The new black

Most women I know are obsessed with lip balm. They carry it around like a comfort blanket, applying the stuff whenever the conversation gets tricky. As obsessions go, it certainly beats smoking and throwing up your food, and besides, this time of year is particularly bad for lips. Exposed to all the drying effects of winter, your lips have absolutely no protection.

To make matters worse, even the most restrained of us find it hard not to lick or pick at dry lips, which in turn means more licking/picking, which in turn means... well, you get the picture. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to stop until I draw blood, but maybe that's one for the therapist.

As black lips tend to be two-toned - usually a few shades darker than skin tone around the lip line, then pink on the inside - it's even more noticeable when they become dry. First you need something to remove the dead skin. Brushing with an old (dry) toothbrush does the trick, but it's not something you'll want to carry around. Instead, invest in a lip scrub, such as the gentle scrub from up-and-coming Japanese company Mymy, or the one from The Body Shop. Dead skin banished, resist the urge to apply colour immediately, and instead swap your regular lipstick for a nourishing balm or cream. I'm currently rotating models' favourite, Mac Lip Conditioner, with the classic Vaseline Lip Therapy. If forgoing lip colour is impossible to contemplate, try a tinted balm such as Benetint by Benefit, which gives a lovely, deep red to dark lips, or the tints by Aveda (those whose lips are more pink than brown should try it in rose blush).

Of course, the really tricky thing is the etiquette that comes with applying lip balm in public. I go by the principle that I offer mine only to people I wouldn't object to kissing: best mate, no problem; virtual stranger who happens to be there when I feel the urge to balm my lips? Well, let's just say it depends.

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