Thoughts on Lip Balms: Comment on Horn Matters Article

Over at Horn Matters, John Ericson is wrapping up a great 14-week online course on horn pedagogy, and one of this week’s topics is lip care and lip balm. Dr. Ericson has invited comments on this issue, but rather than take up too much space on his site I thought it would be best to put down my thoughts here. I’ve used various kinds of lip balm regularly for most of my playing career, and have experimented with quite a few brands and formulas. Here’s a sampling:

Of these, the only ones I’ve really used for an extended period are the ChapStick Moisturizer and Chopsaver, which is my current lip balm. Over time, the other products either dried out my kips or otherwise made them more – rather than less – uncomfortable, as pointed out in the Horn Matters article. I use Chopsaver at night before going to bed, and other than that I use it sparingly. Two notable exceptions to this are during long flights and car trips, when lips can get more dried-out than usual. Combined with drinking lots of water, a bit of Chopsaver (or your lip balm of choice) while flying or driving for several hours can help prevent chapping. The climate in Louisiana is humid most of the time, so I rarely experience chapped lips. If you live in an arid climate and/or spend lots of time outside with or without your instrument you might consider something different. During winters in Wisconsin I always covered my face when going outside, and I suspect that this precaution actually did more to prevent chapped lips than using lip balm. Although I haven’t done this, I have heard that the contents of a Vitamin E gel capsule applied directly to the lips can help heal any splits or chapping. **Use caution when trying any new lip product, and if you suspect a reaction of any kind consult a physician or pharmacist. If you are planning to try a different lip balm it would also be a good idea to give yourself a window of at least a few weeks when you don’t have any performances. There are lots of good products out there, but in general I recommend going with something that has relatively few chemicals, and definitely staying away from camphor, phenol, and menthol (also noted in the Horn Matters article). Just to put things in perspective, in Henri Kling’s Horn-Schule of 1865 he notes that “for the cure of cracked or slightly inflamed lips, the use of a little coldcream is to be recommended; a mixture of vinegar and water is likewise very serviceable, as it contracts the lips and thus imparts firmness to them.” (p. 77) Has anyone tried this remedy?

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Medical grade lanolin before bed. Odourless, flavourless and safe enough for the mouths of babes. If you can’t find it among the lip balms, just mosey on down to the nursing mothers’ department . . .

On the recommendation of my horn teacher, I use Bag Balm (in green tin box). Ingredients: 8-hydroxy quinoline sulfate 0.3% in a petrolatum, lanolin base. It works wonderfully, but the odor takes a while to get accustomed. The odor dissipates after a few minutes, however.

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