Many people use lip balm to prevent or treat dry and chapped lips.
Chapped lips can be a real pain, especially in wintertime when the air is dry.
Tracking down lip balm that fits both criteria is no easy task, but that’s what our researchers have managed to do. Below, you’ll find our rankings of the ten best lip balms you can get your hands on.
1. Badger Unscented Classic Lip Balm
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Badger Unscented Classic has only four ingredients: virgin olive oil, beeswax, castor oil, and rosemary extract.
All of these ingredients are certified organic, and without any additives for flavor or scent, it’s the best choice if you have sensitive lips.
Unless you are very attached to the idea of a lip balm that is flavored or perfumed, there really aren’t any downsides to Badger Unscented Classic Lip Balm, making it the top pick.
2. Burt’s Bees Lip Balm
A favorite of natural cosmetic enthusiasts everywhere, Burt’s Bees keeps their formulation simple but sophisticated.
As you’d guess from the name, the key ingredient in Burt’s Bees is beeswax, alongside coconut oil. Both provide great moisturizing power and protection to your lips.
Burt’s Bees is mildly flavored and scented with peppermint oil and rosemary leaf oil, and while people with hypersensitive lips may not react well to these ingredients or the wool-derived lanolin, it’s still tolerated very well by most people, making it one of our top picks.
3. EOS Lip Balm
Among the flavored lip balms, EOS is certainly the best. It comes in a variety of intense flavors and scents, but it accomplishes this while keeping true to its all-natural ingredient commitment.
Instead of artificial flavorings and colorings, EOS Lip Balm relies on plant-based ingredients like vanilla fruit extract and stevia.
It’s also got the excellent hydrating and healing properties of jojoba seed oil, beeswax, and shea butter oil, making its moisturizing and protection among the best.
4. ArtNaturals Natural Lip Balm
ArtNaturals has an excellent lip balm line that uses quality hydrating and protecting agents like beeswax and coconut oil, as well as slightly more exotic skin salves like jojoba seed oil and aloe vera leaf extract.
This makes it a top pick for people who have cracking and splitting in addition to dried out areas on their lips. These ingredients will help soothe lips that are sunburned and damaged, while encouraging them to repair their damage.
5. Sky Organics USDA Organic Lip Balm
Sky Organics offers a wide variety of flavors of their organic lip balm that keep thing simple. With the only ingredients being sunflower oil, beeswax, coconut oil, and a few other ingredients (all of them organic), Sky Organics’ lip balm is bound to be a favorite both among people with sensitive lips and among fans of all-natural products.
The hydrating and sealing power might not be completely top-notch, but this is balanced out by the antioxidant power of vitamin E, which can help encourage healing in damaged lips.
6. Maybelline Baby Lips
Maybelline Baby Lips fills a unique role, which is a lip balm that can also function as a lipstick. Don’t let the bright colors and flavorings fool you; Maybelline Baby Lips still has some moisturizing and protecting power.
It does have to make some sacrifices to be able to fill these dual roles, but you can spot both shea butter and candelilla wax fairly high up in the ingredients, and both of these are great for hydrating and sealing lips.
In terms of absolute quality, it can’t measure up to a dedicated lip balm, but women looking for a lipstick alternative on dry, cold days have a great option in Maybelline Baby Lips.
7. O’Keeffe’s Cooling Lip Repair Lip Balm
O’Keefe’s offers an advanced formulation to help heal seriously chapped lips that have been damaged by dry air and repeated cracking.
The complex ingredients help protect the lips, seal in moisture, and encourage skin healing, though as with any other complex formulation, there will be an increased risk of adverse reactions on sensitive skin.
Another consequence of the way O’Keeffe’s Cooling Lip Repair is formulated is that the lip balm itself is quite runny–users complain that it’s hard to get an even coat on their lips.
8. Aquaphor Lip Protectant Plus Sunscreen
You can think of Aquaphor Lip Protectant as vaseline plus some sunblock. It relies on petroleum distillates for its hydrating power, and it includes five different sun blocking ingredients to protect your lips from ultraviolet radiation.
Unfortunately, these include avobenzone and oxybenzone, two sunscreen ingredients that some consumer protection groups are worried about because of their potential toxicity.
Aquaphor isn’t a bad choice if you know you need the strong SPF protection of these sun blocking agents, but it’d be nice if they found a way to maintain the same sun blocking powers with a different set of ingredients.
9. Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Lip Balm
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Lip Balm has some pretty solid hydrating ingredients, like its namesake cocoa butter, and on top of that,it provides SPF 15 protection from the sun, preventing your lips from getting sunburned.
It’d be nice if the active sunblock ingredients didn’t include oxybenzone; this compound is causing concern among environmental and health advocates because of the degree to which it’s absorbed by your body, and the fact that it may be able to mimic hormones while in your body and disrupt your endocrine system.
