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Last updated on Nov 20, 2019

The Best Lip Balm

Lip-smacking protection without irritants ​
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2 experts interviewed

66 lip balms considered

4 top picks

Danika Miller

By Danika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika Miller is a writer with Reviews.com. She was the first staff writer to join Reviews.com back in May of 2017, when the content team was a meager but mighty group of seven. You can find her previous work lurking on literary sites and in fiction anthologies hidden deep in university libraries.

The Best Lip Balms

The best lip balm provides long-lasting moisture without potential irritants. After talking to dermatologists and digging into scientific studies, we narrowed in on balms with simple ingredients and tested each one to see which felt the smoothest, had the least scent, and offered some sheen without being glossy.

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How We Chose The Best Lip Balms

Popularity

We began our search by poring over every “best of” list we could find, from Seventeen and Elle to totalbeauty.com and realsimple.com, noting every formula covered. We also gathered best sellers from popular retailers like Walgreens. This gave us a list of 66 lip balms — from run-of-the-mill ChapStick to formulas from luxury beauty brands — all available for purchase nationwide.

A single question drove our research: Does this lip balm really work? We quizzed aestheticians and dermatologists on what to look for and what to avoid in an ingredients list, focusing on which formulas moisturized the most: be it with hydrating ingredients like ceramides, beeswax, and oils or barrier agents such as petrolatum and dimethicone. We also wanted to find a lip balm that could appeal to a broad audience, without tints, flavors, and gloss.

Avoid “Cooling” Irritants

Some lip balms create a “cooling” sensation when applied, which most of us associate with winter-worn lips becoming moisturized. Naturally minty sources like peppermint oil or eucalyptus produce this feeling safely. However, that sensation usually results from camphor, phenol, and/or menthol — three ingredients that can do more harm than good in a so-called “medicated” lip balm.

“We often use phenol in cosmetic chemical peels,” says Dr. Lauren Ploch, board-certified dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology in Augusta, Georgia. The acid acts as an exfoliant, and, in theory, exfoliating flaky lips is a good thing. “But dry, chapped lips need repair, not exfoliation.” Menthol and camphor are what provide that temporary cooling sensation as they work to numb or anesthetize the lips — but just as conditioner doesn’t actually heal damaged hair, these chemicals only cover up a dry lip problem without providing the moisture to solve it.

Nix Common Allergens

Allergens can be tricky to target: An ingredient you love may make your best friend break out in hives. Our experts helped us pinpoint the most common irritants, and we gave the boot to any lip balms with ingredients most likely to cause issues.

Lanolin is a moisturizing alcohol derived from wool that has been linked to contact dermatitis. Ploch advised against it, saying, “I’ve seen too many cases of contact dermatitis from lanolin to recommend it anymore.” Fragrances and dyes were also obvious cuts. While not all of them are bad, they’re common irritants, and tints and scents also tend to be drying. Even scents you loved in the past might not be fair game, says Peter Lio, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University. “Many people can become allergic to certain fragrance mixes over time, which can result in red, swollen, and itchy lips.” We cut on the mysterious mixes Lio mentions — labeled simply “fragrance,” “parfum,” and “artificial dye” in ingredients lists. We permitted any kind of fragrance or scent that came from natural ingredients like essential oils, fruits, or botanicals, though keep in mind that these could also become irritating over time, depending on your skin’s sensitivity.

Minimal Ingredients

Even if you don’t have particularly sensitive skin, Lio recommends avoiding formulas with tons of extra ingredients. “Since each ingredient has the potential to cause irritation or allergy, it’s best to pick something simple.” Ultimately, the very best lip balms contain the ingredients necessary to moisturize and shield lips — like aloe, olive oil, and petrolatum — and little else. Why expose your lips to 19 or 20 potential irritants when five will get the job done?

Our remaining options were bucketed into two clear groups: one group of formulas that contained as few as four ingredients, plus another group whose ingredient list jumped to as high as 52 (we’re looking at you, Clinique Pep Start). We cut any formula with more than 15 ingredients, which was the clear dividing point between the two groups.

Irritants for Sensitive Skin

Some highly popular lip balm ingredients also have a history of irritation, but only for about 30% of users — too rare to eliminate for most people. For our sensitive skin pick, though, we cut balms that contained these potentially-risky ingredients.

