Carmex “addiction”

Two different Carmex pot designs.

For many years now, people have mentioned some form of lip balm addiction, usually Carmex addiction. There are valid reasons to believe lip balm is a bad idea, and Carmex in particular; furthermore, I don’t really care what you do to your own lips. But the “addiction” cycle people discuss is something of a misnomer.

Also, erm. So. I listen to this geeky wonderful podcast called Back to Work,* and in Episode 149 Merlin Mann stated that Carmex feels good when you put it on, because the active ingredient is acetylsalicylic acid, which is the same as aspirin. So you’re essentially balming your lips with aspirin. I’m here to correct that statement, and describe in too much detail what Carmex is actually made of and how it works. God I’m a pretentious asshole. Here goes!

Carmex, for the unfamiliar, is this gross terrible balm you can buy for super cheap in a white milk glass pot with a yellow painted metal lid. The old lid design (showing the old URL) is on the left; the new design is on the right. You can also get it in a tube but why would you, because why would you get it all? It sucks.Two different Carmex pot designs.

Carmex is made mostly of lanolin, otherwise known as the grease off a sheep’s back, and then a bunch of other crap including camphor, menthol, and salicylic acid.

Lanolin is the emollient agent which helps moisturize skin that has become dried or cracked usually from weather extremes. Moisturizes by coating your LIPS in a film of SHEEP SKIN GREASE. I cannot stress this part enough. Ew.

Menthol and camphor both provide that cooling, “aaah” feeling when you apply it. They create the illusion that a product is being deeply absorbed, when in fact it’s some weird aromatherapy trickery of bringing the blood closer to the skin. (Look, I’m a linguistics major, an online dating coach, and a hobbyist beauty blogger, OK? I’m no Dr. Drang. Go ask him why it makes your skin feel all cold and deeply-penetratey. Phrase it just like that. Come back and tell me how it went.)

Salicylic acid is where it gets interesting. This is somewhat similar to aspirin chemically, hence the somewhat similar names. (A Twitter pal with more chemistry knowledge than me said that aspirin is salicylic acid with an acetyl group, which is wholly different.) Despite not being a chemistry wizard, I do know that these chemicals confuse a lot of people linguistically, and they’re similar enough that people who are extremely allergic to aspirin sometimes have issues with products containing salicylic acid, and vice versa. BUT they’re not the same thing.

They’re both originally derived from a certain willow bark, though I’m pretty sure we synthesize them both now. Acetylsalicylic acid/aspirin is an analgesic we take orally, or I guess sometimes topically; salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid we usually use in skincare and beauty products to exfoliate the skin. Chemically. You know those creepy chemical peels you hear about celebrities or fancy people getting that give you face dandruff and then allegedly make you look prettier? Yeah, those are salicylic acid, but at mega-high percentages (like 30%; the most you’ll ever find in a consumer beauty product is 3-5%.) Carmex doesn’t list the percentage of salicylic acid, as I believe they are not required to do below 0.5% in the USA. But that quantity is not nominal; this stuff is strong.

Salicylic acid causes your skin to shed. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do. So why the heck is it in Carmex? A: To cut down the lifetime of cold sores by causing that skin to shed. Salicylic acid is a great cold sore and acne blemish treatment, because it forces exfoliation by making skin dry out and fall off, thus speeding up the life cycle of whatever unpleasant skin thing you’re trying to cure. (Don’t, uh, don’t go putting it willy-nilly on other types of herpes sores. Not a doctor.)

The problem most people have with Carmex is that the salicylic acid dries out more than just their cold sores, ya know? It has the effect of drying out their entire lips. So then they feel like they need more Carmex to soothe those dried out lips, thus the cycle of perceived Carmex addiction.

Carmex’s website states it like this:

SALICYLIC ACID — A mild exfoliant allows moisturizers to be better absorbed.

Sure, kinda. It’s an exfoliant, but its mildness varies from person to person, like any chemical exfoliant. The effect is also increased over time with repeated usage. And like any chemical exfoliant, it’s always going to have a certain amount of drying and shedding effect on the user, even when combined with a heavy greasy disgusting emollient like lanolin, which I’m under moral obligation to remind you is sebum from a goddamn sheep. Salicylic acid doesn’t actually help moisturizers be “absorbed” per se, especially in that you might not so desperately need said moisturizers if you weren’t applying an inherently chemical exfoliant to your delicate lip skin. I get that they need a perceived justification for what is usually an acne and cold sore drying-out skin-peeling ingredient, don’t you?

