You Heard It Here First

Ghlee Is Here To Save Your Chapped Lips

Turns out, clarified butter is a hydration superstar.

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Ghee, the clarified butter that’s a culinary staple in the Indian subcontinent, went mainstream in the food world ages ago. Not just Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods mainstream, but Walmart mainstream. Amazing, since ghee is both incredibly nutritious and off-the-charts delicious. In Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is an ojovardhark, helping improve the ojas, or life energy, of the body.

But what’s surprising is that ghee hasn't yet gotten any props for its beauty benefits, of which there are many. “Think of the epidermis as a brick wall, with lipids making up the cement, which helps to lock in moisture and prevent irritants like dust, bacteria, and pollution, from entering the skin,” says Dr. Kiran Mian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Ghee is made of linoleic, palmitic, and stearic fatty acids, all of which are very beneficial for epidermal health and maintenance of that skin barrier. Additionally, it contains a high amount of alpha linoleic and linoleic acids, which are anti-inflammatory. “These lipids decrease transepidermal water loss, and add radiance and plumpness to the skin,” says Mian. “Ghee also has antioxidants and vitamins A, E, and K, all of which contribute to the health of skin.”

With all those skin-health-boosting benefits, we think it’s time ghee joins the ranks of its viral ingredient counterparts. And there’s a new brand to help her earn that cred: Ghlee, a lip care line that champions the dairy fat as its hero ingredient.

The butter’s lipid- and vitamin-rich composition makes it a healing and nourishing salve for any dry or stubbornly chapped areas — Toronto-based engineer Varun Sharma, Ghlee’s CEO and co-founder learned that the hard way. He grew up with permanently-chapped lips, a side effect of the harsh Canadian winters. He’d tried every lip balm and mask on the market, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, after a brutal cold spell, he did the unthinkable: he listened to his mom. He located a jar of homemade ghee in his pantry and slathered it all over, just like she had been telling him to do for years. His lips exited their parched earth era and started thriving, and he had a business idea he couldn’t ignore.

He also had an older sister who had a finger on the pulse of the beauty industry. Co-founder Arati Sharma, a Shopify alum, is the founding partner of Backbone Angels, an investor collective led by women executives from Shopify. As an angel investor and in her years, she’s seen more than her share of brand decks. “I've kind of seen everything, but I hadn’t seen something as novel as this. It was like a really big aha moment for me when Varun was like, ‘Why hasn't anyone made ghee accessible?’” she says. The duo decided to collaborate on a line based on ghee’s ointment-like benefits, starting with lip balms, a mask, and a scrub.

Ghlee making their products by hand. Ghlee

Turning Ghee Into Gold

To center a product line around one ingredient can be a challenge, because the quality of the line depends entirely on sourcing the best possible version of that ingredient. The Ghlee team says they approached every ghee manufacturer in North America and found all the commercial ghees lacking. “The majority of the ghee on the market had added chemicals or colorants. The process of making ghee is to clarify butter, so adding back colors and other stuff after that just didn’t make sense,” Varun says. So, they ended up making the ghee in-house, “which we tried really hard not to do, but we finally decided that would be the best way,” says Arati.

They assigned ghee-making duty to their dad. “He’s actually the ghee-maker of the family — he's been making big batches since I was a kid,” says Varun. “The ghee he makes is super smooth and never grainy, which we didn’t want in a lip balm or mask.” It turns out, Sharma Sr. also has a history with the skin care industry. As an engineer, he’d built plants for skin care companies and understood different filtration systems for a variety of ingredients. “He took it upon himself to create an extensive straining process to make it extremely clean,” says Varun.

Another reason the siblings were keen to have strict oversight over the ghee production was because of the smell. Ghee, similar to butter and some other fats of animal origin, can smell appealing in a culinary scenario, but not so much in a beauty one. That was the reason Varun had resisted his mom’s advice of smearing ghee on his lips in the first place, so they weren’t about to pass a product with that quintessential nutty aroma, especially one designed to be worn so close to the nose — and their early testers agreed. “A question that we got a lot from the South Asian community was, ‘Does it have that ghee smell?’” says Arati. They balanced it by getting to a place where they could obtain the effectiveness of clarified butter without reaching the smoke point that would tip it into that nutty smell territory. Sharma Sr. now spends two intense days every few months melting down 100 kilos (over 200 lbs) of butter from an idyllic Ontario-based dairy farm and consolidating that into 75 kilos (or 165 lbs) of Goldilocks ghee that’s just right for his kids’ lip products business.


