Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.
This guide was originally featured on Reviews.com
Plenty of factors can cause chapped lips. Some of the most common: exposure to saliva, water, sun, wind, and cold. Essentially, these outside forces can zap the lips of their natural moisturizing barrier, which is rich in water-insoluble lipids. “Anything that disrupts that lipid barrier may lead to dryness and irritation,” explains dermatologist Lauren Ploch.
Sun, wind, cold — that pretty much sums up every season. Water and saliva? Unavoidable. To keep lips feeling good, lip balms are an essential beauty tool, but with so many on the market, how does one choose?
The team at Reviews.com recently investigated 177 different lip balms in order to find the safest and most effective choices, and their focus on simple and non-abrasive ingredients led them to two great organic options. Their process offers a lot of great info for anyone looking closer at that tiny lip balm label.
Mind the Menthol
First, watch out for anything with camphor, phenol, or menthol. These ingredients in so-called “medicated” lip balms bring on a tingly, cooling sensation — one most people associate (wrongly) with winter-worn lips becoming moisturized.
“We often use phenol in cosmetic chemical peels,” says Lauren Ploch, an MD from MED Georgia Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center. The acid acts as an exfoliant, and, in theory, exfoliating flaky lips is a good thing. “But dry, chapped lips need repair, not exfoliation. Therefore, phenol can cause severe irritation,” she explains. Menthol and camphor are what provide that temporary cooling sensation and work to numb or anesthetize the lips — but they can actually burn when applied to chapped skin. All of this can make the lips more sun-sensitive, too, Ploch adds.
Watch Out for Allergens
Allergens can be tricky to target — an ingredient you love may make your best friend break out in hives. But experts can help pinpoint the most common irritants.
You might be surprised the list includes vitamin E. While this antioxidant is lauded for its anti-aging properties — and thus is often touted as a stand-out lip balm ingredient to combat fine lines around the lips — “in terms of hydration versus dryness, it’s actually pretty neutral,” says Ploch. Peter Lio, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University, adds this fun fact: A 2001 dermatological study found an astoundingly high 33 percent of participants experienced contact dermatitis (an itchy allergic reaction) to vitamin E.
Fragrances and dyes are more obvious irritants: While they’re not all bad, they are common irritants, and tints and scents also tend to be drying — even if they are all-natural. Even scents you loved in the past might not be fair game, says Lio. “Many people can become allergic to certain fragrance mixes over time,” he explains, “which can result in red, swollen, and itchy lips.”
Beeswax is one of the ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction, but because its moisturizing benefits are so great (and it’s such a common ingredient in lip balm) it’s still a great option for most lip balm users. That said, beeswax often contains propolis, a natural “glue” made by honeybees to build their hives, which has been shown to be an increasingly common irritant, so consider an option without it.
Lanolin is another one: a moisturizing alcohol derived from wool that has been linked to contact dermatitis in some people. Lanolin isn’t as common as beeswax, though, so most people won’t encounter this tricky ingredient.
Less Is More
In fact, when it comes to lip balm, the very best lip balms contain the ingredients necessary to moisturize and shield lips — and little else.“I recommend avoiding formulas with tons of extra ingredients in general,” says Lio. “Since each ingredient has the potential to cause irritation or allergy, it’s best to pick something simple.”
Looking at the number of components in a small product like lip balm likely isn’t in the front of everyone’s minds, but Lio’s advice is sound: Why expose your lips to 19 or 20 potential irritants when five will get the job done?
The Top Pick
Ultimately, the team at Reviews.com chose Badger’s Classic Unscented Lip Balm as their top pick. It boasts the simplest formula of any they tested–only four natural (and organic!) ingredients, which means there are fewer possibilities for allergic reactions with the sensitive skin on and around your lips.
The Bottom Line
The next time you feel tempted to snag a new lip balm, embrace the “less is more” mantra: fewer, organic ingredients will always be the best choice for your lips!