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Chapped lips have been a persistent skin care woe of mine since I was a kid. I’ve always blamed it on the dry climates I live in, and I slather on various lip products to keep them from getting really terrible.
But, whatever the reason, dry lips were just my normal. It wasn’t until I accidentally stumbled onto a truly effective lip product when I realized this was a problem that could really be solved.
To find out the real culprit behind chronically chapped lips and if there’s any truth to those beauty magazine claims that lip balms actually dry out your lips (yikes!), I reached out to a mix of dermatologists and founders of a few skin care brands.
I’m happy to report that, along the way, I found eight products that have made my chapped lips a thing of the past.
Also, the pandemic isn’t helping. “Our current need to wear masks dries out the lips even more,” says Dr. Brent Ridge, the co-founder of Beekman 1802. “The fabric wicks away moisture. And we often breathe more through our mouths when wearing a mask, which also dries out the lips.”
Now, what about the idea that it’s the lip balm itself drying out your lips?
As it happens, there’s some truth to it. “Certain lip balms contain micro-abrasives or irritants that can cause your lips to feel drier, which creates a frustrating cycle,” says Sarah Villafranco, MD, and founder of Osmia.
It gets worse. “A lip balm with the wrong ingredients can definitely keep unhappy lips in a state of distress,” Villafranco says. “Lip skin is very thin, and once lips get irritated, it’s easy to keep them that way.”
Kirsten Carriol, the CEO and founder of LANO, agrees. “The wrong balm can absolutely cause further dryness or irritation.” She says problematic ingredients often include too much wax, which sucks up moisture and dries out lips, along with synthetic fragrances, essential oils, and camphor.
Villafranco advises avoiding menthol and all synthetic fragrances, too. And if your lips are irritated or sensitive, she seconds the need to be careful with essential oils in your lip care products. “Essential oils that are particularly problematic are mint, cinnamon, and certain citrus oils, like grapefruit or lemon, which can cause trouble when exposed to UV light.”
You can find lip balms just about anywhere, from gas stations to drugstores, but that doesn’t mean they’re all worth using.
“Most lip balms are petroleum based, and they just coat the lip,” Ridge says. This doesn’t actually address the issue, and as soon as you lick off that coating — and you will — you’re back where you started.
“If you’re using a balm with high wax content, the balm’s oils will wear off fast, leaving you with the waxy layer coating your lips — this can make lips feel tight and suck away moisture,” Carriol says.
She adds, “A great, natural, lip-compatible balm will wear off seamlessly and always leave your lips feeling better than before.”
Ever noticed a tingling or mild burning sensation after applying a lip product? Some swear it’s a sign that it’s actively healing chapped lips, but there’s more to the story.
“Tingling is not necessarily a good or a bad sign,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology.
“In some cases, tingling may represent inflammation of the skin. In other cases, a fragrance may give off an artificial tingling sensation,” he says. “As a general rule, if you experience anything more than mild tingling or feel any discomfort, you should remove the product right away.”
And be wary lip products that promise to plump your pucker, too. “Any temporary plumping is caused by purposely irritating the lips,” Carriol says.
It’s one thing to avoid specific ingredients, but what about those you should actively seek?
“While silicones and other petroleum-based ingredients can help fill in rough patches and give the illusion of smooth skin, they don’t actually moisturize or heal the skin,” says Jenna Levine, founder of LINNÉ Botanicals.
In general, the fewer the ingredients, the better. “There’s no reason to get fancy with lip products,” Villafranco says, “You’re probably ingesting some of the ingredients if you’re a regular lip balm user.”
Believe me when I say I’ve tried probably hundreds of lip products over the years. Nothing really worked, so I just kept buying and trying new ones. But I can tell you definitively that the products here are the real deal.
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Occasionally, in the dead of night, when I was half awake and fumbling through a feeding, I’d swipe some across my lips too. It was kind of thick and gooey, but it always did the trick, and now I know why.
“The molecular structure of lanolin naturally most closely resembles your skin lipids than any other ingredient (natural or synthetic), making it the most compatible ingredient to use on your skin,” says Carriol. “It’s proven to penetrate the skin layers and holds 400 percent of its weight in moisture. It’s also semi-occlusive, which means it’s a brilliant and breathable barrier that lets lips hydrate from within.”
Fast forward to today, and I’m back to using lanolin pretty religiously. LANO’s 101 Ointment has the thick texture I vaguely remember, but the trick is to use it sparingly and warm it between your fingertips before application.
I also tried LANO Lanolips 101 Ointment Multi-Balm Minty, which is infused with peppermint and spearmint oils and vitamin E. There’s no tingling or burning, just moisture and a subtle shine.
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Billed as a luxury lip balm, this product from Henné is wildly impressive. I tried it both in the pot and in the standard stick form.