My Ghlee Review

The ingredient list of Ghlee’s line of twist-up lip balms is brief and oleaginous: beeswax, ghee, mango seed butter, coconut oil, and vitamin E — all proven to be deeply nourishing and hydrating ingredients. I’ve found it to be one of the most satisfying lip products I’ve used in years. I was in a long-term relationship with a lip balm that was recently discontinued: R.I.P. The Body Shop Vitamin E Lip Balm, we had a good run. It was the only product that worked for me, lingering on my lips for hours, and nothing has ever surpassed it, or even come close, until Ghlee. We’re now past the honeymoon period and I’ve introduced it to my handbag (there’s one in several different handbags, in fact), and there’s always some on my work desk. “Ghee on the go” is what the Sharmas aimed to achieve with this product, and they’ve nailed it.

They had a benchmark for the lip mask as well: They wanted it to mimic the act of dipping a finger in a jar of ghee and smearing it on the lips. And that’s what it is, in both sensorial and efficacious terms. The buttery texture is created with ghee and various plant oils and waxes; it’s salve-like, imparting a rich, but not heavy, unctuousness on the lips. The hydrating action is penetrating and not just surface-level — my lips feel soft for hours after it's worn off. The only aspect that doesn’t mimic ghee is the scent: The mild vanilla-orange peel fragrance is so calming and cocooning, that I often open the jar just to take deep breaths.

The last of the current lineup is a lip scrub, in which small-grit sugar crystals take care of flakes, with a soothing base of ghee, glycerin, and a variety of oils. The Sharmas suggest just flicking off the sugar crystals after you’re done scrubbing them in, so the moisturizing ingredients can stay on and work overtime.

“The lip mask and scrub are where we wanted to supercharge [skin care benefits] because they’re really part of an after-care treatment,” Arati says. “They really focus on locking in that moisture and vitamins that you get from the ghee.” There are also added ingredients in the mask, like kahai and camellia oils, that help tackle hyperpigmentation and are anti-inflammatory. “That’s something that we know folks are concerned about when it comes to their lips, and often lip care is the last thing you're thinking about,” says Arati. “We’re thinking about acne, wrinkles, and all this other stuff on our faces and bodies, but lips are an important part, not just of beauty, but also of our health care routines.”

Wearing Ghlee. Ghlee

The Flavors

The balms come in five flavors, and Ghlee’s keeping traditionalists happy with scents like mint. But they also used this aspect as a homage to their Indian heritage. Chai, which took ages to nail down, has a blend of five spice oils, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and star anise, to mimic a perfect cup of chai Varun once had at a street vendor in New Delhi. “[Suppliers] originally kept showing us blends that smelled a lot like Starbucks peppermint latte, and it just felt synthetic and not true to what chai should smell like,” he says. After playing with the proportions of the five oils, they came up with the final formula.

Mango-Papaya and Rose are the two other quintessential South Asian flavors that the duo included, and rounding things off is Original, which is a fragrance-free option. This one was created for moms who loved the idea of having a ghee-based ointment for their kids, but were wary of fragranced balms on sensitive baby skin. This is the one I keep going back to the most.

Ghlee has aced that rare balancing act by extracting the best properties out of a treasured heritage ingredient that its founders grew up with, while minimizing a sometimes-unappealing user experience that’s not conducive to modern living. They’ve imagined and brought to life a brand that’s buzzy, cosmetically elegant, and with massive Gen-Z appeal, but with a centered and nurturing Silent Generation soul.

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Wawre, M. B., Khobragade, D., & Mundhada, D. (2023). An Emerging Approach for Optimization of Cow Ghee as an Ointment Base in Combination With Selected Conventional Bases. Cureus, 15(3), e36556.

Sharma, H., Zhang, X., & Dwivedi, C. (2010). The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayu, 31(2), 134–140.