The Best Lip Balm
The best lip balm should provide long-lasting moisture without containing potential irritants. After talking to dermatologists and digging into scientific studies, we narrowed in on 25 balms with simple ingredients that include moisturizers (like beeswax) or barrier agents (like petrolatum) and little to nothing else. Then we tested each one to see which felt the smoothest, had the least scent, and offered some sheen without being glossy.
The simplest formula of all 25 we hand-tested: just four organic ingredients, barely any scent, and effects that last all day. ($3)
John Masters Organics Lip Calm
With a creamy application that testers described as “luxurious,” this formula has a more pronounced citrus scent and sheen than Badger’s. ($17 on Amazon, though we found it for $6 in stores)
For summertime or days at the beach, Vanicream applies more like a sunscreen than a traditional lip balm — plus, it’s SPF 30 and waterproof. ($5)
- 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
Our top pick, Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented, 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 more complicated formulas we tried. It uses only four natural (and organic!) ingredients, which means there are fewer possible allergens for the sensitive skin on and around your lips. We also liked that it’s about as neutral as possible: There’s barely any scent or shine, making it suitable for any user.
If your skin isn’t particularly sensitive to fragrance, we loved John Masters Organics Lip Calm. You’ll pay more than you would for Badger, and it’s packed with twice the number of ingredients, but it feels like a product straight out of a spa: rich, wet, and delicately citrus-scented. Its 10 organic oils infused with beeswax also proved to be long-lasting, and it’s surprisingly not too glossy for how slick it feels when applying.
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 Vanicream Lip Protectant, a balm that includes 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.
How We Found the Best Lip Balm
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. This gave us a list of 177 lip balms — from run-of-the-mill ChapStick to formulas from luxury beauty brands — all available for purchase nationwide at a wide variety of retailers.
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 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.
We nixed anything with camphor, phenol, or menthol.
These ingredients in so-called “medicated” lip balms bring on a tingly, cooling sensation — one most of us associate (wrongly) with winter-worn lips becoming moisturized.
I can’t think of one instance when I would ever recommend a ‘medicated’ lip balm over a moisturizing one.
“We often use phenol in cosmetic chemical peels,” says Ploch. 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 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.
However potentially damaging it can be, that tingly feeling is pretty popular: Formulas from some of the biggest names in balms, including Carmex, Blistex, SoftLips, and ChapStick, contained at least one of these three ingredients. But to decrease the risk of irritation, we cut any formula that uses them.
AloeSense Naturally Soothing Lip Balm Sunscreen SPF 30 Fresh Mint, Badger Tea Tree & Lemon Balm Herbal Lip Balm, Blistex DCT, Blistex Lip Medex, Burt’s Bees Soothing Eucalyptus Lip Balm, Carmex Lip Balm, Carmex Lip Balm SPF 15 Pomegranate, Carmex Moisture Plus Lip Balm, Carmex Moisturizing SPF 15 Lip Balm Lime Twist, Carmex Ultra Smooth Lip Balm Stick SPF 15 Pomegranate, ChapStick Classic Cherry, ChapStick Classic Original, ChapStick Classic Spearmint, ChapStick Classic Strawberry, ChapStick Medicated Lip Balm, Maybelline Baby Lips Dr. Rescue Lip Balm, Natural Ice Medicated Lip Protectant/Sport Sunscreen SPF 30, Natural Ice Medicated Lip Protectant/Sunscreen SPF 15 Cherry, Natural Ice Medicated Lip Protectant/Sunscreen SPF 15 Original, Nivea A Kiss of Recovery Medicated Lip Repair, Softlips Cube in Pomegranate Blueberry, Softlips Lip Protectant/Sunscreen SPF 20 Vanilla, Yu-Be Lip Therapy
And avoided the most 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.
We were surprised 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. 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. Though more recent studies advocate for vitamin E’s inclusion in beauty products, we left behind familiar formulas from EOS, Neutrogena, Maybelline, and Burt’s Bees for their potential irritation risk.
Fragrances and dyes were more obvious to cut: While they’re not all bad, they are common irritants, and tints and scents also tend to be drying even if they’re all-natural. As the 2016 class-action lawsuit against EOS Lip Balm shows, a product that claims to be 99 percent natural, organic, and gluten-free can still result in contact dermatitis. 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.”
The moisturizing benefits of beeswax are well-documented, which is why it appears in so many formulas. That said, beeswax often contains propolis, a natural “glue” made by honey bees to build their hives, which has been shown to be an increasingly common irritant — for those sensitive to propolis, we included a top pick that is totally beeswax-free.
Lanolin is another potential irritant: a moisturizing alcohol derived from wool that has been linked to contact dermatitis in some people. Lanolin didn’t show up in any of our top picks, but it’s often found in formulas with beeswax and dyes.