It would be easier to rank Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Lip Balm higher if they’d used an alternative sun blocking compound.
10. Carmex Original Flavor
While it’s a very popular solution to painfully dried lips, Carmex has a few ingredients working against its overall purpose.
What distinguishes Carmex from its competitors is its inclusion of menthol and camphor as pain-relieving agents, but the problem is that these chemicals can also have a drying and an aggravating effect on irritated skin.
If you love the cool, pain-relieving sensation you get from Carmex, it’s still an okay product, but even still, it doesn’t have quite the moisturizing power that you might like.
Who should buy lip balm?
If you get dry, chapped, or peeling lips on a regular basis, you should definitely get lip balm. Dry lips can be caused by sunlight exposure, cold air, or low humidity, but regardless of the cause, a lip balm can help.
Ingredients in natural lip balms can directly deliver moisture to your lips, increase the ability of your lip tissue to retain moisture, and strengthen the natural skin barrier in your lips to protect them against the elements and against moisture loss.
Lip cracking is a natural consequence of dryness, and can be improved by ingredients in lip balm that improve softness of lip tissue (as well as moisturizing agents, of course).
A good lip balm will include at least one compound that acts as a humectant, occlusive, or emollient.
There are slight differences among these three categories, which we’ll go over in detail later, but regardless of the specific choice, a good lip balm uses these sorts of compounds to help protect your lips.
Some lip balms also include SPF sunscreen, which is a critical ingredient if your lips are being dried out by exposure to sunlight (either in the winter or in the summertime).
Damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays is a key determinant of lip damage, so if you spend a lot of time outside, a lip balm with sun protection should definitely be on your radar.
How we ranked
Because the skin on your lips is so sensitive, we put a premium on including only ingredients that can heal and protect your lips.
Specifically, we looked for humectants, occlusives, and emollients, such as lanolin, beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil. These are all naturally-derived products that have a low risk for irritation and have a strong capability to induce healing and protection in your lip tissue.
After identifying products that had promising ingredients for lip health and protection, we evaluated these products for the presence of potentially irritating or drying ingredients.
Specifically, we ditched lip balm products that included menthol, phenol, and other flavor and aroma molecules that have a drying effect.
Antioxidants like vitamin E were trickier–while the antioxidant capabilities are useful for healing damage that occurs as a result of exposure to the elements, some people also find that vitamin E can cause a drying effect.
We kept lip balms that included vitamin E if they used it as a part of a comprehensive lip balm formulation.
The top-performing products, however, were those that used very minimal ingredients, and nothing that caused dryness or irritation.
That’s why flavored products ended up lower in the rankings: while a nice flavor or aroma is definitely desirable, some people find that the flavoring agents (even when naturally derived) can cause irritation on sensitive lips.
Our final criteria had to do with the purity and sourcing of the specific ingredients: Naturally derived or organically sourced ingredients were far more preferable than synthetic and artificial compounds.
Our remaining top-ranked products can protect and heal your lips, even in the harshest environments, without worsening dryness or causing irritation.
Dry air and cold weather can cause your lips to get chapped, cracked, and damaged, but lip balm can fix it. Once they’ve gotten this way, it’s very difficult to get them to heal without a lip balm.
The right lip balm can help rehydrate your skin and repair the protective barrier that’s supposed to stop your lips from losing their moisture to the air.
A quality lip balm has ingredients that both increase the water content of your lips and protect them from further damage.
The main goal of using a lip balm is to seal in moisture, so to this end, any good lip balm will need quality moisturizers in it.
A 2005 article in the journal Skin Therapy Letter outlines the primary benefits of a number of moisturizers that you’ll see in high quality lip balms (1).
The article describes how a successful moisturizer functions, like a face moisturizer: first, it must rehydrate the skin.
Then, it must repair the lipid layer that the external layer of skin or lip uses to retain moisture, and it has to stay in place long enough to substantially decrease the amount of water lost across this barrier throughout the day.
There are several different categories of moisturizers that are seen in lip balms. Emollients are compounds that increase the suppleness of the outer layer of skin, improving its resistance to damage.
A classic example of this that you’ll find in many lip balms is shea butter oil, which is a long saturated fat that helps restore the lip’s lipid layer and thus improves the ability of the lips to retain water. Other emollients that you’ll see include castor oil and glyceryl stearate.
Another category of moisturizer is an occlusive. These compounds form a thin barrier on the outside of your lips that prevents any additional water loss; it essentially acts like a replacement lipid layer.
Many lip balms include occlusives; some examples that you’ll often see in commercial products include petroleum jelly (also known as Vaseline), mineral oil, beeswax, and lanolin, a wool-derived compound.
Finally, some lip balms include humectants, which are compounds that attract water to the applied surface, usually from deeper layers of skin.
