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All the Deranged Ways Straight Men Use Lip Balm

They apply as little of it as possible — and all the wrong products, too. Fellas, is it gay to not be chapped?

Quin Snyder should’ve been thrown out of the game for giving lip like this.

During last week’s Jazz-Timberwolves game, Utah’s head coach dipped his hand in a pot (?) of lip balm and aggressively swiped a glob across both his lips at once, as if the game depended on how quickly Snyder could moisten his kisser without losing focus on the court. The Jazz won, but not before this flagrant foul went viral:

Look, we can’t blame Snyder. Straight men have always struggled with skin care and beauty. They won’t use daily sunscreen. They can’t be bothered to tuck in their shirts. They’re still wearing double layers in 80-degree weather. They scrub their faces with dish soap and their own hand calluses. And it seems they don’t know how to apply lip balm correctly.

Snyder’s vulgar mouth smear is the tip of the iceberg. There’s one odd lip balm behavior I notice a hell of a lot more: dudes putting the tiniest bit of Chapstick on their bottom lip — not the top — and then clenching their mouth to distribute it. Buddy, no wonder you’re chapped. When I brought this up to my family and friends, they all had stories about the men they love.

My friend Diya says her boyfriend won’t even open his mouth to apply lip balm. “He just messily does it with his finger. Doesn’t even separate the two lips,” she laughs. “He smothers it on as if it’s like one big lip.”

Even my aunts were eager to spill their spouses’ secrets. “Dave used to use Carmex from a small tub, apply it to his lips with his fingers and then wipe the excess on his socks above his ankle — weird!” says my aunt Sheila.

Then there’s my Uncle Joe, who eschews lip balm for beard oil. “Joe uses beard oil daily, which he thinks gives his lips moisture too,” my aunt Brigid confesses. “He uses Chapstick infrequently, but when he does, it’s the original Chapstick. No flavors.”

Even my own brother has a hasty relationship with lip balm, according to his girlfriend, Erin. “He just puts it on the bottom lip and then rubs his lips together,” she tells me. “He looks goofy when he does it, so I usually just laugh at him.”

Straight men, the women in your life are judging your lip behavior. It’s time we put some lip-service to this issue. How could it be that we’ve all grown up using this product, yet so many of our cis straight brothers can’t be bothered to use it responsibly?

Lip balm is perhaps the only universal beauty product. Nearly all men I know use it. “It seems like the great equalizer: Men, women and all genders get introduced to Chapstick as children as one of the first personal care products that we’re invested in ourselves,” says the Atlantic’s Amanda Mull, who wrote a truly damning piece on male skincare for MEL in 2018. “Nobody sends a little kid to elementary school with a tube of moisturizer.”

All the Insane Ways Men Do Skin Care

Most men develop their beauty standards at a young age, but they often fail to evolve their minimal skincare and beauty routines as they grow up. Many fail to discover exfoliation or find truly demented ways to fake it. Others try to be manly or low-maintenance by using cheap soap that dries out their skin, Mull discovered.

So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that guys are extremely frugal with their lip balm.

Some men, however, modeled their Chapstick behavior after their mother’s lipstick technique. Jamie Talbot, a writer in New York, grew up the only child of a single mother who rarely wore lipstick to save money. “She always talked about putting on lipstick as just one bottom lip and pressing your lips together. Otherwise, you got too much on. I don’t know if it was a scarcity thing going up,” he says. For his adult life, Talbot has unknowingly followed the same method with his lip balm.

For other men, it’s all about convenience. “I get it free from my dentist,” Robert O’Donnell, 64, from Deerfield, Illinois, tells me. He only applies Chapstick (and floss) while in the car to keep busy. O’Donnell also only uses mint-flavored Chapstick: “That’s just what’s in the jar.”

Chapstick’s medicinal branding helps give it a neutral and “safe” connotation among straight guys: If you think it’s gay to take care of your skin, Chapstick doesn’t count — it’s medicated! But the truth is, what it’s doing to your lips is pretty minor, and it doesn’t actually moisturize. It’s just creating “a watertight barrier that prevents your internal skin moisture — which normally evaporates through the surface, especially on dry, cold, windy days — from escaping,” dermatologist Jessica Krant tells Shape.

The majority of men I spoke with told me said they use Burt’s Bees, and even I have to admit I have a tube in my backpack at all times. It’s easy to pick up at Walgreens, and it’s everywhere, so it must be good, right?

Actually, Burt’s has strong critics out there. “Because straight men don’t actually know what lip balm is supposed to feel like, they use it anyway and think it works,” says Hunter Harris, Vulture staff writer and Twitter skin care queen. She finds Burt’s too waxy; it doesn’t spread well on the lip. And yet: “Somehow. Some way. Every man I’ve ever kissed uses Burt’s Bees.”

Harris once deleted a boy’s number because he didn’t use sunscreen but still indulged in Burt’s. “So many red flags, in retrospect,” she says.

So what does a good lip balm do? Lip balm should feel soothing but not clumpy. It should soften your lips without leaving them oily. The skin on your lips is very thin, so product absorbs quickly. Anything too thick (like Chapstick or Burt’s Bees) will leave a greasy, noticeable residue. My fellow white men, let’s be honest with ourselves: We don’t need anything to highlight our thin lips. Remember when Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was dragged for this too-wet look?

Because of lip balm’s proximity to the mouth, product is inevitably swallowed or consumed, so invest in a naturally derived lip balm. Out magazine editor-in-chief and beauty expert Phillip Picardi tells MEL your best bets are Earth Tu Face Skin Stick or Medicine Mama’s Sweet Bee Magic Kin Balm. A more affordable option is Weleda Everon Lip Balm.

Maybe if we keep challenging the idea that lip products — and “beauty” itself — are inherently effeminate, more men will embrace what’s good for them, for their lips and for the people who have to kiss them. “If you’re seriously one of the idiots who thinks that applying lip balm in public will make you ‘look gay,’” Picardi adds, “I hope your lips dry so badly that the cracks in your skin bleed uncomfortably.”