and to some extent, it does. While studies have found that the substance doesn't have an actual healing effect, it does create a seal on your skin, preventing air from drying out your lips and protecting them from the elements.
Cons: Petroleum jelly is made from just that—petroleum, a nonrenewable resource that may be contaminated with cancer-causing agents called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also present in grilled meats. Furthermore, ingesting it (which happens when you slather it on your lips) can lead to upset stomachs and diarrhea.
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Pros: Like petroleum jelly, beeswax creates a seal on your lips that protects them from air and other elements that can dry them out. And there are no adverse health effects associated with licking too much beeswax off your lips.
Cons: If the current decline of honeybees continues, beeswax-based lip balms may not be around for us to enjoy forever. Plus, the cost of the ingredient tends to raise the price of the lip balms that contain it.
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The Winner Is…
Beeswax! Since beeswax does everything that petroleum-based ingredients do without the health or environmental risks, the decision is easy. "Rather than petroleum-based waxes, I like products that use a combination of beeswax and a nourishing and soothing oil such as shea butter, cocoa butter, or coconut oil, says Mindy Pennybacker, author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices. Because these oils are all edible, they won’t upset your stomach if ingested either.
Bonus: Making your own beeswax-based lip balm is incredibly easy. This all-natural lip balm recipe features beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, and peppermint essential oil—so it cools as it soothes. You can make a 100% natural lipstick with beeswax, too.
Not the DIY type? Seek out store-bought lip balms with third party-verified seals such as "USDA Organic" or "Natural Products Association Certified,” both of which restrict the use of unhealthy synthetic ingredients. One to try: Cocovit Organic Orange + Basil Lip Balm.
Scan the ingredient list, too, avoiding petroleum and its synonyms (paraffin, petrolatum, and mineral oil) and "fragrance,” which is code for synthetic chemicals that may include hormone-disrupting phthalates. Even some natural ingredients used to in lip balms, particularly citrus and lemon verbana, can be irritating to skin—so if you're the sensitive type, choose another scent.