Lip balm is great for relieving dry, tingling, or chapped lips. It can also serve as a preventative measure to maintain full, healthy lips, says Heather D. Rogers, MD, a dermatologist with Modern Dermatology in Seattle.
However, with so many options available it’s hard to know which lip balm is best for your needs. Find out which ingredients work best to soothe your lips, and which you should be cautious of.
Lip balm ingredients
There are a variety of ingredients used in lip balms. When choosing a brand, review the ingredients to make sure you’re getting the best care for your lips.
“Less is more when it comes to ingredients to heal chapped lips,” Rogers says. You don’t need a lot of ingredients to make a difference, you just need ones that work.
Castor oil: Castor oil is made from castor beans and has long been used in various medicines. It penetrates the skin better than other vegetable oils, says Rogers. Castor oil and hemp seed oil are among the oils recommended by dermatologists to help soothe chapped lips, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Honey: Honey is considered a humectant, which means that it attracts moisture. As a lip balm ingredient, honey can help exfoliate lips and keep them hydrated and healthy, says Jennifer M. Wong, a dermatology physician assistant with Advanced Dermatology PC in the New York metro area.
Lanolin: Lanolin is a type of wax secreted by woolly animals such as sheep. It can relieve irritated lips because it helps to seal in moisture. One study found that it was able to reduce water loss in the skin by 20% to 30%.
Although lanolin has moisturizing qualities, an estimated 1.2% to 6.9% of the general population is allergic to lanolin, according to a 2019 study. Some may not even know they are allergic until they use a lip balm that contains it. A rash, redness, or burning on the skin or lips are signs of an allergic reaction, and you should stop using that product, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, and mineral oil: Even before its commercial discovery in the 1800s, humans have used petroleum jelly or petrolatum as an ointment. Mineral oil is one of the ingredients in petroleum jelly. Both petroleum jelly and mineral oil are commonly used in lip balm because they trap moisture, Wong says. They also can help heal chapped lips, according to the AAD.
Shea butter and cocoa butter: Shea and cocoa butter are both natural types of fats that come from the shea tree and cocoa bean, respectively. Butters, like shea and cocoa, help your lips hold on to moisture and help heal chapped lips, according to the AAD.
Tocopherol (vitamin E): Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has been used in cosmetic products for at least 50 years. Antioxidants are substances that help prevent or delay cell damage and are beneficial for skin care.
Vitamin E is commonly used in lip balm, although a small percentage of people — a little under 1%, according to a 2010 study — are allergic to it. To help avoid a potential allergic reaction, choose lip balms without vitamin E, or make sure it’s far down on the ingredient list, says Rogers.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide: Just like your skin, your lips are sensitive to the sun, and too much sun can cause them to chap. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are common in sunscreens for both skin and lips because they help block UV rays.
This also helps prevent certain pre-cancers of the lip, like actinic cheilitis, and skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma. Since UV rays can also trigger cold sores in people who are prone to them, a lip balm with sunscreen will also help prevent outbreaks. The ADD advises using a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher before you go outside.
In addition to looking for the right ingredients, you should always opt for lip balms that are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, Rogers says.
That’s because many fragrances can cause an allergic reaction, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. By choosing lip balms that are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, you’ll be less likely to irritate the lips.
Also, make sure to drink plenty of water to help hydrate your chapped lips. This will help them heal more quickly.
If your chapped lips don’t get better after two to three weeks, see a doctor to rule out other possible problems like an allergic reaction, yeast infection, or a precancerous condition called actinic cheilitis that causes lips to feel dry and scaly, according to the AAD.