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Kiehl's Lip Balm #1 is overrated

December 3, 2008 Reviewed by admin 3 Comments
Even when their lips have turned white, crusty, or even bloody, few men will instinctively reach for a moisturizing balm to relieve their chapped lips.Rather than resemble the glossy pout of a girl, their macho lips are more comfortable looking like reptilian hide.And so, it surprised me when my boyfriend offered to share with me his tube of Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 last winter.With its functional packaging and low-shine luster, this lip balm is a paradigm of unisex utility.Perhaps you have come across one of those familiar celebrity endorsements of Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 as a beauty essential, and wondered, like me, is it worthy of all the high-profile hype?

The abridged response is “no,” but allow me to explain.As the ideal accessory to the biting winds of winter, Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 never leaves my pocket when the cold weather sets in, residing right next to my trail map on ski trips.Interestingly, the texture seems to change in line with temperature.The more solid consistency of the balm in cold temperatures is far more pleasant than the greasy coating it imparts when warmed.

I find that Kiehl's Lip Balm #1 makes my lips feel both softer and, somehow, plumper.  This feeling is likely just the effect of globbing on a thick, greasy substance. Though it provides a nice slick landing strip for a tinted lip product, it wears off rather easily, especially if drinking and eating are involved. Without the lasting power of a wax-based formula, the balm typically disappears without a trace half an hour after application, and lips soon return to their thirsty state. I can't help but wonder at a glaring design flaw in the packaging, since the hole in its flat top does not permit easy application and requires you to rub in the formula with your finger.

Reading the ingredients on a tube of Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 is like watching the malicious deeds of How the Grinch Stole Christmas unfold.Though it starts out with a joyful community of lip protectors, it gradually descends into an ugly patch of additives. Squalane, a moisturizing oil extracted from olives, is easily absorbed into the skin and remarkably compatible with the skin’s natural oils.  Allantoin serves to soften the horny substance (keratin) that holds the top layer of skin cells together, helping to shed the dead skin cells and leave the skin softer.  With the antioxidant addition of tocopherol (vitamin E) and the skin-conditioning help of aloe leaf extract and wheat germ oil, the happy part comes to a sorry end.

The balm provides protection from the sun by virtue of octinoxate, a chemical sun blocking agent that helps to prevent skin from burning by absorbing ultraviolet radiation in the UVB range. Strangely, octinoxate loses its effectiveness when exposed to sunlight unless it is combined with other UV blockers.  Animal studies have indicated that octinoxate may produce estrogen-like and other adverse effects.  Although research is currently inconclusive, children and pregnant women are advised to steer clear of octinoxate due to safety concerns.

Petrolatum, which is just petroleum jelly by another name, comprises over 90% of Kiehl's lip balm formula.Though it leaves the same greasy feeling as glycerin, a humectant that absorbs moisture from the air, petrolatum repels water.Not absorbed by the skin, petrolatum creates a sealing effect that softens the skin and prevents moisture loss.Over the past decade, petrolatum, which can be considered a combination of mineral oil and petroleum wax, has come under harsh scrutiny from European regulators.In a lab study, small portions of hydrocarbons were absorbed by a particular strain of rat and accumulated in the liver and mesenteric lymph nodes, but evidence is lacking that petrolatum is in fact carcinogenic.

Another emollient, lanolin, is extracted from the sebum of sheepswool.  Lanolin has made its way into cosmetics because its unique properties form a protective barrier over dry skin and promote water retention.  A number of studies dating back to the 1950's have raised little red flags due to allergic reactions to lanolin, though its incidence among the general population is very low.  Finally, a double dose of parabens rear their ugly heads at the base of the formula, a disturbing end for something that is likely injested every time you lick your lips.

It might be said to have a cult following, but I’m not convinced that Kiehl's balm conveys any benefits beyond a mundane jar of Vaseline.  Even if it is a fairly good price, you'd be better off going to the drugstore and picking up some Blistex or Carmex, which at least offer some medicinal value.


Petrolatum, Octinoxate, Squalane, Lanolin, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) germ oil, Tocopherol, Allantoin, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Aloe Barbadenis Leaf Extract.

  • June 20, 2014

    by TC

    I use to love this lip balm (prior to L'oreal). At one time the lip balm was almond oil and not petroleum. There was no petrolatum to be found back then. It was good expensive ingredients and my lips were dewy soft. The tub product disappeared for quite a while and came back with a whole new cheap and tacky ingredient mix.

    The same happened with their anti acne face mask. Customers were told that they could no longer find the special clay and the company had tabled the mask while they looked for a substitute. It came back a year later in a tub form vs the original bottle probably to disguise that it was clearly a completely different formula! I purchased it and it was awful! The mask actually stung and burned my skin!

    L'Oreal should be boycotted!!!

  • March 6, 2011

    by wendy

    I used this lip balm for years. At the same time (failing to make the connection) I developed very painful sores inside my nose. I was told by doctor after doctor they were because of things like dust allergies, or infections, or impetigo, none of that mattered because they persisted and often became unbearably painful. I ended up having my face x-rayed, which showed nothing. Thankfully, I live in Canada, although I am certainly sorry for all the medical resources I used trying to heal the inside of my nose.
    Desperate, I analyzed all the products I use--which are practically none. No facial moisturizers, and I do not even wear make-up 95% of the time. So it was easy to pinpoint the Kiehl's as a possible culprit.
    I quit using it and the sores went away and in five years, have not come back.
    I hope this is useful for someone smearing these chemicals on their lips 9and ingesting them) multiple times a day while saying how great Kiehl's stuff is. It isn't. Any of their other products I used were also disappointing and ineffective, but the lip balm is particularly bad. I have seen other posts by people who had reactions to the lip balm, too. So please, beware--the disease you may get later in life may not be as random as you think.

  • December 3, 2008

    by Lori

    I agree. Although I like some of Kiehl's products (more so before L'Oreal took over), I never "got" why this was so popular.

    I really like Eco Lips, maybe you could give them a review?

    Thanks for all the wonderful info!

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