If your favorite lip balm has to be hand-applied, you may want to find a new favorite lip balm. Turns out dabbing your finger into a canister of lip balm and then smearing it on your lips is not exactly healthy.
Unless you wash your hands before you use the lip balm, every single time you use it, chances are you’re going to end up exposing yourself to some nasty bugs. Bacteria can thrive in canisters of lip balm. And even if the balm contains substances meant to discourage bacterial growth, your hands could have come in contact with any number of pathogens.
And we’re not just talking about a runny nose, either. If you’re particularly unlucky, you could be smearing streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria on your mouth. Strep throat isn’t fun. Neither is pneumonia. Or pink eye, meningitis or flesh-eating disease.
According to a George Washington University doctor named Adam Friedman, avoiding getting sick from hand-applied lip balm is “really a matter of time and luck.”
A 2013 study published in Infection and Immunity showed that illness-causing pathogens can survive outside of a host for weeks to months at a time. That means that door handles and other inert surfaces can still carry disease well after they’ve been touched.
So, even if the lip balm you get in the little canister is organic, it’s still less healthy than the cheap plastic stick-applied stuff you get at convenience stores. It might be time to switch.