When it's cold out, we grab the lip balm and apply. And apply. And after the umpteenth application, we may wonder why our lips feel even more dry than before we started.
That recently happened to a woman using EOS lip balm — only when she reapplied, she claims her mouth broke out in blisters and rashes.
EOS, otherwise known as the Evolution of Smooth, is "anything but smooth," according to a lawsuit filed on Jan. 12 in Los Angeles.
The class action suit claims the "Summer Fruit" version of the lip balm company—which pays celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears to promote its cheerful, egg-shaped varieties—caused blisters and a rash to erupt all over the mouth of a woman named Rachel Cronin.
According to the document, after first applying the balm, "within hours, her lips became substantially dry and coarse, what Ms. Cronin describes as feeling like "sandpaper," causing her to apply more of the balm on her lip to achieve the results of becoming "sensationally smooth."
Cronin's lips began cracking on the edges and, by the next day, the surrounding skin had "severe blistering and rashes causing her to seek medical care on Dec. 7, 2015." The condition lasted for approximately 10 days, according to the lawsuit.
The suit asks for damages, claiming the company deceived consumers and misrepresented the product as natural and organic.
On Wednesday, the website TMZ posted pictures of a young woman's face, allegedly show irritation caused by the balm.
The company claims its lip balm products are 99 percent natural, organic, and gluten free. On Wednesday afternoon EOS Products tweeted its reaction to the suit.
However, even products that are natural, organic, and gluten free can still cause irritate or cause allergic reactions, dermatologists say.
"Just because something is natural doesn't mean it is safe. Anthrax is natural but not safe," said Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Organic refers to food—not skin care products—and no agency regulates whether beauty products are organic, he said.
So what possibly caused a bumpy, painful-looking rash?
Allergic contact dermatitis, which resembles eczeme, occurs when people touch something—natural or artificial—they are allergic to.
"Contact reactions are not that uncommon and can even happen with natural products," said Dr. Apple Bodemer, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City, says there's also a rash known as lip lickers dermatitis.
"Anything that has a flavor is potentially irritating and anything with a flavor in it will make you lick your lips," she said.
When people lick their lips, their saliva spreads over the lips and mouths.
"[Saliva] is basically digesting away your lips," she said. This makes it easier for people to contract a bacterial or viral infection.
Yet, the lip products themselves often create a vicious cycle of skin problems and dependence.
"It's not uncommon that lip balms and ChapSticks and lip plumpers can cause severe irritation on the lips and the skin around the lips. Some of the ingredients can actually dry out the lips —menthol, camphor, and phenol— that gives the tingling sensation.
That is actually a signal to the brain you are having a reaction," Bowe said.
This reaction is actually one of the reasons why people become hooked on lip balm. After the tingling and irritation, lips feel dry and cracked again, causing people to reach right for the lip balm.
The cure for irritation, unsightly rashes, and lip balm addiction?
"No one has ever been shown to have a reaction to petroleum jelly," said Bodemer.
According to Dr. Aleksandar Krunic, a dermatologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital and dermatology professor at University of Illinois College of Medicine, these are the simple, safest ingredients to look for in a lip balm:
- Paraben-free moisturizers like beeswax (cera alba)
- ceramides (fats that help retain water)
- Up to 5 percent of humectants — which help prevent cracked skin and reduce skin irritation — like urea or glycerin
- Dimethicone, which helps prevent drying and makes the product last longer
- Lanolin and cocoa butter