The formula passed my put-it-on-at-bedtime-for-happy-lips-in-the-morning test with flying colors. It has a very subtle cocoa scent and a low-key sheen that moisturizes and really lingers.
I noticed the balm in the pot felt a little grainy on my fingertip, which is the crystallizing of the organic butters when the temperature fluctuates. They melt as soon as I rub the balm into my lips, so don’t panic if the same thing happens to you.
The brand also sells other lip care products, like exfoliants, treatments, and tinted balms.
I like a little hint of color now and then, and the Luxury Lip Tint in the color Bare is pretty close to perfect for me. It’s dewy, sheer, and buildable, and you get a lovely tint along with the hydrating benefits.
While I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Rose Diamonds Lip Exfoliator, it was surprisingly effective. After massaging the sugar-heavy formula into damp lips and then rinsing, I was left with a smooth pucker. Add a quick layer of the Luxury Lip Balm, and I’m all set.
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I’ve long been a fan of Osmia for their handmade soaps. Many months ago, I found the brand’s Lip Doctor effective when nothing else seemed to be working.
It’s specifically made for sensitive lips, without essential oils or castor oil. There are six simple ingredients, including lavender-infused organic olive oil, organic cocoa butter, candelilla wax, beeswax, and organic avocado and argan oils. These make for a long-lasting, deeply infusing balm that really does the trick.
For anyone who consistently has issues with standard lip products, I think this is your best bet.
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This moisturizing lip oil from Ogee is packaged like a chunky lip pencil, and it glides on beautifully and really melts into your lips.
It’s made with a mix of organic oils to combat dryness. Once those are absorbed, your lips are left feeling moisturized with a layer of beeswax and shea butter.
The tinted versions of this balm are conditioning lip treatments in a rainbow of flattering hues. They give you all the perks of a great lip color with the benefits of an ultra-moisturizing oil. Plus, the oversized pencil packaging makes application a breeze.
Ogee’s all about high performance certified organic beauty products. The brand has an impressive laundry list of certifications and standards. Pair those with a lip product that really does its job, and this one is a win.
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This is another product that technically isn’t just for lips. Plant-derived and certified organic ingredients combine in this hypoallergenic balm that can go pretty much everywhere — including your lips.
It’s a skin staple, no question, but I love a dab on my lips for a smooth, hydrated effect.
Yes, Hello Bello is technically a baby product company (and, yes, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are the co-founders), but the Everywhere Balm is worth picking up — no matter if you have kids or not.
Soothing and mild, it’s dermatologist tested, hypoallergenic, pH balanced, vegan, and cruelty-free. And the best part? It works!
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Beekman 1802 is my go-to brand for soaps, shampoos, and lotions. Their goat-milk based skin care products are soothing, effective, and completely delightful. So it doesn’t surprise me that goat milk is a great addition to a lip balm.
“In our balms, we use goat milk to nourish the microbiome of the skin cells of the lip and then a combination of organic bees wax and shea butter for sealing moisture in,” Ridge explains.
The brand offers its lip balms in a few fragrances, but my favorite is the Pure Goat Milk Lip Balm. No bells and whistles, no shimmer, no fragrance — just a wildly effective lip balm that does its job.
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I’m a big fan of the small-batch freshness and efficacy of LINNÉ’s botanical skin care line, so I had high expectations for their lip balm. Spoiler: The NOURISH Lip Balm delivers.
The blend of mango butter, cocoa butter, pumpkin seed, jojoba oil, castor oil, beeswax, and calendula extract is densely nutritive and buttery soft.
The balm glides on smoothly but stays in place, which means my lips get that protective barrier they need against moisture loss.
I love the untinted version, but they also have tinted balms in a dusty nude and a rich berry. Pro tip: Levine says the balms can be used on the cheeks for a natural flush. The brand plans on rolling out additional tints soon.
LINNÉ prides themselves on being a champion of environmental stewardship. According to Levine, they use a portion of profits from this lip balm to support wilderness preservation organizations, like the Wilderness Society.
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I once called Vertly CBD Infused Lip Butter the holy grail of lip balms. It’s a bold claim, but I stand by it.
Maybe it’s the full-spectrum CBD, or maybe it’s the mix of rich butters and oils. I don’t know why this particular lip balm works, but I can promise you that it does.
The name is fitting: Vertly’s lip butter feels rich like a butter. It goes on smoothly without greasiness or shine.
When I’m in the mood for subtle color, I’ll swap the sheer balm for the tinted version, which delivers the ideal amount of color.
No one has to put up with chronically chapped lips. Get out of the habit of picking up a lip product from anywhere, and make a point of checking the ingredient list first.
It’s worth spending a little more on a lip product that will really work — and won’t perpetuate that miserable chapped lip cycle.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.