The Best Lip Balm

To moisturize and protect

The 30-Second Review

After talking to dermatologists and digging into scientific studies, we were surprised (and a little disheartened) to discover the ingredients in some of the best lip balms can cause irritation — and make dry lips even drier. The key: finding a balm with simple ingredients that include moisturizers, like beeswax, or barrier agents, like petrolatum, and little to nothing else. Once we found those, we tested 25 to see which felt the best going on, provided long-lasting moisture, and weren't too glossy.

Top Picks
Best Overall

The simplest formula of all 25 we hand-tested: just four organic ingredients, barely any scent, and effects that last all day.

Other Top Picks

Plenty of factors can cause cheilitis, the technical term for inflammation of the lips, or cheilitis simplex (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 Augusta-based dermatologist Lauren Ploch.

Our Top Pick

Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented Just four organic ingredients designed to pack a punch.

We know what you’re thinking: sun, wind, cold — that pretty much sums up every season. Water and saliva? Unavoidable. To keep lips feeling good, we wanted to find which balms included a moisturizing agent to restore the lipid barrier and/or a barrier agent that acts like a seal to ensure no natural moisture is lost.

Our top pick, Badger’s Classic Unscented Lip Balm, boasts the simplest formula of any we tested, and its “just-applied” feeling lasted more than four hours in our tests — as long as any of the other balms we tried out. It uses only four natural (and organic!) ingredients, which means there are fewer things for the sensitive skin on and around your lips to have an allergic reaction to. We also liked that it’s about as neutral as it gets: there’s barely any scent or shine.

If your skin isn’t particularly sensitive, we really liked John Masters Organics Lip Calm. You’ll pay twice as much as you would for Badger, but it has more of a spa feel: rich, wet, and delicately scented with citrus. Its 10 organic oils infused with beeswax also proved to be long-lasting — you won’t need to reapply again and again throughout the day — and it’s surprisingly not-too-glossy for how slick it is when putting it on.

Going to be in the sun? A lip balm with SPF is crucial. Our pick is Vanicream Lip Protectant, the only balm we tested that included broad spectrum SPF 30 from a mix of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Even better: it’s water resistant up to 80 minutes. Hello, beach.

Our Picks for the Best Lip Balm

Best Overall

Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented A great basic balm with mass appeal: little shine, virtually no scent, and long-lasting moisture.

With a mere four ingredients — extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, castor oil, and a very small amount of rosemary, which acts as a preservative — this lip balm seems made for Lio’s “nothing extraneous” rule. It has a smooth, silky texture and hardly any scent; if anything, it’s a little bit herbal due to the rosemary.

Badger’s Classic comes in a small twist-up tube and is deep gold — the color of its main ingredient, olive oil. It slips on about as sheer as it gets: In bright light, you’ll see a glow, but it’s far from shiny or glossy.

After applying, it has a barely-there feel. When you rub them together, your lips feel slick, but other than that, the sensation is weightless and tasteless. Even better, that weightless-yet-moisturized sensation lasted upward of four hours during our testing, and even once it wore off, we didn’t feel the need to reapply. This balm isn’t one you’ll need to keep reaching for throughout the day.

It’s worth noting the formula falls into the “moisturizing-only” category of lip balms — it doesn’t include any sun protection. (The one Badger lip balm that includes SPF also included vitamin E — but even then, we’d want SPF 30, not SPF 15.) But at $3 for a 0.15 oz tube, it’s drugstore cheap and 100 percent organic and gluten-free. The fact that the family-owned and run manufacturer turns out its products in New Hampshire? Icing on the cake.

Slightly More Luxurious

John Masters Organics Lip Calm Ten organic oils make for a balm with a delicate scent and spa-like feel.

If you prefer a more luscious experience, John Masters Organics Lip Calm feels like an intense dose of hydration. It boasts 10 ingredients to Badger’s four (and at six bucks a pop, costs twice as much), and they’re all oils except the beeswax: olive, sunflower, jojoba, flax seed, borage, rosehip, tangerine peel, lemon peel, and lime. The latter half of that list is what gives this formula its light citrus scent.

Lightened Close-up John Masters Organics lip balm

It comes in an identical twist-up tube as Badger, but wipes on rich, thick, and slippery — you’ll feel its presence much more. It’s more noticeable on the nose, too: You might pick up a slight whiff of citrus up to an hour or two after using it, but it’s mild enough not to interfere with eating or drinking.

The consistency is thicker and the sensation “wetter” than many of the 25 balms we tested; it felt so slick putting it on we assumed it would look more like a lip gloss than a lip balm. But it’s surprisingly subtle: There’s a little more of a sheen than Badger, but only if you look closely. Like Badger, though, Lip Calm is long-lasting — our testers never craved reapplication, even hours later — and doesn’t have any SPF.