We were surprised that the list included 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. Lio pointed us to a 2001 dermatological study that found that 33 percent of participants experienced contact dermatitis (an itchy allergic reaction) to vitamin E. While it won’t be an issue for most users, we recommend avoiding it if you have sensitive skin.

Additionally, the moisturizing benefits of beeswax are well-documented, which is why it appears in so many formulas (including our top pick). But beeswax often contains propolis, a natural “glue” made by honey bees to build their hives, which has been shown to be a potential irritant. Our sensitive skin pick avoids it altogether.

The 4 Best Lip Balms

    Badger Classic Lip Balm

    Best Basic Balm
    Badger

    Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented

    Pros

    Just the basics
    Weightless but long-lasting
    Great price

    Cons

    No SPF

    Why we chose it

    Just the basics

    With a mere four ingredients — extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, castor oil, and a very small amount of rosemary — Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented seems made for Professor 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. It slips on super sheer, glowing slightly in bright light but far from shiny or glossy.

    Weightless but long lasting

    After applying, it has a barely-there feel. There’s a slight slickness when first rubbing your lips together, but other than that, it’s weightless and tasteless. Even better, that weightless-yet-moisturized sensation lasted about four hours during our testing — and even once it wore off, we didn’t feel the need to reapply. You won’t need to keep reaching for this lip balm throughout the day.

    Great price

    At $3 for a 0.15 oz tube, Badger is drugstore cheap and 100 percent organic and gluten-free. And its neutral profile makes it suitable for almost any user, regardless of taste or scent preference.

    Points to consider

    No SPF

    One thing to remember about this and other lip balms is that they don’t generally contain SPF. It’s easy to forget about your lips when you go out in the sun, but don’t — the skin on your lips can burn just as easily as the rest of your face. If you’re planning a day at the beach, or even a sunny winter afternoon on the ski slopes, be sure to wear a lip balm that contains SPF, like Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer, to protect the fragile skin on your lips.

    Smith’s Rosebud Salve

    Best for Sensitive Skin
    Smith’s

    Smith’s Rosebud Salve

    Pros

    Simple, irritant-free ingredients
    No mess, no sheen
    Light, pleasant scent

    Cons

    Fragrance

    Why we chose it

    Simple, irritant-free ingredients

    Smith’s Rosebud lip balm has super simple ingredients while offering a gentle hint of natural rose. Like Badger, it only has four ingredients. Unlike Badger, it’s free of beeswax and vitamin E. Instead, it moisturizes with petrolatum, cottonseed oil, essential oils, and botanicals.

    No mess, no sheen

    Though it resembles lip gloss, with its jelly texture and slippery application, it makes no mess, and we saw no sign of sheen after it absorbed. It’s also far easier to get out of the tube than similarly-shaped applicators like that of La Roche-Posay, which whittled out a bit of balm only after we used our entire palm to squeeze.

    Light, pleasant scent

    Smith’s salve was also the only sensitive skin option to have a tolerable scent. Others smelled artificial, like Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, which reminded us of childhood classic Lip Smackers’ Chocolate Dipped Banana flavor. On the flip side, some smelled too natural, like the stinky honey scent of Dr. Dan’s. Two flavors of Smith’s made it to our testing: the original Rosebud and the Minted Rose. Neither is very potent, and any scent or flavor is undetectable within a few minutes of application.

    Points to consider

    Fragrance

    Yes, we know: the light fragrance is one of the reasons we chose this product. But for some, even a little scent is too much. If you’re in that group, check out our runner-up below.

    Vaseline Lip Therapy Original

    Runner Up for Sensitive Skin
    Vaseline

    Vaseline Lip Therapy Original

    Pros

    Pure and simple
    Inexpensive
    Several formats

    Cons

    Tub can be messy

    Why we chose it

    Pure and simple

    Not a fan of rose or mint? Vaseline Lip Therapy is as neutral and irritant-free as it gets. Pure petroleum jelly is the go-to lip balm for many, and for good reason: It’s an impenetrable occlusive that seals in moisture, and it has virtually no history of irritation (which is why it’s used on babies to treat diaper rash). If you like the way it feels on your lips, have at it.

