The Best Lip Balm
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.
The 3 Overall Best Lip Balms
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.
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.
How We Found the Best Lip Balm
We began our search by poring over every Best Of list we could find, from Seventeen to Elle, totalbeauty.com to realsimple.com, noting every formula covered. Our starting point: 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? Our main focus was on which formulas moisturized the most, be it with hydrating ingredients like ceramides, beeswax, and oils, barrier agents such as petrolatum and dimethicone.
We also wanted to find a lip balm that could protect delicate lips from the elements — particularly sun — and appeal to a broad audience: tints, flavors, and gloss didn’t make it far.
Our first step was to take a deep dive into the balms’ individual ingredients, and we quizzed aestheticians and dermatologists on what to look for and what to avoid.
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 they can actually burn when applied to chapped skin. All of this can make the lips more sun-sensitive, too, Ploch adds.
That tingly feeling is pretty popular though: We found formulas from some of the biggest names in balms, including Carmex, Blistex, SoftLips, and ChapStick, contained at least one of these three ingredients.
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. But our experts helped us pinpoint the most common irritants, and if those ingredients didn’t contribute to a more-moisturizing balm, we gave it the boot.
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, which is why we left behind familiar formulas from EOS, Neutrogena, Maybelline, and Burt’s Bees.
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 are 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.”
Beeswax is one of the ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction, but because its moisturizing benefits are so great (and it’s such a common ingredient in lip balm) we decided not to eliminate products that included it. 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, so we made sure to look for an option without it.
Lanolin is another one: a moisturizing alcohol derived from wool that has been linked to contact dermatitis in some people. While we didn’t actively eliminate any products with lanolin, that ingredient didn’t show up in any of our top picks — so no worries there.
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 did the most moisturizing 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 — and little else.
As a consumer, looking at the number of components likely isn’t top-of-mind, but Lio’s advice is sound: Why expose your lips to 19 or 20 potential irritants when five will get the job done?
We found plenty of our remaining options contained as few as four materials, while the most complex — such as the “intensively reparative” La Mer Lip Balm — boasted 52. Aside from the outliers, our list at this point consisted of a solid group with 10 to 15 ingredients, and a second set that had up to four times that. We lobbed off that second set, separating the simpler formulas from the more extreme.
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
Some hands-on sampling helped narrow the field. Any with a strong scent — think lemongrass, pomegranate, or “sliced peach”— were easy cuts. This knocked out all six tubes of Kiss My Face, which, with Badger, was the most prevalent brand in our top 25 balms.
Any balm that left a lot of shine, sheen, or color on the lips was out — sorry Smith’s Rosebud Salve. Oddly shaped tubes too bulky for pockets were also set aside unless their scent and overall feel trumped the inconvenience. (All our EOS contenders were cut before hands-on testing, but still: in what universe are those golf balls the right idea?!)
Over a series of applications, including four hours-long flights, a sinus infection intense enough to warrant a trip to urgent care, and summer heat that spiked near 100 degrees, we whittled the contenders down.
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 — 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The Best Lip Balm: Summed Up
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.
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.
- Baumann, L. S., & Spencer, J. (1999). The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatologic Surgery, 25 (4), 311-315.
- Zirwas, M. J., & Stechschulte, S. A. (2008). Moisturizer Allergy. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 1 (4), 38-44.