How to Buy the Best Lip Balm

Do you know whatís in your lip balm? Though lip balms are supposed to keep your lips soft, some ingredients in this make-up bag staple may actually be causing lip dryness and irritation.

We asked Helen Torok, MD, Medical Director for the Dermatology and Surgery Center at Trillium Creek in Medina, Ohio, for her advice. Before you buy a new balm, read on to find out what to look for, and what to avoid in the tiny tube (or tin).

Ingredients to Avoid

  • Lip-plumpers. "When choosing a lip balm, I recommend avoiding lip-plumping ingredients, like cinnamon and pepper, which cause the lips to swell and lead to water loss and ultimately dry, chapped lips," Torok says.
  • Eucalyptus, camphor, and menthol. Avoid these drying agents. Some people may be sensitive to them, and find them irritating.
  • Lanolin. "People with eczema may be sensitive to lanolin," explains Torok. Nor does it effectively hydrate the lips.
  • Fragrance. "With fragrance being one of the top ten allergens in the world, itís also important to avoid lip balms that are heavily scented," she says. "Fragrance may lead to irritation or even allergic reactions."

Ingredients to Look For

  • Nourishers. "When choosing a lip balm, look for ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, shea butter, castor oil, glycerin, copper, and green tea," recommends Torok. "I like Aquaphor Lip Repair and NEOVA Cu3 Intensive Lip Repair, which contains copper to soothe and repair damaged lips."
  • SPF. Year-round SPF (sunburn protection factor) is a must for the delicate skin on the lips, but opt for lip balms with an SPF that is zinc oxide- or titanium dioxide-based rather than one that contains chemical sunscreens. The skin on the lips is thinner, so there is more absorption through the lips, and chemical sunscreens can be irritating and may have carcinogens in them, according to Torok.

7 Habits for Lush Lips

Kiss dry lips goodbye with these seven tips from Torok:

  1. Avoid licking your lips. When the saliva dries, it dries out your lips. Repeated lip licking will eventually cause the lips to crack.
  2. Avoid toothpastes with red dyes, like cinnamic aldehydes. These can be sensitizing to the lips.
  3. Avoid using baby wipes on your lips. Some wipes contain methylchlorisothiazilanone, a known allergen, which can cause severe irritation to the lip area.
  4. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the lips at night, especially in the winter. This will help your lips maintain moisture (especially if you sleep with your mouth open).
  5. Have any growth on your lip evaluated by your dermatologist. Growths can be a sign of a potentially serious problem: "For instance, a dry, white area on your lip that does not heal may signal a precancerous condition called leukoplakia," Torok says.
  6. Avoid touching your lips with freshly painted or manicured nails. "Formaldehyde in the nail polish or the methacrylate in the acrylic nails can cause allergic dryness on the lips," explains Torok.
  7. Avoid wearing long-wearing/all-day lipstick if your lips are chapped. These formulas can further dehydrate the lips and cause irritation. To protect your lips without giving up your favorite shade, try layering a lip balm underneath the lipstick. Torok also recommends wearing lip gloss over lipstick to trap more moisture in the lips.

Helen Torok, MD, reviewed this article.


Helen Torok, MD. Email message to dermatologist. January 28, 2015.