Editor's Note
  • February 28, 2018 - After reconnecting with dermatologists, we found that irritation caused by beeswax and vitamin E was too rare to warrant hard cuts. We still cut on them for our sensitive picks, but we decided to allow them in our other top picks. While most of recommendations changed with this update, Badger Classic is still our overall favorite.
  • January 12, 2018 - We’ve updated this review to include a clearer methodology and updated information regarding potential irritants. Keep an eye out for further testing and additional picks in the coming months.

The Best Lip Balm

The best lip balm provides long-lasting moisture without using potential irritants. After talking to dermatologists and digging into scientific studies, we narrowed in on 29 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.

Our top pick, the $3 Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented, boasts one of the simplest formulas of any we tested, and its “just-applied” feeling lasts the longest. It uses only four natural (and organic!) ingredients, and it has barely any scent or shine — making it suitable for almost any user.

If your skin is particularly sensitive and irritable, we loved Smith's Rosebud Salve. At about $6, you’ll pay more than you would for Badger, but it feels like a product straight out of a spa: rich, wet, and delicately rose-scented. Like Badger, it uses only four ingredients; however, it skips out on vitamin E and beeswax, two potential irritants to sensitive skin.

If you don’t care about scent, we also recommend good old Vaseline for sensitive lips. With two ingredients for two dollars, Vaseline is about as simple as it gets — and you can choose to apply from either a tube, a tub, or a tin.

Going to be in the sun? Most people forget to protect the lips when applying sunscreen for the day, so a lip balm with SPF is crucial. Our pick is Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer ($3), a balm that includes broad spectrum SPF 15 from a mix of octinoxate and oxybenzone. Hello, beach.

Our Picks for the Best Lip Balm

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 — Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented 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. It slips on super sheer, glowing slightly in bright light but far from shiny or glossy.

After applying, it has a barely-there feel. There’s a slight slickness when rubbing together the lips, but other than that, it’s 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.

Badger for Lip Balm

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.

Best For
Sensitive Skin
Smith's Rosebud Salve
Just four ingredients and free of common potential irritants, plus a delicate hint of rose.

Smith’s Rosebud lip balm is super simple in 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.

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.

Smith's for Lip Balm

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.

At about $6, it is a little more expensive than our other picks. But as an all-natural, delicately scented lip balm, with a cute retro design — we highly recommend it.

Runner-Up For
Sensitive Skin
Vaseline Lip Therapy Original
As simple as it gets, and free of all irritants.

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. At less than $2, you’re not going to find a cheaper option. Ploch backs this up, saying, “For very sensitive patients, I recommend plain Vaseline petroleum jelly… an easy-to-use, hypoallergenic balm.”

Vaseline for Lip Balm

It 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.

Best With
Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 15
This balm boasts broad spectrum SPF 15 from a mix of octinoxate and oxybenzone.

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 your lips 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 $3 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 30. Combine that with castorseed oil and beeswax, and you’ve got a formula that is equally focused on protection and moisture.

Neutrogena for Lip Balm

However, 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.

Neutrogena’s application is soft and gentle, with a thick spread that offers long-lasting sun protection. For only $3, this Neutrogena lip balm is a beach necessity.

Prevention Tips for Lip Balm Addiction

“There is something to the psychological addiction to lip balm,” explains 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!”

We’re not talking a chemical dependence, or even the Great Carmex Conspiracy, an urban legend from the ‘90s which claimed that 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 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 review, you've already reached for some ChapStick.

To guard against overuse (which may actually make your lips drier in the long run), Lio recommends letting the body regulate itself whenever possible. 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.

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.

Our Lip Balm Review: Summed Up