The quest for the perfect lip balm

balmsAs the clocks go back, the nights draw in and my jumper collection come out of hibernation, an annual mission presents itself once more – the quest for the perfect lip balm.

It’s been about 15 years since I first stood in a chemist agonising over whether to buy the mint or the cherry Chap Stick. In the intervening years, not much has changed, except I’ve gone through a conveyor belt of contenders trying to find the one that won’t end up relegated to the bottom of my bag after two swipes of my wind-ravaged pout.

I’ve put countless tubes to the test, including award-winners with high-end prices and those that promise to nourish at a purse-friendly price. If you’ve found an absolute winner, let me know in the comments section because I’m still on the hunt. 

Carmex – £2.69

There’s something pleasingly retro about the packaging of this 80-year-old salve, particular in its potted formula. But I have never been able to get on with the camphor-heavy smell of the original, and even less so when it clashes with other strong scents such as its cherry and vanilla, which are both sickly and medicinal. That being said, Carmex does a decent job of moisturising and gives a matte and non-greasy finish. But the flavour and overpowering scent means I can’t bear to wear it, no matter how cheap and cheerful.

Burt’s Bees – from £3.69

I first bought some Burt’s Bees in sixth form and thought myself highly sophisticated every time I took out the sleek little tin and smeared the minty wax on my lips. In the fifteen years since, the range has mushroomed to include tinted sticks and a variety of flavours. I’ve remained loyal to the beeswax brand, even specifically hunting out a special pumpkin spice version while on holiday in the States. It doesn’t quite stand up to a cruel, harsh winter, but gives decent protection against the elements of your average British day, is cruelty-free and imminently affordable.

Nivea Lip Butter – from £1.49

Another budget balm – this time from the Nivea skincare giant, whose range also includes a vast number of chap sticks. Its vanilla and macadamia guise is like a grown-up version of the overly-sweet cocoa butter balms of my Body Shop-buying youth and also makes a nice alternative to the super-sweet After Eight smell of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter balm. But the slightly sticky consistency and the omission of magic, softening ingredient lanolin leaves it wanting for more.

Blistex Intensive Moisturising Hydrating Lip Cream – £2.65

The promise of a thirst-quenching saviour was a major draw in choosing this product, but more attention should have been paid to the full description because ‘cream’ is the operative word. Imagine, for a second, dipping a finger in a pot of E45 and slathering it on your lips. That greasy, slippery texture you’re thinking about? Pretty unpleasant in such close proximity to the tongue.

Vaseline Lip Therapy – £1.95

The smell and taste of the aloe vera version of this iconic, pocket-sized tin of petroleum jelly will always remind me of not having much to worry about apart from whose turn it was to buy milk. But nostalgia for my university days aside, I can’t kid myself into believing this was a particularly good balm. Its ingredients are basic – a cheap as chips pot of grease meant for sealing and lubrication – and as a temporary measure, you can’t beat it. Just don’t expect any long-term comfort from continued use.

La Roche-Posay Nutritic Lips – £6

Many of this sensitive skin specialist’s products are lauded in beauty circles and rightly so – their Anthelios anti-shine sun cream alone is worth the plaudits. But no-one likes a wimpy lip balm and this very mild product is so unassuming you practically have to double check whether you’ve put it on. Perhaps it works for those whose lips do not require a damn good slathering, but for those wanting protection against more than a light breeze, I’d recommend moving swiftly on.

L’Occitaine Shea Butter – £8.50

I’m drawn to anything with the word ‘butter’ in because it conjures up feelings of being cosseted in a thick, comforting layer of warmth. But too much of this scent-free balm leaves you feeling like you’ve been sucking a stick of lard, while just enough leaves you feeling like you’ve missed out on something potentially very cosy. A bit disappointing on the whole.

Clarins HydraQuench Replenishing Lip balm – £19

After trying so many budget brands it seemed right to try something that must surely be worth its eye-watering price tag. Thankfully, there’s a lot to love about this lip balm. The texture is addictively silky smooth. It has the subtlest of pink tints and its delicate scent is neither overpowering or artificially floral. It ticks a lot of boxes – except of course, the all-season column. This does a great job of softening already chapped lips, but as a preventive measure, it doesn’t seem particularly robust in the face of ice and snow. It’s almost there, but not quite. I’d still buy another though.

