Lip balms are one of the most universally used cosmetics on the planet. Men and women, young and old regularly reach for a tube to soothe, heal, and hydrate dry, rough, or cracked lips. But what causes lips to become dry, and which balms are best to combat it?
The skin on the lips is much thinner than elsewhere on the body (three to six layers deep vs 15+), making it more susceptible to drying from environmental aggressors like extreme temperatures, UV rays, and pollution. Medications like Accutane or diuretics will also further dry the skin, especially on the lips, while topically applied skincare products like retinoids increase cell turnover, which can result in dry lips.
Other factors that can cause lips to become dry and chapped are dry heat, wind, chemicals, fragrances, alcohol consumption, foods high in citrus or sodium, and dehydration from not drinking enough water.
Licking the lips is another culprit; though it may seem counterintuitive, saliva draws moisture from lips which—when evaporated—causes them to dry faster. The lips also have no oil glands to help regulate the skin’s moisture levels, which is another reason they tend to dry out faster than other areas.
A good lip balm helps hydrate the lips while keeping moisture sealed in for a smooth, supple smirk year-round.
Some balms are also infused with SPF, which shields against the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays. Others have a tint of color that provides just enough pigment to the lips for light or makeup-free days. Balms are also great as a base layer to prep the lips for makeup application by ensuring they are soft, smooth, and hydrated.
In general, it’s a good idea to look for ingredients like humectants that are moisturizing such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides to prevent transdermal water loss, and emollients to smooth and soften like shea butter and coconut oil which help seal skin cells together by adding moisture. Steer clear of ingredients like menthol, camphor, phenol, or alcohol which can dry and irritate the skin, causing it to flake and shed.
Those with chronic cases of dry, flaky, or cracked lips may want to try “lip blasting.” Lip blasting is a two-step process developed by Dr. Shereene Idriss, a certified cosmetic dermatologist, to hydrate severely dry lips quickly and deeply. Not unlike the viral sensation of skin slugging, “basting” the lips involves rich emollients.
The first step is to refine, smooth, and hydrate the lips by exfoliating them. Idriss recommends using a toner with an exfoliating acid like this one from Mario Badescu. Lightly apply the toner to the lips to slough off any dead skin cells, then allow the toner to completely dry.
For the second step, generously apply a rich emollient—like this one from Aquaphor—to the lips. Once the opaque texture has turned translucent, wipe away any residue to reveal buttery-soft lips. The entire process takes about 10 minutes, during which multitaskers can apply makeup.
For those who don’t need an intense extra boost of hydration for their lips and are just looking for a good everyday balm to moisturize and protect, look for thick emollients that have waxier ingredients. Beeswax, petroleum, shea butter, lanolin, and botanical oils provide great protection from free radicals due to environmental exposure. Sealing the lips not only prevents exposure but allows them to self-heal.
However, some balms do contain preservatives, flavors, or fragrances that can irritate the lips. It’s soothing at first, but the more you apply, the more the irritation persists long-term.
It could also be strong flavors in your toothpaste that are causing you to reach for lip balm incessantly. Cinnamon, for example, is a skin irritant that is found in gum or lozenges as well as toothpaste. Spicy, citrusy, or salty food can also dry and irritate the lips and cause more frequent lip balm use, though you can’t overuse a lip balm.
Lip balms do have a shelf life like all cosmetics, but with daily use, you are unlikely to reach that point before the tube is empty, however, it is typically recommended to toss it after one year. Pay attention to any posted expiration dates or PAO (Period After Opening) symbols on the package or product itself, and as with any cosmetic, if you notice a change in smell, texture, or color, trash it!
Whether you are looking to hydrate and moisturize, smooth and nourish, seal and protect, or soothe and heal, these balms are sure to deliver the soft, supple results your lips deserve.
This original, all-natural classic from Burt’s Bees is still one of the best and most affordable balms on the market. Even a four-pack won’t break your wallet! Infused with responsibly sourced beeswax, a natural skin conditioner, since 1991. Vitamin E deeply hydrates lips while sealing in moisture. Peppermint oil provides a refreshing tingling sensation to parched, dry lips.
Another affordable option is this one from Sun Bum that has the added protection of broad-spectrum SPF 30. Vitamin E and aloe protect and moisturize your pout all day long. It is vegan as well as gluten, cruelty, and paraben-free.