These do have a drawback, which is that without the additional protection of an occlusive or an emollient, a humectant can increase water loss from the lips, as it draws more water from deeper in the body out towards the surface.
But when combined with these other ingredients, humectants can be quite effective. Glycerin, honey, and propylene glycol are all different types of humectants that you might see in a lip balm product.
According to J.N. Kraft and C.W. Lynde at the University of Toronto, the authors of the Skin Therapy Letter paper, the ideal moisturizing agent is one which combines the benefits of emollients, occlusives, and humectants while delivering them in an acceptable consistency and texture.
In the context of lip balm, this means providing it in a stick or cream that’s not too firm and not too runny either. The consistency has implications beyond just ease of use; a lip balm that’s too stiff won’t be able to apply an even layer of moisturizer, and a lip balm that’s too runny won’t stay on your lips for very long.
Lip balms that do not include petroleum derived products are healthier. There are a range of potential sources for humectants, occlusives, and emollients for lip balms.
One popular and low-cost source is from petroleum based products like mineral oil or petroleum jelly. These hydrocarbons are left over after processing crude oil, and have been incorporated into a wide variety of cosmetics.
They do have some healing properties for your skin, but some people worry that they could have traces of more volatile petroleum compounds that could dry out your skin. Moreover, some research indicates that petroleum based products may contain compounds that accumulate in your body in small granules.
A paper published in 2015 in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science examined the took a survey of 175 lip balms and lip cosmetics on the Swiss market, including lip balms (3).
The study found that fully 68% of the products had petroleum based ingredients and about one in three products contained over 32% petroleum based ingredients.
The researchers concluded that these lip balms had too much petroleum, and carried a risk of adverse effects related to ingestion of lip balm.
While people don’t generally intentionally consume lip balm, if you calculate the amount of lip balm applied over time, and consider that some fraction of it eventually ends up inside your body, the amount of petroleum you can be exposed to can add up very quickly.
Because of studies like this, we specifically sought out products for our rankings that were not petroleum-based, to reduce as much as possible the long-term risks associated with petroleum exposure via lip balm.
Aside from moisturizing efficacy, the main obstacle to your success in finding a good lip balm is going to be how your skin reacts to the ingredients.
The best lip balms on the market are simple and straightforward; they use a small number of inert and often all-natural ingredients that are very unlikely to provoke any kind of negative reaction with your skin.
But if you find your lips burning, looking extra red, or peeling, you might be reacting poorly to your lip balm. The risk of this increases slightly if you are using a lip balm with a great many ingredients, like rare plant extracts or synthetic additives and perfumes.
Since it is inevitable that you’ll ingest a small amount of lip balm every time you apply it, it makes sense to stick to natural and simple formulations whenever possible.
A case series presented in the journal Dermatitis describes a classic case of poor tolerance to a lip balm (2).
The report describes four patients who came into a dermatology clinic with redness and a rash on their lips and the skin around their mouth.
All had been using lip balms, and the doctors conducted a series of tests to determine which ingredient was responsible for the adverse reaction. In all four cases, they identified peppermint oil to be the culprit. Now, not everyone is sensitive to peppermint oil–in fact, almost everyone is not–but this case series demonstrates that even fairly common ingredients can be responsible to an adverse reaction.
So, if your lips don’t tolerate a particular lip balm well, take a close look at the ingredients to see whether you can identify what the causal agent is.
Q: Is lip balm good for your lips?
A: The right lip balm can be a real help for your lip health, but it depends strongly on the ingredients in the lip balm that you choose.
The right ingredients can help block water losses to cold and dry air, improve the quality of the barrier in your lip skin tissue, and deliver additional moisture to your lips, which will help improve dry and cracked lips.
However, carelessly choosing a lip balm could cause more problems than it solves, particularly if you have sensitive lips.
Some ingredients that are popular in lip balms for flavoring, like menthol, can actually exert a strong drying effect, and just like with some face moisturizers, people with sensitive skin can sometimes have negative reactions to plant extracts like peppermint oil that are used to flavor some lip balms.
Q: What kind of lip balm is best?
A: After reviewing the lip balms on the market right now, plus the scientific literature behind the efficacy of specific lip balm ingredients, our research team believes that lip balms based on natural emollients, humectants, and occlusives with minimal or no flavoring and coloring agents are the best types of lip balm.
These natural ingredients, like beeswax, lanolin, and shea butter, outperform synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients when it comes to safety and efficacy.
The most versatile lip balms have minimal or no flavoring, because flavoring agents can sometimes provoke negative reactions in your skin.
However, flavored lip balms are popular, and to this end, if you can stick with naturally-derived flavoring agents, that’s likely better than synthetic ingredients and artificial coloring agents.
Q: Does lip balm moisturize your lips?
A: Yes, lip balm can moisturize your lips through three different mechanisms.