Alba Botanica Hawaiian Lip Balm Coconut Cream, Alba Botanica Hawaiian Lip Balm Pineapple Quench, Almay Age Essentials Lip Treatment, Apivita Lip Care Bee Princess Bio-Eco Lip Care, Apivita Lip Care Bio-Eco Lip Care with Honey, Apivita Lip Care with Black Currant, Apivita Lip Care with Pink Rose, Apivita Lip Care with Pomegranate, Aquaphor Lip Repair, Aquaphor Lip Repair & Protect, Avalon Organics Soothing Lip Balm Vitamin C Renewal, Avene Cold Cream Lip Balm, Babyganics Lip & Face Balm, Badger Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 15 Unscented, Beessential Lemon Lavender Lip Balm, Beessential Orange Ginger Lip Balm, Blistex Deep Renewal, Blistex Lip Protectant SPF 15 Orange Mango Blast, Blistex Ultra Rich Hydration Dual Layer Lip Protectant SPF 15, Bonne Bell Lip Smacker Lip Balm Dr. Pepper, Burt’s Bees Acai Berry Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Blueberry & Dark Chocolate Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Coconut & Pear Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Honey Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Lip Balm Passionfruit, Burt’s Bees Mango Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Ultra Conditioning Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Vanilla Bean Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees Wild Cherry Lip Balm, By Terry Baume de Rose Lip Balm, Caudalie Lip Conditioner, ChapStick Aloha Coconut Lip Balm, ChapStick Hydration Lock Day & Night Lip Balm, ChapStick Hydration Lock Moisturize & Renew Lip Balm, ChapStick Key Lime Lip Balm, ChapStick Mango Sunrise Lip Balm, ChapStick MixStix Lemon Berry Sorbet, ChapStick MixStix Strawberry Banana Smoothie, ChapStick Moisturizer Green Apple, ChapStick Moisturizer Original, ChapStick Moisturizer Raspberry Creme, ChapStick Moisturizer Vanilla Mint, ChapStick Sun Defense Lip Balm, ChapStick Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care Coconut, ChapStick Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care Luscious Lemon Delight, ChapStick Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care Soothing Oasis, ChapStick Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care Sweet Peach, ChapStick Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care Wild Acai Berry, ChapStick Total Hydration Fresh Citrus, ChapStick Total Hydration Soothing Vanilla, Chicken Poop Outdoors All Weather Lip Junk, Clarins HydraQuench Moisture-Replenishing Lip Balm, Clinique Superbalm Lip Treatment, Cococare Lip Balm Cocoa Butter, Darphin Age-Defying Lip Balm, Dior Creme de Rose Soothing Plumping Lip Balm, Drunk Elephant Lippe Lip Balm, E.L.F. Essential Soothing Lip Balm, Eco Lips Relieve Soothing Organic Lip Balm Cocoa Vanilla Nut, EOS Smooth Sphere Lip Balm in Blueberry, EOS Smooth Sphere Lip Balm in Honeysuckle Honeydew, EOS Smooth Sphere Lip Balm in Pomegranate Raspberry, EOS Smooth Sphere Lip Balm in Strawberry Sorbet, EOS Smooth Sphere Lip Balm in Summer Fruit, Eraclea Ever-Moist Lip Balm, Every Man Jack Lip Balm SPF 15 Fragrance Free, Fiona Stiles Ultra Luxe Nourishing Lip Balm, Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Advanced Therapy, Glossier Balm Dotcom, Hourglass No. 28 Lip Treatment Oil, Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm Original, Kaplan MD Perfect Pout Lip Mask + Lip Balm Duo, Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1, La Mer The Lip Balm, Lanolips Banana Balm, Lanolips Lemonaid Lip Aid, LaRocca Lip Shield Multi-Active Lip Balm, Lasting Smiles Organic Lip Balm Passionfruit Mango, Lasting Smiles Organic Lip Balm Peach Blossom, Lasting Smiles Organic Lip Balm Peppermint Creme, Lasting Smiles Organic Lip Balm Simply Moisture, Le Couvent des Minimes Rose and Berries Lip Balm, Les Couvent des Minimes Apple and Pear Lip Balm, Les Couvent des Minimes Orange Blossom Lip Balm, Logona Logodent Bio-Calendula Lip Balm, Love & Toast Lip Balm Cherry Lemonade, Lypsyl Lypmoisturizer Lip Balm Original Mint, Malin + Goetz Mojito Lip Balm, Marc Jacobs Beauty Lip Lock Moisture Balm, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Cherry Me, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Grape Vine, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Peach Kiss, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Peppermint, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Pink Punch, Maybelline New York Baby Lips Quenched, MoistStic Natural Lip Protection with Tea Tree Oil, Neutrogena Naturals Lip Balm, Neutrogena Revitalizing Lip Balm, Nivea A Kiss of Mint & Minerals Refreshing Lip Balm, Nivea A Kiss of Moisture Lip Balm, Nivea A Kiss of Olive Oil & Lemon Lip Balm, Nivea A Kiss of Protection, Nivea A Kiss of Shimmer Radiant Lip Care, Nivea A Kiss of Smoothness Hydrating Lip Balm, Nuxe Paris Ultra Nourishing Lip Balm, Olivella Lip Roll-On Limoncello, Olivella Lip Roll-On Mint, Out of Africa Organic Shea Butter Lip Balm Peppermint, Out of Africa Shea Butter Lip Balm Pomegranate, Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Dark Chocolate & Cherry Lip Butter, Pur-Lisse Daily Lip Nourisher, RMS Lip & Skin Balm, Sephora Super Nourishing Lip Balm, Shiseido Sun Protection Lip Treatment, Soap & Glory A Great Kisser Lip Moisture Balm, SolScents Lip Balm SPF 15 Cucumber Melon, Supergoop! AcaiFusion Lip Balm, The Body Shop Born Lippy Balm Lychee, The Body Shop Mango Lip Butter, The Body Shop Vitamin E Lip Care Stick, Ulta Butter Balm, Ulta Lip Balm SPF 30, Vaseline Lip Therapy in Cocoa Butter, Yes to Carrots Lip Butter with SPF, Yes to Coconut Lip Oil
We looked for balms that moisturized the most with the fewest ingredients.
