Gritty lip balm – it’s a bummer. Lip balm should be smooth and feel soft as it glides across your lips. Sometimes, however, lip balm made with “butter” (typically shea, mango, or cocoa butter) can have a grainy or granular texture. This is because lip balm is often carried in our purse, backpack, pocket, or left in our car. In these locations, the lip balm is exposed to extreme temperature changes. Shea, mango, and cocoa butter (in fact, all the plant-based butters used in skin care products) are made of differing combinations of saturated solid fats and unsaturated liquid fats. These fats each have different melting points. As the butter is exposed to temperature fluctuations, some of the fats melt and then re-crystalize at different rates which results in a sandy texture.
In an effort to avoid this problem, I have read numerous articles – most of which I do not understand because of the chemistry. To compound my confusion, some articles conclude with the counsel to melt the butter slowly and allow it to cool slowly to avoid graininess and other articles recommend cooling the butter quickly in a freezer to minimize graininess. If I understood the chemistry better, I might be able to come to my own conclusions; but I lack the chemical understanding.
While it seems it is not possible to prevent graininess, I have found the fix the problem if it occurs. Remove the cap from the lip balm and put the tube in a microwave standing up and gently re-melt the lip balm in 15-second increments until it is liquid (melted). To avoid spilling, leave the tube in the microwave to cool. When it has hardened, it will be smooth. I’ve also done this with the Herbal Skin Aid which I keep in the fanny pack I use year-round when walking and snow shoeing.
While fixing the graininess in a lip balm is easy, the fact that it got grainy should alert you to take special care of other skin products made with shea, mango, cocoa, or other plant-based butter because it is not always possible to melt a product. One example is lotion. Since lotion contains water, it must have a broad-spectrum preservative to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi, mold, and yeast. A broad-spectrum preservative is rendered ineffective when exposed to extreme heat (i.e. over 120 degrees F). Each preservative is different, but suffice it to say, never heat lotion – or leave it in your car during summer. If lotion contains a plant-based butter and it becomes grainy, it has not necessarily gone bad, but it cannot be “fixed” because you cannot re-melt the butter without destroying the preservative. From my experience, the granules will melt upon contact with your skin, but it feels like you are applying lotion with sand – reminiscent of applying suntan lotion at the beach! (Perhaps this is why sunscreen now comes in a spray can.)
Plant-based natural skin care products are wonderful, but they require special care to protect their integrity. I’ve heard that Twinkies will stay “fresh” in your pantry for years, while a homemade cake needs to be eaten or tossed within about a week. Commercial-grocery store skin care products are like Twinkies and natural skin care products are like homemade cake! For best shelf-life, store indoors at a moderate temperature, and enjoy them within a year of purchase.