An occlusive creates a physical barrier to keep moisture in your lips and prevent it from getting drawn out into the air. Beeswax is a classic occlusive.
Emollients soften your skin and prevent cracking; shea butter is an excellent example of an emollient.
Finally, humectants bring moisture to your lips and hydrate the tissue that’s already there. Glycerin is one example of a humectant.
If your lip balm is high in these kinds of ingredients, and low or devoid in the kinds of ingredients that can create a drying effect, you’ll get a potent moisturizing effect.
Q: What is a good lip balm for men?
A: Many men are not a fan of the flowery smells and bright colors of some of the more popular lip balms on the market, but fortunately, the most effective lip balms overall are also well-suited for men looking for something simple and to the point.
Badger Unscented, for example, which is our top pick, is a very effective lip balm with a low risk of skin irritation thanks to its all-natural ingredients and lack of any flavoring or aroma ingredients, making it a great choice for men who want protection from dry and cracked lips.
Men who are outside a lot may want to opt for a lip balm that contains an SPF-rated sunscreen to prevent lip damage from ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Q: Can you make your own lip balm?
A: You can make your own lip balm formulation with some basic emollients, humectants, and occlusives.
For best results, you’ll want to use naturally-sourced products; homemade lip balms based on beeswax and/or coconut oil are a popular place to start.
These homemade formulations can work pretty well, but an obvious drawback is the lack of a convenient stick-based container to carry them around in. So, while they work well around the home, a commercial lip balm is a better solution when you are on the go.
Q: What does lip balm do?
A: Lip balm protects your lips from dryness and cracking. Protection from dryness is achieved by limiting the amount of water that is lost by your lip tissue, or by delivering more moisture directly to lip tissue.
Ingredients like beeswax, for example, provide a protective barrier that limits the rate at which water can be lost to the outside environment.
This moisture flux is precisely why your lips get dry and cracked in the winter and the summer to a greater degree: hot air and ultraviolet rays in the summer, or cold and dry air in the winter, cause damage to your lip tissue and increase the rate at which water is lost to the air.
A lip balm can prevent dryness by protecting your lips and by delivering more moisture. Moreover, emollient agents in a lip balm can increase suppleness and softness in your lip tissue, which can reduce cracking and peeling.
Q: How does lip balm work?
A: The active ingredients in lip balm are designed to work by one of a few mechanisms. First, some lip balm ingredients form a protective barrier to prevent water from being lost by lip tissue to the outside environment (i.e. cold, dry, or hot air).
Other ingredients increase the softness of lip tissue, which prevents cracking, while another category of ingredient helps to deliver moisture to lip tissue, which also helps combat dryness.
As you might imagine, these three mechanisms work best in combination, which is why you should look for multi-ingredient lip balms for best effect.
Q: Is lip balm edible?
A: Naturally derived lip balms are (in theory) edible, though some researchers and safety experts have expressed concerns over the presence of petroleum based compounds like petroleum jelly in lip balm.
European Union guidelines limit the presence of petroleum in lip cosmetics, but at least as of 2015, many products do not meet these guidelines. The concern with petroleum based lip balm is that the petroleum compounds could gradually accumulate in your body in the form of granulomas.
Petroleum based products aside, a high-quality lip balm should be edible, given that you are applying it to your lips.
Q: What lip balm ingredients should you avoid?
A: Some of the big ingredients you’ll want to avoid in lip balm are harsh and drying compounds that are used for flavoring or scent, like phenol-based flavors or menthol.
While they have a nice aroma, they tend to suck water out of your lips, and can also cause irritation. Peppermint oil, for example, is a plant-based compound used for flavoring in many lip balms that can cause skin irritation in people who have sensitive skin.
Our research team also found research suggesting that petroleum-based lip balms that use hydrocarbons like petroleum jelly are potentially unsafe in the long run, and often run afoul of European Union guidelines on lip cosmetic ingredients.
As such, it’s better to use a petroleum free lip balm that’s based on natural compounds like beeswax or coconut oil.
Finally, if your lips seem like they get worse with a traditional lip balm, try something that is free from flavoring and coloring agents: often, these compounds (even if they are naturally derived) cause an adverse reaction in sensitive skin.
When choosing a lip balm, look for a product that combines at least two of the three types of moisturizers: emollients, occlusives, and humectants.
Further, make sure that the lip balm is of an acceptable consistency, so you can apply a thin, even layer that will stay on and protect your lips for a long period of time.
If you know you have sensitive lips, look for a lip balm that has only a few ingredients, and avoid flavorings, herbal extracts, and other ancillary ingredients, as they all increase the chance (albeit slightly) of a negative reaction to a lip balm.
The right lip balm is the one that adequately protects your lips, plus has whatever other characteristics you desire, whether this means a pleasant taste and aroma, all-natural ingredients, or no skin sensitizing compounds.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 lip balm recommendation, click here.