What about just one ingredient?Vaseline junkies, rejoice! 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. You’re not going to find a cheaper option.
“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.” 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 materials, plus another group whose ingredient list jumped to as high as 52 (we’re looking at you, La Mer Lip Balm). We cut any formula with more than 15 ingredients, which was the clear dividing point between the two groups.
Badger Classic Lip Balm Highland Mint, Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented, Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm Cool Mint, Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm Stick, Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm Sweet Orange, Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm Vanilla Bean, Badger Lip Balm Vanilla Madagascar, Badger Natural Lip Balm Lavender and Orange, C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Balm Stick – Cinnamint, ChapStick Cake Batter Lip Balm, Chicken Poop Free Range Chicken Poop Lip Balm, John Masters Organics Lip Calm, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Coconut Pineapple, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Cranberry Orange, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Ginger Mango, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Passionfruit, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Sliced Peach, Kiss My Face Organic Lip Balm Strawberry, Lucas’ Papaw Ointment, Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer SPF 15, Smith’s Minted Rose Lip Balm, Smith’s Rosebud Salve, Vanicream Lip Protectant/Sunscreen SPF 30, Vaseline Lip Therapy Advanced Healing, Weleda Everon Lip Balm
To narrow the field, we ordered the 25 remaining balms and did some hands-on sampling to get a sense of the feel and ease of application. Any balm that left a lot of shine, sheen, or color on the lips was out — sorry, Smith’s Rosebud Salve. We also prioritized designs that would fit into pockets for on-the-go application. (All of our EOS contenders were cut before hands-on testing, but still: In what universe are those golf balls the right idea?!)
In the interest of serving the most people possible, balms with a strong scent — think lemongrass, pomegranate, or sliced peach — were easy cuts. This knocked out all six tubes of Kiss My Face, which, alongside Badger, was the most prevalent brand in our top 25 balms.
After a series of applications through some extreme conditions — including during a summer heat wave that spiked near 100 degrees — we whittled the contenders down to the most convenient and the best-feeling.
Our Picks for the Best Lip Balm
With a mere four ingredients — extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, castor oil, and a very small amount of rosemary, which acts as a preservative — 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. Your lips feel slick when you rub them together, 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 that the formula will only moisturize your lips — it doesn’t include any sun protection, so you'll need to reach for something with SPF for those days at the beach.
But at $3 for a 0.15 oz tube, it’s 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.
Upon application, John Masters Organics Lip Calm feels like an intense dose of hydration. It touts 10 ingredients to Badger’s four (and at six bucks a pop at most retailers, costs twice as much), though 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.
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. Still, if you are sensitive to fragrance, you’re better off going with Badger.
The consistency is also thicker and the sensation “wetter” than many of the 25 balms we tested, which might be irritating to some; it felt so slick we assumed it would look more like a lip gloss than a lip balm. It is more shiny than Badger, falling short of that perfect glow, 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
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 $5 Vanicream Lip Protectant is our pick. 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.
Vanicream’s application process, while not unpleasant, is its biggest drawback from classic lip balms like Badger. Vanicream is 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 than a traditional lip balm and lacks that intense hydrating feeling. It also takes a few more swipes of the angled applicator to blend in the balm’s white-purple tint — a color resulting from the zinc and titanium dioxide.
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. What’s more, it’s water-resistant up to 80 minutes, meaning it’s perfect for an afternoon out on the water.
Another 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 and don’t need the added SPF of Vanicream, 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, with a bit less convenience.
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, 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 Ploch says the act can also cause what’s called “lip-lickers dermatitis,” an eczema-like rash around the lips.
It’s possible to become addicted to lip balm.
Well, 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!”
We’re not talking a chemical dependence, or even the Great Carmex Conspiracy, an urban legend from the ‘90s that 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 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 review, you’ll have 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.