Cursed with a tendency to have chapped lips, I have embarked on a lifelong journey to treat this medical mystery. In an effort to buy down my karmic debt and better my fellow man, I am sharing my success and failures.
I became aware that my lips were different from others when I was sixteen and working in a department store. It was winter and the warm forced-air heating had dried my lips into two piecrust-like slices. Desperate for relief, and unable to leave my work station, I searched around the counter until I found an almost-new jar of Vaseline. I carefully applied a small amount of the jelly. Within minutes the pain had subsided. Proud of my ingenuity, I mentioned the Vaseline cure to my middle-aged co-worker, Joanna. She looked somewhat surprised, and readily informed me that Sylvia, another hormonally challenged co-worker, used that jar of Vaseline for her hemorrhoids.
Totally disgusted, I considered the possibility of either a lipectomy to excise the contamination from my skin or shock therapy to erase it from my mind. During my break, I raced to a drug store to buy Listerine, Lysol, flea shampoo, and anything that might wash the image of the large woman’s sphincter from my brain.
If post-traumatic-petroleum-syndrome wasn’t bad enough, I still had dry lips. Eventually, I made a bold decision to go across the department store to the cosmetic counter, where I had found a long-wearing, plumping vitamin E lipstick. It was like finding out that ice-cream is healthier than broccoli. The shiny display cases flaunted several shades and seduced me into buying what appeared to be the perfect solution to my dry-cracked dilemma. I selected a subtle coppery shade that complimented my pale complexion. The next morning it went on smoothly; the color looked perfect in my bathroom mirror. Then I caught a glimpse in a dressing room mirror at work. It appeared that the soft copper gloss had turned a deep pinkish purple with the dubious side-effect of giving my lips the pie-crust finish once again.
Entering a neurotic stage of denial, I convinced myself that poor lighting was the cause of the apparent color transformation. This lasted until lunch, when I discovered that not only were my lips rather dry and purple, but they were also absurdly swollen. I appeared to be the victim of a rare allergy called necrostupidosis. I went into the ladies room and using hand soap, attempted to scrub the dye from my swollen lips. When this did not work, I tried hand sanitizer, only to find that this actually contributed to the plumping, drying process.
I spent the next two days averting my gaze from all forms of reflection, and fearing I would be mistaken as the first place winner of a pie-eating contest at a country fair somewhere in Iowa, married to a guy named Bubba.
Continuing to seek out lip concoctions over the next few years, I discovered that sunscreen, tequila, kissing and a few things I won’t go into, only aggravated the problem. Timing was also important. Applying a lip balm right before I went to sleep made a big difference in overall kissability and cosmetic appearance, although anything that promised to soothe or had a tiger on the label turned out to be a mistake. But moving the lip treatment du jour to my nightstand was genius.
One morning, my sleepy eyes caught sight of a pair of blue lips staring back at me from the medicine cabinet mirror. I was shocked to discover that I had developed a rare form of cyanosis. I looked closely, wondering if my doctor could treat this, or would I need an internist, allergist, or even an OBGYN! I ran my finger across the blue surface. It was sticky. I grabbed a tissue. The gummy stuff came off. I charged into the bedroom opening the small drawer. There, to my relief, I found several sticks of zinc oxide sunscreen in neon colors I had purchased on a recent trip to Australia. I grabbed a fluorescent yellow one and applied a dot on my nose. I was feeling better already.