Best with SPF

Vanicream Lip Protectant This balm boasts broad spectrum SPF 30 from a mix of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — and is water resistant to boot.

Whether your everyday lip balm should contain SPF is a hotly contested question among dermatologists: On the one hand, if you’re sitting inside all day, your lips don’t require sunscreen, which can — you guessed it — dry your lips out. On the other, most of us tend to forget about the lips entirely when it comes to sun protection. “In my practice, I regularly see squamous cell carcinomas of the lip as a result of sun exposure,” says Ploch, who recommends zinc oxide as the ideal hypoallergenic sunscreen for lip balms. (Other sunscreens, such as octinoxate and oxybenzone, have a higher risk of contact dermatitis, Ploch says.)

Lightened Close-up of Vanicream lip balm

Vanicream Lip Protectant is our pick. It was one of the only balms out of the 25 we tested that included any sun protection at all — it uses 15 percent zinc oxide, alongside a bit of titanium oxide, for a broad spectrum SPF of 30. Combine that with its first active ingredient, dimethicone, an occlusive agent that keeps moisture from evaporating from your lips, and you’ve got a formula that is equally focused on protection and moisture.

It’s virtually scentless and comes in an ointment tube you squeeze, as opposed to twisting up. Upon application, you’ll find the biggest difference from the moisture-focused balms like Badger and John Master: It feels more like rubbing on a sunscreen (which makes sense — that’s essentially what you’re doing) and lacks that intense hydrating feeling. It also has a white-purple tint from the zinc and titanium dioxide, and requires a few more swipes of the angled applicator before it disappears.

That said, once it’s completely rubbed in, it has the least shine and slip of all our top picks — you might forget you’re wearing anything at all — and it’s even water-resistant up to 80 minutes.

Other Lip Balms to Consider

Vaseline Lip Therapy Advanced Healing is, along with Vanicream, one of the only balms that made it through into our testing pool that doesn’t contain beeswax. If you’re sensitive to propolis, this squeezable tube of pure, surgical-grade petroleum jelly (mixed with a little bit of neutral flavor) will create a slick seal over your lips to trap in moisture. Don’t care about the flavor — or the squeeze tube? Dipping into a tub of Vaseline will give you the same results.

Did You Know?

There’s another reason to go flavorless.

Kiss My Face flew through all of our initial cuts with solid ingredient lists containing moisturizing powerhouses like beeswax, coconut oil, and aloe. In the end, its flavors (Cranberry Orange, Sliced Peach, Ginger Mango) knocked it out of the running, initially because we thought they were too strong to appeal to everyone.

As it turns out, though, even if you love everything ginger-mango, you’re better off skipping lip balms that may encourage you to lick your lips. Not only does saliva dry your lips out, but also the act “can also cause what’s called ‘lip-lickers dermatitis,’ an eczema-like rash around the lips,” says Ploch.

It’s possible to become addicted to lip balm.

Sort of. “There is something to the psychological addiction to lip balm,” explains Dr. Lio. “I myself have been stuck in a rut before, where if I didn’t have my lip balm on me, my lips would feel dry and uncomfortable!”

So we’re not talking a chemical dependence, or even the Great Carmex Conspiracy, an urban legend from the ‘90s that claimed Carmex was full of tiny shards of glass to make users more dependent on it. But it is possible to compulsively use your balm — even when your lips don’t necessarily need extra moisture. Much of that lies in the power of suggestion. The same way reading about lice will make your head itchy, we’re betting if you’ve made it this far into our story, you’ll have already reached for some ChapStick.

The more you use it, the more you’ll want it.

Our testers certainly found that to be true, and it’s another reason to guard against overuse. “In general, I like to let the body regulate itself whenever possible,” says Lio. Eating a balanced diet and staying well-hydrated keeps skin (including your lips) moisturized. Using a humidifier to combat dry indoor air, especially in winter, can help you break your dependency as well.

But overuse may also be a sign you’re allergic to your lip balm.

If you’re in an endless loop of chapped lips and reapplication, consider switching to a balm with a completely different ingredient profile. If a certain ingredient is causing inflammation or irritation (which, we’ve discovered, can be pretty much anything) it may lead you to use your lip balm more, which causes more irritation, and voila: lip balm addiction.

Best Overall

Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented It doesn't get more classic than this.

The Bottom Line

Next time your lips feel parched, the simpler the label the better. Look for moisturizing ingredients like ceramides, beeswax, and oils, and protective barriers, like dimethicone and petrolatum. Going out in the sun? SPF 30 from zinc oxide is your go-to.