The year is 2017 and I am in my final semester of my undergraduate degree at CSUF and I am getting ready for my graduate school auditions. I had one audition near enough where I lived that I could simply drive to. However, I had several auditions on the East Coast of the United States in New York, Chicago, and Rochester. Out of these traveling auditions, one trip really stands out as a case study for why we as brass players need to have lip balm. I want to tell you a very brief version of that trip. The audition in question is my audition for the Northwestern Bienen School of Music in Chicago. The audition occurred in the beginning of February.

The day of my flight was pretty standard. Got to the airport several hours early, checked in, grabbed something to eat, killed time, and finally boarded my flight. After a four hour flight in some of the dryest conditions known to man (airline cabins typically have less than 20% humidity) I stepped into Chicago O’Hare airport. When I stepped outside the airport to get into an Uber I was blasted with 1000MPH winds and -100 degree Fahrenheit weather. Ok, I may be exaggerating a bit, but it was nothing like the nice mild California “winter” that I grew up with. It was freezing cold, windy, and DRY. I could feel the wind taking the moisture out of my mouth with every breath. Luckaly I was able to get into my Uber quickly and the driver was BLASTING the heater. I warmed up as we headed to my hotel and talked about jazz albums. The heat felt great but I was draining my water bottle to keep my voice from going scratchy and raw.

I made it to my hotel room, checked in, dropped my things, and braved the Chicago weather for a walk to find dinner and grab a few snacks. My audition was the next day. One Uber ride later I made it to a very well heated school and I went and played a successful audition that I was happy with and flew home.


Seems pretty uneventful, right? However, there were lots of oppurtunites for my audition to be derailed because of my environment before I ever played a note. Almost every step of the way there were opportunities for my lips to be damaged. Dry environments on an airplanes, the rapid change in environment from LA to Chicago weather, the heater in the Uber, the wind and weather on my walks to run errands, and the central heating at Northwestern all potentially could have damaged my lips in various ways. BUT THEY DIDN’T. “Why?”, you ask. I was using lip balm to protect myself against every one of those senarios.

Have you ever tried to play with really chapped, sunburned, or wind damaged lips? To say it isn’t fun is just about the biggest understatement of the century. Playing on damaged lips is AWFUL. Luckily, high quality lip balm can protect and nourish our lips so that we can deal with damaged lips as little as possible.

Why use it?

Our lips are particularly vulnerable to damage due to the fact that our lip tissue is only 3-5 layers deep. This is extremely thin compared to the rest of the skin on your face which has around 16 layers. In addition, your lips contain no natural sweat or oil glands to protect the skin like the rest of your body so a good lip balm is necessary to protect you from potential hazards related to dry air, extreme cold, wind, and sun damage (if it has SPF).

A lip balm with sunscreen included is especially important because burned lips will not vibrate as easily and can cause playing issues. Your lip balms should have SPF included when you are going to be spending time outside and it doesn’t hurt to have it all the time.

Overall, the greatest benefit of using a lip balm consistantly is your lips will be in the same condition regardless of what is going on around you. However, in addition to the protection lip balm offers, it also can enhance our playing.

Playing benefits:

– Makes our lips more supple – Since a brass instrument works by vibrating our lip if that tissue doesn’t vibrate easily it makes brass playing more difficult. Lip balm keeps our lips as soft and responsive as possible.

⁃ Consistancy – Does a woodwind player use a different brand of reed every day? Why would we have our reed (our lips) in different conditions every day? Lip balm keeps our lips in a stable and protected position that stays as close to the same day to day as possible.

⁃ Helps with injury healing – Lip balm (especially medicated varieties) will help you to recover faster if you do damage your lips.

What makes a good lip balm?

– makes YOUR lips feel good

– contains sun protection (if you will be outside)

– daily use lip balm should not be overly medicated (but have a medicated option when it’s needed). You shouldn’t use a fully medicated option daily for the same reason you don’t always take benadryl. It’s great when you need it but hurts when you don’t. Medicated lip balms should be used when you are not in the sun and when you have a skin injury. (cut, burn, etc)

At the end of the day. Find what works for you and stick with it.

Recommended Brands for Daily Use

DCT by Blistex

Chopsaver Gold (with SPF version)

Burt’s Bees with SPF

Other brands are great if they work for you. These are only those I use or have friends using professionally.

Recommended Medicated Brands

Lip Medex by Blistex

Burt’s Bees Medicated

A&D First Aid Ointment

Other brands are great if they work for you. These are only those I use or know friends using professionally.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas please do not hesitate to throw them in the comments. Did I miss anything? Let me know!

– Troy