I swear by this $3 lip balm—here's why
It's the only lip product you'll ever need.
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As a rule, I try to avoid brand loyalty. Past experience has shown me that as soon as you grow to love, appreciate, and consider something a part of your daily life, it will disappoint you, much like a celebrity or politician to whom you once pledged your devotion. Instead, I prefer to pick and choose in an irregular pattern the things I buy and when I buy them—not every brand can make the best product all the time, so I like to think I am doing my small part in keeping them on their toes by switching things up.
This is all true, anyway, except when it comes to one thing, to which I am unflinchingly brand loyal: lip balm. In that arena, my slather of choice can only be Carmex.
What is Carmex?
Carmex is a lip balm available in a cherry, strawberry, and many other flavors, depending on which multipack you go for. But I prefer it in its original “medicated” form—available in a pot or tube—with its clinical-looking, almost normcore packaging and cough syrup-adjacent fragrance. In many ways, it is the antithesis of sexual appeal. But it’s also the only thing that really works for my lips. It contains menthol, camphor, petrolatum, beeswax, and some other ingredients that, all combined, provide a whoosh of freshness upon application, followed by a protected, moisturized feeling. I put it on before bed and when I get up in the morning, and find it lingers enough throughout the day that I don’t have to reapply. If I’m wearing lipstick, I put Carmex on top to give it some added gloss, and prevent the dried-out feeling lipstick can give me. I also get the occasional cold sore, and when I do, I take care to put more Carmex on, which helps my lips feel insulated and protected while they heal. Basically? It does it all.
How does Carmex compare to other lip products?
I've tried other lip salves, all with middling-to-unsatisfactory results. I love pulling out my cherry-tinged Balm Dot Com, Glossier’s status-symbol lip balm, in a conspicuous manner when I am around people I’d like to impress (in much the same way I’ll read a Joan Didion book on the subway, tilted so the author name and title is displayed to onlookers). But no matter how cool I look when I put it on, it always leaves my lips feeling more dried-out and flaky than they were before. For occasional dryness, Burt’s Bees will do in a pinch but, about five minutes after application, it seems to sink right into my lips and disappear, as if I had never put it on in the first place. Straight-up Aquaphor is quite good, and, in fact, the only thing I will accept in Carmex’s stead—but it still lacks the crisp, mentholated tang I've come to crave from a good swipe of Carmex.
Who else likes Carmex?
I’m not the only Carmex-head out there. A woman went viral on Twitter a few years back for a spliced-together video of photos of herself at various times throughout the year—in every single one, she carried a vial of Carmex. Carmex is also, apparently, the lip balm of choice among so-called “VSCO girls,” the term for teens who use the photo-filtering app VSCO and adhere to a particular aesthetic that includes Crocs, oversized sweatshirts, Hydro Flask water bottles, minimal makeup looks—and medicated lip balm.
There are, of course, people on the other side of the equation. Some believe Carmex to be filled with multitudinous toxic, lip-drying ingredients, such as formaldehyde, ground-up fiberglass, or other irritants that dry out the lips, which, as a result, causes hapless lip balm lovers to enter into an endless cycle of application and re-application, constantly trying to recapture the rush of that first, straight-from-the-tube hit of Carmex. As comedian Paula Poundstone once joked, there might just be a top-secret wing at the Betty Ford clinic designated for people who need “one little dip” of the stuff. (Personally, I like to think I can quit Carmex anytime I want.)
But these fears are almost entirely unfounded. Yes, Carmex does count menthol and camphor among its ingredients, so if you are allergic to either of those things, you shouldn't use it. It also contains salicylic acid, which exfoliates the skin to slough off dead skin cells, but if overused might dry out the lips. But Carmex does not contain formaldehyde, nor does it contain crushed glass. (A dermatologist went on the record in 2016 stating if that were that the case, it would not be sold in stores.) In my own (admittedly biased) analysis, its popularity is due not to its sneaky addictive properties, but, rather, because it’s just a great product.
So, that’s Carmex. Loved by VSCO girls, people who have gone viral on Twitter, and me. And maybe you? If you haven’t already, grab yourself a tube (or pot) so you can find out.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.