Anyway, there you have it. Carmex is not addictive, and it does not contain aspirin, but it can cause a cycle of perceived dependency because it’s designed to dry your skin out, and it tends to accomplish that task well, especially with repeated usage. If you like that menthol-cooling feeling but you don’t like the idea of chemical exfoliants or sheep grease, try using a lip balm that contains peppermint essential oil but doesn’t contain any salicylic acid or lanolin, respectively. (There are loads; poke around at your local hippie grocery.) You’re likely to suddenly realize you’re not, in fact, addicted to lip balm, and that you can stop using it whenever you choose. And you won’t be rubbing sheep grease all over your mouth like an animal, either! Yay! Everybody wins! Except for Carmex! Oh well!



*I doubt there’s much crossover between my beauty blog reading audience and my tech podcast consuming audience, but alas. I’m sticking this post here anyway, because it’s technically a beauty and skincare topic, ya know? Go visit my business site or my more techy blog if you like.

Mountain Rose Herbs giveaway

Mountain Rose Herbs, my favorite hippie skincare and herb supplier is doing a very cool giveaway for the best herbal recipes of 2011. Check ’em out — not only do they have great ideas there and a killer prize, but these guys sell extremely high-quality, well-priced DIY skincare items. I use them to purchase all my butters and almost all of my oils, and they have some terrific tea blends too. Plus hardish to find items like Fuller’s Earth clay. Kicking myself for forgetting about an argan oil refill on my last order — ah well, at least I have an excuse to load up on some more fun stuff soon!

DIY goals for 2011

The time is now! For several years, I’ve been wanting to make my own naturally-pigmented lip stains. I had always assumed beet powder was the only option I had, but a cup of Tazo Passion tea recently reminded me that, in addition to beets, there’s also hibiscus, red cabbage, saffron, and turmeric. (How did I come up with this list, you ask? By thinking of all the things that stain my hands in the kitchen!)

I switched to using lip stains instead of glosses, balms, or lipsticks way back in 2006 when I met my husband, because he couldn’t stand kissing a made-up mouth. I started a long EDS thread about it in which many others chimed in, and I blogged some updates here. The conclusion was and still is that Vincent Longo stains are best, largely because of the wand applicator. So I’ll be using empty wand applicator tubes designed for lip gloss when I make my own stains.

Since my main complaint about the VL ones is that they’re too dark for my coloring and can be slightly drying, I’ll be making mine in softer shades and including moisturizing ingredients (I’m thinking glycerine and honey). They may not work out, but I already have 75% of the components I need anyway, so it can’t hurt to try!

In addition to stains, I’m planning on making new oil blends for facial and body moisturizers, plus a facial cleansing oil; and a belly butter for my pregnant pal; and taking another stab at DIY deodorant since Aromacreme isn’t back yet.

Blum face pads — worth a try!

I’ve been hunting for the perfect face wipes for AGES — I’ve never found a formulation that wasn’t chock-full of dimethicone, propylene glycol, and harsh surfactants. Not exactly what my sensitive, breakout-prone skin ordered! (I even shelled out for Josie Maran’s Bear Naked wipes and found that they sting SO BAD!)

But I just spotted this product on Glamour’s beauty blog and I think my search might finally be over. (I love that they contain tea tree oil AND a low percentage of salicylic acid.) Now I just have to actually find a vendor that sells them so I can read the full ingredient list…

The Hair Powder Shakedown

Pun totally intended.

I started using Jurlique Rose Silk Dust a couple years ago on my face, and I discovered that it was a bit too drying to use often. But, of course, I was unwilling to waste such an expensive product! So I started using it on the wispy hair bits around my face that tend to get greasy thanks to my cleansing cream and my DIY facial oil blend that I use to moisturize. And thus begun my love affair with hair powder!

Not only do I have coarse, drier hair, but I also have hair that tends to look WAY better when unwashed for a couple days. And since it’s dry, it tends to look fine unwashed except right at the scalp or around my hairline. So the advent of  hair powder as a common beauty product has been an almost-ideal solution… except that some hair powders are AWFUL.

I tried a travel size bottle of Ojon Rub-Out, and HATED it. Greasy, stinky (but not in their usual signature yummy Ojon scent) and flaky-looking. I’d been using Bumble and Bumble Hair Powder as a very different type of styling aid, but I found it didn’t translate well to scalp use AT ALL. (The brown turns your scalp brown and the white just looks like chalky dandruff, and both irritate the skin while failing to make you less greasy-looking after a long day.) And don’t even THINK about brushing your hair with either of these products in it, unless you want to spend an hour on brush cleaning afterwards. Ew. So I opted to avoid spray formulations and just go for straight up powder… powder. Continue reading “The Hair Powder Shakedown”

Lavender is dead to me now!

Our kitty, Trumpet, is an adorable sweet feline — but he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He often uses his litterbox, forgets to cover up his own kitty-products, and then refuses to go in it if there’s exposed kitty-product the next time around. So he goes on the floor in front of the box.

We purchased a special rubberized mat that goes in front of the box to help remedy this problem. It has little grooved tracks to help remove excess litter from his paws when he steps out of the box. And usually when he gets confused and goes in the wrong place, it all goes on the mat, which makes it a pretty simple thing to clean up. We just rinse out the mat in our spare shower, and then suds it up with some soap.