Give lips 24-hour hydration with this balm from Fresh that soothes and softens in a clear or tinted buttery texture. The tinted option offers sheer, buildable color that adjusts to different skin tones. Key ingredients are sugar to hydrate, condition, soften and nourish, cranberry seed oil to smooth and protect, vitamins C and E to protect the skin, and grapeseed oil to smooth and soften.
Dermatologist-recommended Aquaphor keeps lips moisturized and soft. With 41% petrolatum, it forms an occlusive barrier that protects lips from outside elements while locking moisture in. Mineral oil, ceresin, and glycerin provide additional moisture and help prevent dry, rough, flaky skin. Not for those sensitive to lanolin.
This moisturizing and volumizing lip balm from Drunk Elephant has a wider-than-usual stick to ensure full coverage. The antioxidant-rich blend of avocado and mongongo nut oils along with tripeptide and sea fern algae smooth and define the lip line while creating a plumper appearance. Green tea leaf and vitamin C help neutralize free radicals and environmental aggressors. It’s also 100% silicone, essential oil, fragrance, and cruelty-free.
Protect, hydrate, and condition lips with a pop of color with this balm from Colorscience. EnviroScreen Technology provides all-mineral protection from environmental aggressors. It comes in three buildable shades that can be used on lips and cheeks. It features broad spectrum SPF 50 that is water and sweat resistant for 40 minutes. Free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, oil, gluten, dyes, and fragrance.
Get softer, rosier, healthier-looking lips with this sheer tinted balm from Neutrogena. The exclusive ion2 complex and SPF 20 provide lips instant moisture and UV damage protection. Help improve the color, smoothness, and texture of lips in just one week, even after it is removed. Comes in a variety of hydrating shades.
Avene’s nourishing balm provides intense hydration and immediately soothes dry, cracked lips while leaving a protective coating. Cold cream and shea butter nourish and protect while jojoba oil and bisabolol help restore moisture to overly dry lips. Infused with thermal spring water to soothe, soften, and calm skin.
This intense therapy balm from Jack Black is enriched with skin conditioners and antioxidants to quickly penetrate and provide instant relief to dry, chapped lips. SPF 25 protects against sun, windburn, and extreme temperatures. Natural emollients shea butter and avocado oil moisturize and condition while antioxidants vitamin E and green tea soothe and protect lips from free-radical damage.
This best-selling tinted balm from Honest founder Jessica Alba nourishes and moisturizes lips while providing a perfect wash of buildable color. Infused with avocado oil and antioxidant-rich pomegranate and acai extracts, it glides on to smooth, protect, and hydrate lips all day. Cruelty-free, vegan, and made with no petrolatum, parabens, paraffins, silicones, mineral oils, or fragrances.
Basically skincare for the lips, this innovative balm from Augustine Bader hydrates, plumps, nourishes, and rejuvenates while protecting and reducing signs of aging. The brand’s TFC8 complex—a blend of amino acids, vitamins, and synthesized molecules—supports the lip’s cellular renewal. This balm plumps the lips with plant-derived collagen while plant-based butters and waxes calm and protect the skin from environmental stressors.
A cult favorite, this overnight lip treatment from Laneige is ultra-hydrating and nourishing for a smoother, softer, more supple morning pout. Use during the day layered with lipstick, or alone to moisturize lips and add shine. Features an antioxidant-rich berry fruit complex and vitamin C to smooth and protect lips while shea butter, coconut oil, and murumuru seed butter nourish and deliver lasting moisture.
An affordable drugstore classic from Maybelline, this balm leaves lips moisturized and baby soft for eight hours. Dry, cracked lips are visibly renewed after one week. The creamy consistency glides on and provides just enough color alone, or adds a pop when layered with gloss or lipstick. The smoothing shea butter formula comes in a variety of gorgeous shades.
This luxe balm from Dior hydrates for 24 hours and features color-reviving technology that gives lips a custom hue and subtle shine, leaving them with a beautiful glow for six hours. The natural-origin ingredients are infused with cherry oil and come in shades to suit all skin tones. It can be worn alone as a balm for a luminous wash of pigment, or as a primer under lipstick.
Hydrate, soothe, and nourish lips with this classic that’s been in the Kiehl’s lineup since the 1960s. Key ingredients include squalane to keep lips soft, supple, and moisturized, aloe vera to soothe and hydrate, and vitamin E to neutralize skin damage. The shiny finish means no need for gloss. It’s also paraben and fragrance-free.
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