Clinique Superbalm – £14

Continuing the theme of luxury lip care, it seemed logical to put Clinique’s self-proclaimed ‘super balm’ to the test to see if it lived up to its lofty title. The texture wanders into lip-gloss territory with its sticky consistency, which can be very annoying for those of us who hate picking hair from our lips at the merest gust and is, incidentally, the reason why I can’t get on with the Lanolips range. But if the initial gloopiness doesn’t bother you – or if you can get past it – the product does melt as it warms to the temperature of the lips, leaving a softening, protective layer.

Origins Conditioning Lip Balm with Turmeric – £16

Citrus and a whiff of cocoa butter accompany the subtle spice of this turmeric-laced balm – bought as an alternative to the brand’s much-recommended ‘Drink Up’ range, which is actually more of a gloss and to be avoided if you’re shine-averse. At £16, it’s a very expensive chap stick and rumour has it, it’s being discontinued. So if you’re a fan, stock up while you can. The jury’s out for me – so far, it’s doing a serviceable job, but until the first frost, I’m reserving judgement.

Beauty woes: Stumped by the smoky eye

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Picture: Pawel Kadysz

I have a confession to make.

I am 30 years old and have still not perfected the daddy of all makeup techniques – the smoky eye.

This seems like a gross oversight given the sexy raccoon look really comes into its own at this time of year, coupled with the fact that every magazine I pick up seems to be imparting helpful advice on how to ‘go from desk to dance floor in five easy moves’ – a transformation which typically involves sweeping a wash of ‘sparkly slate’ or ‘rich chocolate’ over the lids.

Not that this scenario particularly presents itself often –  I’d much rather go home and eat a shepherd’s pie than go out on the lash at 6pm on a Wednesday, but it would be nice to know how to achieve the look of a woman adept with a make-up brush should the need ever occur.

Yet despite the abundance of step-by-step beauty guides at my fingertips, my own attempts to make me look all sultry, etc, end up looking like I’ve rolled around face first in a box of broken Crayola.

Because, somewhat bizarrely for someone who was practically the poster girl for Barry M circa 2005, it turns out I have absolutely no idea how to properly apply eyeshadow.

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My sister won’t thank me for this photo but it’s the only one which illustrates the two-tone eyeshadow and keeps my dignity intact

Back then, I regularly caked my eyelids in clashing shades of neon in the name of ‘new rave’, frequently coordinating the colour scheme with matching glitter and securing it to my face – to the horror of dermatologists everywhere – with half a can of L’oreal Elnett.

But as I’ve matured (ahem), I’ve found myself adopting the failsafe combo of red lippy and a black eyeliner flick; a reliable but winning combination that’s become a sort of facial uniform.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of curiosity that I’ve fallen into a makeup rut. I’ve often found myself loitering around make-up counters wondering if I should experiment more with shadows and blush before the onset of crow’s feet.

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Red lips and black eyeliner can do no wrong in my book

But overly bronzed counter staff scare the bejesus out of me and I find myself backing away quietly at the thought of them coming at me with their utensils and on the occasions I have been brave enough to sit through a consultation, I’ve spent it awkwardly perched on the edge of the chair ready to bolt and wondering how many products I’m obliged to buy. Sure, I know there’s no commitment to part with cash, but by God I’m British and I can’t accept a freebie.

It’s this combination of fear and laziness that has found me entering my 30s and lacking the necessary skills to confidently manipulate a stick of kohl, let alone execute the coveted smoky eye, case-in-point being the time I recently rooted out an ancient eyeliner pencil and ended looking like I’d gone ten rounds.

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That’s a relatively cheap mistake to make, but when you’re investing in your face it can add up – particularly if it doesn’t work out – and despite poring over various beauty bibles, I’ve still managed to make a number of costly mistakes in recent months, resulting in beautiful yet unused purchases languishing in the bottom of my make-up bag.

Sure, I know I should fork out £20 for the much-lauded Mac 219 to overcome my eyeshadow fear, but I can barely master a £3 version, so why break the bank? So what I’d really like for Christmas is for some kindly, impartial beauty expert to show me how to actually use a chubby stick and a blending brush so that I can start looking more my age and not like a startled lemur.

It’s either that or I go back to two-tone eyeshadow and glitter.