In North America alone, the lip care industry has a value of almost $590 million.
The tiny tubes of lip balm stashed in your car, bag, desk, and bathroom contribute to an industry that only exists to moisturize your dry lips, and profits greatly from it.
We all use it, almost mindlessly. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “Does lip balm expire?”
Most makeup and beauty products have a defined shelf life, but lip balm can be tricky. In fact, the most common brand of lip balm is ChapStick, which is so dominant in the market that chapstick is now a term for all lip balms colloquially.
So for real, how do we know our lip balm is still safe to use?
How Long Does Lip Balm Last?
Lip balm does expire, but it depends on the type of lip balm you use and its ingredients. ChapStick and Burt’s Bees, the top two lip balm brands in the United States, both advise that their products be disposed of after a year or according to a date on the label. Other brands, like Carmex, stamp the expiration date on the closed end of the tube.
If your lip balm expiration date is MIA, check for a PAO or Period After Opening symbol. These often look like small containers with “6M or 12M” on them. This means that 6 or 12 months after opening, the product should be ditched.
Two key ingredients that are used as sunscreen in lip balm have an impact on how long lip balm lasts. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, safe mineral UV blockers we use in our reef-safe sunscreen, are both safe naturally-occurring minerals that protect against UV and pose no threat to the body when applied topically. However, these protectants lose efficacy over time, so balm with sunscreen should be tossed after a year if you’re using them for UV protection.
Since lip balm is in direct contact with your mouth, any bacteria can transfer to the stick itself and continue to grow. For example, if you have a cold sore and use lip balm or lipstick, it’s possible to contaminate the whole tube with bacteria and/or viruses.
If you use a chapstick that comes in a tin or plastic container, your fingers are passing bacteria into the tin and back onto your lips. Gross! Be sure to always wash your hands before touching your lips.
For any lip product, we recommend using it for only a year after it’s been opened. Expired chapstick can have bacteria and fungus, which can cause skin issues and irritation, especially if your skin is sensitive.
How to Tell if Your Lip Balm Has Gone Bad
Since lip balm has oils and fats in it, they can start to go rancid after about a year. Even with preservatives like vitamin E to slow down the oxidation of the product, your lip balm will have an unpleasant scent after expiration. If your balm has a smell or worse yet, physical evidence of mold or other growths, it’s time to toss it.
Studies have shown that cosmetic products used after their expiration date have a higher level of bacteria contamination. Unsurprisingly, there were even higher levels of bacteria on products like lip gloss, mascara, and skincare products that were used by multiple people—so it’s best not to share cosmetic products at all.
How to Extend The Shelf Life of Your Lip Balm
To extend the life of your favorite lip balm, keep it in a cool, dry place away from any sunlight or extreme temperatures.
Natural lip balms that have few ingredients and no added fragrances are a great choice to ensure that your product will serve you well and stay safe. Fragrances, fun as they are, can actually break down and cause the product to go bad earlier than lip balms with fewer ingredients.
Some doctors actually recommend disinfecting lip products every once in a while by dipping them in alcohol. For lip balm, wipe off the top layer, twist out the whole tube, and dip every exposed part into isopropyl alcohol for 30 seconds.
It’s not a perfect solution, but if you’ve been sick recently or have some unwanted lint on it, this is an easy way to keep it clean and extend its life.
What Kind of Lip Balm Should I Buy?
For a low maintenance lip balm that will nourish your lips, try Public Goods’ Lip Balm. With only three ingredients, all of which are pronounceable, vegan, and chemical-free, this is a fantastic choice. We’d recommend tossing it after a year just to be safe, but it’ll likely be empty by then.
Some lip balms are being investigated by the FDA because their “natural flavors” are causing harmful allergic reactions. Stay away from lip balms that claim to be natural but still don’t list every ingredient. Paraffin wax and other risky ingredients might be in your favorite lip balm too.
It’s best to use any product that has recognizable, straight forward ingredients.
Next time you open a new lip balm, write the date in a permanent marker on the bottom. That way, you’ll never wonder again if it’s safe to use when you find a hidden stash.
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