Listen, we live in the desert. It’s always super dry here. But now that we’re in the depths of winter, the colder temperatures, wind, and forced-air heating indoors make our skin feel about as dry as our desert dust. Our lips can be especially hard hit, leaving us with dry, cracked, painful lips. We need an ultra-moisturizing lip balm to protect our smoochers from winter’s dryness.
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I’m pretty obsessed with taking good care of my skin, but I definitely pay the most attention to my lips.
I’ve bought a ton of lip care products through the years. And I still do, almost compulsively. However, nothing I’ve found works as well as my own formulations.
I am a chemist by training. I used to daydream about going into a career in cosmetic chemistry. Although I never did that professionally, I definitely do it for my own use. I can make relatively complex mixtures for head-to-toe beauty care. However, the best lip stuff I’ve ever made is a super simple recipe.
If you’d like to try my DIY, no-fail lip-rescue lip balm, read on!
The key to rescuing those dry, chapped lips—and really all your skin and hair—is to use a three-part formulation:
1. Moisture (something water-based)
2. An emollient to soften (penetrating oil)
3. An emollient to seal (coating oil)
Those three elements form the foundation of highly effective products to protect your lips, skin, and hair. It’s also possible to get all the basic ingredients from your local grocery or drug store.
To bind the water and oils together, it’s helpful to add an emulsifier. However, if you use a moisture base that has emulsifiers in it already, you don’t need to buy anything extra. The other option is to just re-stir your DIY product every so often. If you want to buy an emulsifier, there are options out there. They’re just not typically carried where you do your weekly shopping.
To preserve your products for longer shelf life, it’s good to add something to keep the germs at bay. For the most part, I suggest making a small batch or keeping larger batches refrigerated. Grapefruit seed extract is a great natural preservative that you can add. I’ve found it in the supplements section at Sprouts.
The best part is that by making simple adjustments to the straightforward recipe for the lip-rescue lip balm, you can create other effective products for your body, dry hands, cracked heels, and parched hair.
Some of these ingredients might take you by surprise but hear me out! They work! Let’s get started.
Lip-Rescue Lip Balm
1. Moisture – Either one of these works: a fragrance-free lotion base or aloe vera gel.
My personal choice is Trader Joe’s Hand and Body Cream. It may sound weird to put hand and body lotion on your lips, but it works super well. This one is rich, thick, and fragrance-free. It has Moroccan argan oil in it, which is a great penetrating oil. Alternatively, you can use aloe vera gel. Fruit of the Earth brand is fragrance-free and has ingredients that make it a more stable gel that won’t require constant re-mixing. It’s important to choose something fragrance-free so that you won’t end up with an unpleasant flavor to your balm.
2. Softening / penetrating emollient – To me, this is the key to a really amazing lip (and other skin) moisturizer: 100% Vitamin E.
Not an oil blend, but the thick, pure stuff. About 1/3 of your final product will be vitamin E. I source mine in bulk since I use it for EVERYTHING, but you can buy smaller bottles of it online. Or, if you’re more patient than I am, you can pierce the vitamin E softgels that you take as a supplement one by one. Vitamin E not only penetrates and softens, but it’s also an antioxidant and natural preservative.
3. Sealing emollient – For my lips, I’ve found nothing beats lanolin.
Of course, this will not work for you if you’re vegan, so pick a good alternative, like this one from Etsy. If you’re okay with lanolin, though, it is the best sealant I’ve found to keep the moisture and penetrating oil in your lips for a long time to heal all the dryness. Lanolin is a great softening agent itself. Because it’s natural, it also penetrates well. It’s used by nursing moms to soothe irritated nipples, and it’s safe for baby. Lanolin is safe for your lips, too.
Finally, if you scale-up this recipe and plan to have it around for a long time, you’ll need an antimicrobial agent.
Grapefruit seed extract is a great option, which you can buy at Sprouts and other natural grocers. Bonus! Some say it has therapeutic benefits of its own in skin care recipes. The formulation made with glycerin provides even more benefits since glycerin is a humectant, which draws in extra moisture from the air. That extra moisture will make your lip-rescue lip balm even more beneficial.
Here’s the super-simple recipe for a small jar of Lip-Rescue Lip Balm.
- 1 tsp Trader Joe’s Hand and Body Cream or aloe vera gel
- 1 tsp 100% pure vitamin E oil
- 1 tsp 100% pure lanolin (or all-vegetable petroleum jelly alternative)
- 3 drops grapefruit seed extract (33% formulation in glycerin)
Put the ingredients into a clean, small jar. Use a popsicle stick to stir the ingredients thoroughly. You can scale up this recipe easily since it’s a 1:1:1 mix of the main ingredients. Afterward, you can add one drop of grapefruit seed extract per teaspoon. It’s very easy to remember. If you make a lot, though, I recommend that you store the extra in the fridge until you’re ready to use it up within about one month. Keep in mind, unless you’re working in a sterile lab environment, this mix is not sterile. Use clean implements and check on your product to ensure it’s not growing any nasties before you use it.
You can experiment with the basic “moisture/softening emollient/sealing emollient” formula to make other hair- and skin-care products.
Here are some of my favorites from head to toe:
Juiced-Up Hair Conditioner (leave-in, rinse-out, or pre-wash treatment, depending on your hair type and personal preferences)
- 2 parts moisturizer: conditioner or aloe vera gel
- 1-2 parts softening emollient: oils like argan (lightweight) or avocado (heavyweight)
- ½-1 part sealing emollient: oils like jojoba oil (lightweight) or shea butter (heavyweight)
Extra-Moisturizing Face Lotion
- 1 part moisturizer: Trader Joe’s Hand and Body Lotion (my choice for dry or “mature” skin) or aloe vera gel (better for oily skin)
- ½-1 part softening emollient: vitamin E oil or argan oil
- Sealing emollient: I personally skip this and add more penetrating emollient
Powerful Hand Lotion
- 1 part moisturizer: Trader Joe’s Hand and Body Lotion
- ½-1 part softening emollient: vitamin E oil or olive oil
- ¼-½ part sealing emollient: shea butter or petroleum jelly alternative
Cracked-Heel Rescue and Foot Lotion
- 1 part moisturizer: Trader Joe’s Hand and Body Lotion
- 1 part all-natural sealing emollient (acts as a penetrating emollient on your feet): shea butter, cocoa butter, or castor oil
- 1 part super-sealing emollient: petroleum jelly (my preference) or a non-petroleum alternative
Pro Tip: put this on after your shower or bath, then put on socks and wear them for a while. If you’re like me and can’t sleep with socks on, consider putting a little of your homemade foot lotion on your heels then wear a pair of toe-less, gel-lined socks to bed.
Souped-Up Body Lotion
- 1 part moisturizer: body lotion or body butter
- 1 part softening emollient: olive or avocado oil
- ½-1 part sealing emollient: shea butter
Have fun experimenting with variations on the central idea of having a moisturizer, softening/penetrating emollient, and sealing emollient.
Try out different oil combinations and consistencies. See if you prefer a lotion base or aloe vera gel base.
If it turns out that DIY skin care is not your thing, reach out to me. I LOVE doing this stuff. However, I really want to encourage you to have fun trying this out. This is a fun project you can even do with your kids.
Speaking of kids, if anyone has good tips for getting your kids to apply lip balm, lotion, and sunscreen without acting like you’re coating them with burning-hot poison, please let me know!
Originally published January 2021.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.