The Best Lip Balm
- 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
- Badger Classic Lip Balm Unscented
- Smith’s Rosebud Salve
Best for Sensitive Skin
- Vaseline Lip Therapy Original
Runner-Up for Sensitive Skin
- Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 15
Best with SPF
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.
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. 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.
We nixed anything with camphor, phenol, or menthol.
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, more often that sensation 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. Therefore, phenol can cause severe irritation,” she explains. 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.
"I can’t think of one instance when I would ever recommend a ‘medicated’ lip balm over a moisturizing one."
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.
Blistex – Daily Conditioning Treatment (DCT), Blistex – Lip Medex, Blistex – Medicated Lip Balm, Bull Frog – Land Sport Lip Balm, Burt’s Bees – Natural Medicated Moisturizing Lip Balm, Carmex – Cherry Stick, Carmex – Classic Lip Balm Medicated, Chapstick – Lip Balm Medicated, Chapstick – Lip Balm Original, Jo Malone – Vitamin E Lip Conditioner, Natural Ice Medicated Lip Protectant SPF 15
And avoided the most common allergens: lanolin, fragrance, and dyes.
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 they’re not all bad, they are 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.
Avene – Cold Cream Nourishing Lip Balm, Blistex – Herbal Answer Lip Protectant, Burt’s Bees – Beeswax Lip Balm (Vitamin E & Peppermint), Burt’s Bees – Natural Moisturizing Lip Balm, By Terry – Baume de Rose Balm, Christophe Robin – Intense Regenerating Balm, Cocoacare – Lip Balm Cocoa Butter, Dior – Creme de Rose Smoothing Plumping Lip Balm, Fresh Sugar – Lip Caramel Hydrating Balm, Glossier – Balm Dotcom, Jack Black – Intense Therapy Lip Balm, La Mer – The Lip Balm, Lano Lanolin – 101 Ointment Multipurpose Superbalm, Malin + Goetz Mojito Lip Balm, Maybelline – Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm, Moroccanoil – Lip Balm SPF20, Neosporin – Lip Health Overnight Renewal Therapy, Too Cool for School – Dinoplatz Lip Balm
We looked for balms that moisturized with the fewest 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.
Apa – Lush Lip Balm, Aquaphor – Lip Repair, Blistex – Complete Moisture Lip Protectant, Chapstick – Total Hydration 3 in 1 Lip Care, Clinique – Superbalm Lip Treatment, Clinique Pep-Start Pout Perfecting Balm, $17.50, Coola – Mineral Liplux, $18, Drunk Elephant – Lippe Lip Balm, GlamGlow – PoutMud Wet Lip Balm Treatment, Jane Iredale – Lipdrink Lip Balm, Korres – Lip Butter, La Roche-Posay – Nutritic Lips, Neutrogena – Hydro Boost Lip Treatment, Nivea – Smoothness Lip Care, Nude cinnamon lip nourish, Pur-Lisse – Daily Lip Moisturizer, Skinceuticals – Antioxidant Lip Repair, Smooth – All Over Beaty Balm (Anti-Aging Lip Treatment), Supergoop! – Aca iFusion Lip Balm
For our sensitive skin pick, we cut on less common irritants: vitamin E and beeswax.
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, 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.
Badger – Classic Organic Lip Balms, Beessential – Lemon Lavender Lip Balm, Beessential – Orange Ginger Beeswax Lip Balm, Carmex – Comfort Care Mixed Berry Lip Balm, Chicken Poop – Free Range Chicken Poop Lip Balm, Dr. Dan’s – Cortibalm, EOS – Organic Lip Balm, Erborian Doudoune – Lip Balm, Hurraw – Classic Lip Balm, John Masters – Organics Lip Calm, Kiehl’s – Lip Balm #1, La Roche-Posay – Cicaplast Baume Lips, Lancôme – Absolue Precious Cells Nourishing Lip Balm, Lypsyl – Intense Protection, Neutrogena – Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen, O’Keeffe’s Lip Repair Cooling Relief Lip Balm Cooling Relie, Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula – Swivel Stick Ultimate Moisture, RMS Beauty – Lip & Skin Balm, Sky Organics – Lip Balm, The Body Shop – Hemp Lip Conditioner, Yes To: Coconut – Naturally Smooth Lip Balm Coconut
Finally, we tested each remaining balm for scent, convenience, and ease of application.
In the interest of serving the most people possible, balms with a strong scent — think lemongrass, play-doh, artificial coconut, or old perfume — were easy cuts. Subtle scents, like Smith’s rose or The Body Shop’s soft beeswax, were muted enough that they didn’t make our eyes water, so we gave them a pass.
We prioritized designs that were practical and could fit into pockets for on-the-go application. Lucas PawPaw boasted a promising formula, but it came in large packaging reminiscent of a toothpaste tube, with no tip for smooth application. And though EOS is eclectically popular for its egg-shaped applicator, we couldn’t reason its practicality. Even if you don’t mind a bulging ball in your pocket, this design makes using the last of your balm nearly impossible.
We also left behind any balm that was too goopy, sticky, or shiny. These balms are messy when applying, slow to absorb, and prone to getting stuck in wind-blown hair. John Masters Organic Lip Calm, one of our former top picks, was so thick and soft that applying it was like spreading peanut butter. Sky Organics Lip Balm, similarly, was so shiny that our lips looked wet. Favorites made lips appear soft and mostly matte.
After a series of applications with each balm, we whittled the contenders down to the most convenient and the best-feeling.
- Badger – Classic Organic Lip Balms
- Beessential – Lemon Lavender Lip Balm
- Beessential – Orange Ginger Beeswax Lip Balm
- Carmex – Comfort Care Mixed Berry Lip Balm
- Chicken Poop – Free Range Chicken Poop Lip Balm
- Dr. Dan’s – Cortibalm
- Dr. Pawpaw – Original Clear Balm
- EOS – Organic Lip Balm
- Erborian Doudoune – Lip Balm
- Hurraw – Classic Lip Balm
- John Masters – Organics Lip Calm
- Kiehl’s – Lip Balm #1
- La Roche-Posay – Cicaplast Baume Lips
- Lancôme – Absolue Precious Cells Nourishing Lip Balm
- LaRocca – Lip Shield Multi-Active Lip Balm
- Lucas’ – PawPaw Ointment
- Lypsyl – Intense Protection
- Neutrogena – Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with Sunscreen
- O’Keeffe’s Lip Repair Cooling Relief Lip Balm Cooling Relie
- Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula – Dark Chocolate & Cherry Lip Butter
- Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula – Swivel Stick Ultimate Moisture
- RMS Beauty – Lip & Skin Balm
- Sky Organics – Lip Balm
- Smith’s – Minted Rose Lip Balm
- Smith’s – Rosebud Salve
- The Body Shop – Hemp Lip Conditioner
- Vaseline – Lip Therapy
- Vaseline – Lip Therapy Advanced Healing
- Yes To: Coconut – Naturally Smooth Lip Balm Coconut
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 — 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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.