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Should You Be Freaked Out About Lip Balm Because of the EOS Lawsuit?

A new class action lawsuit claims that the popular dome-shaped lip balms cause rashes and severe skin irritation. But should you throw all yours away?

The makers of EOS lip balm, those fruity little pods beloved by the likes of (or at least shilled by) Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, are in legal trouble. Plaintiff Rachael Cronin has filed a class action lawsuit against the brand, as first reported by TMZ. She claims that after using a "Summer Fruit" flavored balm purchased at the end of December, she experienced dryness, cracking and bleeding on and around her lips, which later progressed to blistering and a severe rash, prompting her to seek medical care. 

Cronin posted some graphic pictures of the reaction to EOS's Facebook page, and other customers followed suit. A quick search reveals that over the years, users have occasionally reported problems with excessive chapping and rashes on Amazon and Makeup Alley reviews. According to the lawsuit, "EOS is, and has been, on notice of the serious adverse side-effects caused by the use of its product. Consumer complaints have flooded the EOS Facebook page and their email. Consumers, including the Plaintiff in this action have written to EOS to share their complaints and adverse health problems arising from the use of the product."

EOS responded to the lawsuit with the following statement, shared with Fashionista

We firmly believe this lawsuit is without merit. Our products are made with the highest quality ingredients and meet or exceed all safety and quality standards set out by our industry and validated by rigorous testing conducted by an independent lab. The health and well-being of our customers is our top priority and millions of satisfied customers use our products every day, many of whom take the time to share their experiences with us.

So, if like zillions of other people (myself included) you're a fan of EOS lip balm, should you be freaked out about using the product? Probably not. Dr. David Bank, a dermatologist based in Mt. Kisco, New York notes, "Looking at the ingredients listed on the package, there is not anything obvious that would cause dermatitis. Normally ingredients like Shea butter, vitamin E and jojoba oil are ingredients that work well to moisturize without causing irritation — however, it is important to note that everyone's skin type is different. Some people may be more sensitive to these ingredients." 

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Some of the EOS varieties list "natural flavor" as an ingredient, and fragrances are well-known culprits for causing allergic reactions. Fragrance (or in this case, flavoring) in products are considered proprietary and can contain dozens of different ingredients, any of which can be allergenic. However, companies aren't required to disclose the exact ingredients in fragrances. A cosmetic chemist told Allure that citrus oil could be one such culprit. So, while it's rare, it's definitely possible that EOS lip balms could cause a reaction. To be fair, that's true of pretty much all beauty products. 

It should also be noted that EOS bills its balms as "99% natural, paraben-free, and gluten-free," which should be a good reminder that the word "natural" is meaningless when it's used on consumer products, if indeed these allegations that EOS products are causing reactions prove to have merit.  There's no official definition for "natural" in this context, so anyone can slap the word on a label, and it does not mean that something described as such can't cause a reaction or is safe. So-called natural ingredients are still chemicals and can still cause allergic reactions. If you notice a weird rash after using EOS (or any other beauty product for that matter), Dr. Bank recommends seeing a dermatologist post haste. And obviously don't use the product anymore until you can rule out what's causing the reaction.

In the meantime, good old Aquaphor is still unbeatable, if not as cutely packaged as EOS, for all your winter dry lip needs. 

UPDATE (1/28/16): Well, that was quick. The lawsuit has been resolved. Eos has released the following statements from the company and from Mark Geragos, the lawyer who brought the class action suit against the company:

From Eos: 'We are pleased to announce that the class action lawsuit brought against eos earlier this month has been resolved. Our products are safe – and this settlement confirms that. Our lip balms are hypoallergenic, dermatologist tested, made with the highest quality ingredients, meet or exceed all safety and quality standards set by our industry and are validated by rigorous safety testing conducted by independent labs. We love our customers and their enjoyment of our products is our top priority. We thank them for their continued support.'

From Mark Geragos: "I am very pleased that we have been able to so quickly and amicably resolve the matter with eos lip balm products. This is a testament to eos being responsive to the concerns of their consumers. eos has demonstrated through data that their lip balms are hypoallergenic, and has provided a mechanism for individual instances to be resolved. eos makes great products and the company is doing the right thing by adding more information about their lip balm products on packaging so that buyers can make informed choices. We will be applying to the courts to close this case.'