    Inexpensive

    You won’t break the bank with Vaseline. Although none of our top picks came in at a particularly high price point, Vaseline is classic (it’s been around since the 1850s) and simple, and will cost you less than five dollars for a small tub.

    Several formats

    Vaseline comes in tin, tube, or tub form — full of pure, surgical-grade petroleum jelly that will create a slick seal over your lips. The squeeze tube, labeled for “Advanced Healing,” is mixed with a little bit of neutral flavor. But dipping into a tub of Vaseline will give you the same results, with a bit less convenience.

    Points to consider

    Tub can be messy

    Although it is nice to have different packaging options to choose from, keep in mind that with tub or tin, you’ll be dipping your finger into the product and rubbing it on your lips. For some people, that can be a deal-breaker: If your hands are dirty, you risk contaminating the product, and you also have to find a tissue to dry off your finger. The tube costs slightly more per ounce, but may be worth it if these seem like issues you would rather not deal with.

    Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen

    Best with SPF
    Neutrogena

    Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 15

    Pros

    Formula focused on protection
    Velvety smooth

    Cons

    Can cause irritation
    Hard to find

    Why we chose it

    Formula focused on protection

    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 dry them out. On the other hand, most of us tend to forget about the lips entirely when it comes to sun protection. Even if you don’t apply it on a daily basis, a lip balm for those beach outings is a wise investment.

    For days out in the sun, the Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer is our pick. It uses 7.5 percent octinoxate, alongside a bit of oxybenzone, for a broad-spectrum SPF of 15. Combine that with castorseed oil and beeswax, and you’ve got a formula that is equally focused on protection and moisture.

    Velvety smooth

    This product goes on velvety smooth, without leaving a greasy residue and without a high gloss that might make some avoid it. “It is not sticky or waxy and leaves a very smooth comfortable feeling on my lips,” said one user. “I recommend this product to everyone I know.”

    Points to consider

    Can cause irritation

    Be aware: While octinoxate and oxybenzone are both approved by the FDA, they have been known to cause irritation in sunscreens. If you have particularly sensitive skin, we’d recommend doing a spot test to ensure it doesn’t cause any issues.

    Hard to find

    Although this product is readily available at Amazon as well as at the manufacturer’s website, users report that it is nearly impossible to find in retail stores. We suggest you stock up if you’re planning a trip that will have you out in the sun.

    Guide to Lip Balms

    How to find the right lip balm for you

    Take a look at your surroundings

    Chapped lips have as much to do with where you are as they do with your skin condition. If you spend considerable time in a windowless, dry office (especially in winter when the heat is on), for example, you may want to consider a lip balm with extra emollients. But it’s a good idea to glance at the ingredient list of any lip balm you’re purchasing — the fewer ingredients, the better, especially if you’re using your lip balm a lot. And if you are, check out our FAQs below for some thoughts on lip balm overuse.

    Assess your lips

    You know your lips better than anyone. Are you prone to dry, cracked Saraha-Desert-like lips or just some occasional tightness in the corners? Do you find yourself re-applying your current lip balm every 15 minutes? 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.

    Consider packaging

    Unlike some health and beauty aids, lip balm comes in a variety of containers. Tubes, sticks, and tubs can all hold your precious balm, and your own personal preference rules here. Tubs often contain a bit more of the product, but you may also have some waste, as you have to lift it out with your finger or an applicator. Touching your finger to your mouth increases the risk of spreading germs or infection, so if you like tubs and are prone to cold sores, you may want to consider using small disposable applicators—even cotton swabs will work in a pinch.

    Lip Balms FAQ

    The Best Lip Balms: Summed Up

    Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented
    Smith’s Rosebud Salve
    Vaseline Lip Therapy Original
    Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 15
    Best Basic Balm
    Best for Sensitive Skin
    Runner-Up for Sensitive Skin
    Best with SPF
    Cost/single item
    $2.99
    $7.27
    $4.96
    $4.65
    New weight of product
    0.15 ounce
    0.5 ounce
    0.25 ounce
    0.15 ounce
    Cost per ounce
    $19.93
    $14.54
    $19.84
    $31.00
    Cruelty Free
    Sun protection

    More Skin Care Reviews

    We want you to look and feel your best, and we’ve done the leg work to prove it. Check out some of our other skin care reviews to find out what our experts say are the best of the best: