do lip balms go bad?
January 31, 2014 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I've recently had about four sticks of lip balms doing weird things on me after having them for about 3-4 months. They are all different brands, but were all the generic kind you get for 1-2 dollars at the drug store. The balms would get super clumpy and soft and grainy, to the point where a big clump would stay on my lip. I carry them in my purse; sometimes in coat pocket. Do lip balms go bad? Or are they weird because of temperature?
posted by atetrachordofthree to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
Best answer: I've had that happen when a lip balm goes through extreme changes in temperature, like it gets warm enough to melt and then quickly cools back down. It doesn't harden back to the same texture as before once it's been melted.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:07 PM on January 31, 2014

Best answer: occasionally I get a weird lip balm thing happening if they froze and then thawed out. I also have had it happen when it melted and then re-solidified.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:07 PM on January 31, 2014

Definitely buy higher quality lip balms. I would also suggest moving away from the sticks; I feel like they dry out faster than a tub.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:11 PM on January 31, 2014

3-4 months of use on a 1-2 dollar investment seems like a good trade. Maybe just get a new one when this starts happening.
posted by cecic at 12:13 PM on January 31, 2014

Cheap lip balms go bad. For reasons we're not going to get into, about 10 years ago a delivery of very nice handmade vegan lip balms arrived at my house. I am still happily working my way through them. They've been heated, frozen, etc and literally one - ONE - got grainy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I kissed my spouse yesterday after she put on some hemp balm and then we both looked at each other and said, "this is rancid." Yep. I thought she left it too close to the heater.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:24 PM on January 31, 2014

I don't have an explanation why it happens, but I've had two different flavors of Burt's Bees lip balm go grainy on me. It's not just cheap or petroleum-based stuff.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:31 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stuff with a lot of shea butter in it will go grainy like crazy, fwiw. Some oils (petroleum or otherwise) need to be tempered (I think that's the right word? melted and re-solidified carefully, basically), or they get grainy. They're actually generally fine to use. I've used grained-up shea butter cuticle cream and it still feels very nice once it remelts.
posted by mskyle at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2014

It's possibly bacterial action - there are bacteria that eat waxes slowly (they are responsible for medieval contract seals turning to dust, until they learned to make them all with bactericidal red or green pigments). I doubt such critters could be pathogenic, but it does mean the stuff is never going to be smooth again.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the way they combine the ingredients for the cheaper more solid lip balms has more of a tendency to do this; I haven't had a problem since I started buying Blistex in a little container. But I had some Burt's Bees stuff in a tin that did very poorly with a series of being frozen and thawed a couple years ago over the winter, so I'm not sure it's totally just a matter of cheapness.

Non-mineral-oil based ones can also go rancid, but that's a separate issue. But I know that, for example, freezing and thawing mayo causes the texture to go weird, so I think that there might be something to do with the way the ingredients are combined and emulsified.
posted by Sequence at 12:44 PM on January 31, 2014

Best answer: What happened is that one of the ingredients was too hot or too cold and it 'broke' the emulsification of materials in the stick. Depending on the ingredients, the culprit could have been water, a wax or an oil.

If it was stored under unusually cold conditions, the ingredient probably crystallized, and if it was a wax or oil, it may have stayed that way when it returned to room temperature; if it was water, the water organized into large ice crystals which excluded the other materials, pushing them into water-free clumps which persisted after the lip balm thawed. If it was stored above room temperature, a waxy or oily material may have melted and then re-crystallized into large, single-ingredient clumps. This could cause the overall texture to soften if a relatively more solid oil or wax (which was there to make the stick harder and easier to apply) went from evenly distributed to clumped, leaving the softer materials in place.

The second scenario what "losing temper" (mentioned above) means, though this term is usually only used to describe something that happens to chocolate when it's warmed above 110 F or so. You may have seen candies or chocolate bars with a white "bloom" on the surface after being semi-melted and then cooled back down again--these are undesirably large cocoa butter crystals which assemble as the cocoa butter cools. Properly made chocolate prevents their formation, which keeps the texture smooth.
posted by pullayup at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

I haven't had that with the Trader Joe's "Virtuoso" lip balm that I use, but that's not petroleum based (it uses beeswax, virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, and vitamin E, as far as I can remember). As a bonus, it doesn't have that funky mineral oil taste, it has a softer rather than waxy texture, and it's super cheap (about $2.50 for three normal-sized sticks last time I bought some). I wonder whether the issue with yours something related to the petroleum base and the temperature...
posted by ClaireBear at 1:07 PM on January 31, 2014

I've found an old tube of Burt's Bees in a pocket or a handbag after over a year and re-incorporated it into my stock of lip balm, to no ill effect.

Unless they melt and re-congeal. That's never a good thing.
posted by Sara C. at 1:33 PM on January 31, 2014

Best answer: Pullayup has the correct answer--the emulsification was broken. I started making my own products this winter and now I know all kinds of things! Lip balm is especially easy to make, you can flavor it however you want and make sure that the ingredients are fresh. Because (and note that this is a totally separate issue from emulsification) any non-petroleum-based oil will eventually go rancid, some faster than others, and half the ones that I buy taste a bit rancid straight off the shelf. But my homemade ones are fresh and delicious!
posted by HotToddy at 1:36 PM on January 31, 2014

I use a shea butter based balm and it occasionally goes grainy. It doesn't bother me much as it melts when I rub it on my lips. But, when I get to the end of the tube or if I have a very grainy tube, I scrape the balm out of the tube and melt it in a lip balm pot in the microwave and it's smooth as silk again and it stays that way.

I'd estimate that 1 out of 5 tubes goes grainy on me.
posted by quince at 2:17 PM on January 31, 2014

I have a $10 lip balm that this happened to -- I have no good excuse for even knowing of the existence of a $10 lip balm, but, this is a lip balm thing, not just a cheap lip balm thing. Still does what it's supposed to do, though.
posted by kmennie at 4:39 PM on January 31, 2014

Petroleum based cheap stuff.

This is a regular occurrence with lip-balms containing shea butter, which comes out of emulsion very easily. It's not the price, it's the ingredients and the storage.

and yes, lip balms can go bad, but the lumps aren't necessarily bad- rancidity is.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:12 PM on January 31, 2014

« Older Can you help me track down this Italian cotton...   |   Looking for interesting books about mundane topics... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.