That’s where the lavender comes in. The soap I always use for this task is just our lavender-infused hand soap, because it’s naturally antibacterial and deodorizing. But after several months of doing this off and on, I now can’t smell lavender without thinking of cat piss.

Way to go, kitty. You ruined an entire genre of skincare items for me! I’m hoping my love of lavender will return to me someday, but it kind of amuses me how strong this association is. We’re DEFINITELY switching hand soaps when this stuff runs out, though — I feel like I’m washing my hands in… well you know.

Thanks a lot, kitty!

Borrowing from Bare Escentuals

I recently caught wind of the Rare Minerals acne-fighting mineral powder concealer by Bare Escentuals, and now I see that it’s been voted a Sephora best-of.

I’ve always wanted to avoid anything by BE, since they are notorious for including the chemical bismuth oxychloride in their formulations.  (Many people are quite allergic to bismuth, and it causes a rash-like reaction that takes ages to clear up.  I’m not eager to find out whether I should count myself in those ranks or not!)  And bismuth aside, this stuff definitely has some other ingredients (like dimethicone) that would aggravate my breakouts.

However, the idea of making a powder concealer that contains acne-fighting ingredients definitely intrigues me.  I’ve been trying to figure out a good BHA solution for ages and ages, and concealers that help dry up and bust blemishes definitely appeal to me.  And since my problem with salicylic acid was always figuring out how to get it to dissolve in a liquid base, the idea of being able to leave it in its powdered form is a definite bonus!

I’m going to try this out with my Everyday Minerals concealer set.  I’ll mix the shades that best match my skin for covering blemishes, and I’ll add a few drops of manuka essential oil (gentler than BE’s tea tree oil, and less stinky), and a bit of powdered salicylic acid.  I may also try adding some powdered zinc oxide, both for extra sun protection and for its soothing properties.  (I just have to make sure it doesn’t lighten the mix too much.)

If I can track some down, I might also add powdered sulphur, since that’s the acne-fighting ingredient that always shows me great results on individual blemishes.  However, sulphur’s smell really turns my stomach, so it may be worth while to leave that out of the mix.  It looks like I’ll be making up to four different batches to test this idea out, so I’ll post updates soon.  Thanks for the great idea, BE!

With new territories come new… smells

Turns out, tagetes is STINKY! My package from Nature’s Gift arrived recently, and I mixed up a little vial of tagetes essential oil in a neem and avocado oil base. I started anointing dear Grant’s toes with it, and I was wowed by how smelly it is. Not like anything else I’ve smelled, and certainly not as offensive as neem, but very… strong.  It’s also a very bright yellow color, kind of like turmeric or saffron, and it does kinda stain the skin/nail bed.

I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of results we get. I specifically designed this toenail fungus treatment for Grant, because he can’t stand the smell of vinegar. So the normal vinegar bath method was kinda out of the question, if I wanted him to be a willing participant. Here’s hoping this vinegar-free method makes all the stink worth it!

Tagetes to the rescue?

I’ve always considered myself fairly savvy with essential oils, but I’m learning more and more as I go. I had the basics down, but now I’m delving into some lesser-known oils, like manuka (below) and, this time, tagetes.

Tagetes is the oil from a type of marigold, and it has powerful anti-fungal properties. I’ve been trying to come up with an effective essential oil blend for toenail fungus for a while now, so that people can avoid taking those awful and side-effect-riddled oral medications. I had a mix of neem and tea tree, which is great for some other fungus-type problems, but which never seemed to do the trick for toenails.

But I was turned on to tagetes oil thanks to a couple of EDS members, and I started looking into it more. This stuff is renowned for killing fungi! Bye-bye, sad toenails. (Not my own, thankfully, but those of a certain someone close to me who was reluctant to wear sandals all last summer.) I’m hoping by this summer, that certain someone’s tootsies will be good to go, thanks to tagetes.

The Magic Formula

I’ve been working on my homemade deodorant for several months now, and I think I finally hit the jackpot with today’s batch. I made a couple of targeted adjustments that really improved the overall product.

I cut out the neem oil entirely, because even though neem is great for antibacterial and antifungal purposes, it’s too stinky! I also switched from tea tree to manuka oil, which has a slightly less over-the-top smell. And lastly, I added a lovely fragrant EO blend that doesn’t have any beneficial purpose in a deodorant, but that helps it smell nice (and masks the smell of other ingredients).

Combine that with better ratios of ingredients, a more finely-milled version of an herb powder I wanted to use, and a general better hand at blending all this stuff in the right order, and presto! I’m very excited by my new recipe, and I think it’s going to become my standard. Never again will I have to suffer underarm irritation, not to mention the potential risks of Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. I’m so pleased!