The Pros and Cons of Lip Balms

pros and cons of lip balm

Do you need lip balm? Can you get addicted to lip balm? Are some lip balms bad? The answers are yes, yes and yes!  How do you pick a good lip balm and what should you avoid?

What does a dermatologist recommend to prevent and treat chapped lips?

As a dermatologist I know that you need to keep your lips moist by applying a really good moisturizing lip care product if you don’t want dry-looking lips that are prone to chapping. You need to apply it at the beginning of your day, throughout the day and at bedtime too. This is because your lip skin is unique and requires this special care.

Why are lips prone to chapping?

Lip balm what is good and bad

Lip chapping occurs because, structurally, your lips don’t have the same tough dead skin cell layer that other parts of your skin have. Technically, we call lip skin 'mucosa' and it is different. Also, your lips don't have oil glands to help keep the lip mucosa hydrated. (Compare the skin of your nose to your lips for a fun demonstration!)

Lip skin is also really thin. It has many fewer layers of skin cells than does the adjacent skin of your face. This thinness is why lips are pink; the pink color of lips is visible because lip skin is so thin that you can see the capillaries below the skin surface.

Moisture is easily lost from lip mucosa. Dry climates and wind will quickly pull out moisture from your thin and vulnerable lip skin resulting in unpleasant chapped lips. By applying a lip moisturizer, you can help protect your lips from chapping. But, you can become “addicted” to lip balm if you use the wrong product.  

What are the disadvantages of lip balm?

The disadvantages of lip balm depend on what is actually in the product - specifically, what ingredients were used to make the balm. Some ingredients in lip balm can lead to a lip rash that looks identical to chapped lips.....

Can lip balm make chapped lips worse?

You bet it can! The wrong lip balm - meaning one that contains an allergen - will cause dry, rough uncomfortable lips that feel chapped! Exposure to the allergen causes a lip rash that mimics chapping (allergic cheilitis). The rash is really an allergic lip rash (eczema), but it looks and feels exactly the same as chapped lips.

The allergic lip rash from lip balm forces you to keep reaching for your trusted lip product to find relief. It's a beautiful world for the lip balm maker who sells you endless tubes of a product promising to treat your "chapped" lips but that really causes the disturbing dryness and peeling.

What are the most common allergens in lip balms?

I especially recommend you avoid products with notorious lip allergens including:

  • Citrus
  • Mint
  • Tea tree
  • Eucalyptus
  • Camphor
  • Lanolin
  • Artificial flavors and fragrances 

These ingredients are really really really common in lip products. Start reading the labels and you will especially see citrus, mint and tea tree. Argh! Some of the older formulations rely on camphor and lanolin. My opinion is that lips are too sensitive for these ingredients - avoid them!

It is also important to note that vitamin E is often included in natural products as a preservative. It too can be an allergen, though it is rare. Another caution I want to alert you to is sunscreens in lip balm. Chemical sunscreens ingredients can be allergens to sensitive skin and I recommend avoiding them! Use only SPF lip products with mineral zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. I'll say more on that below.

What to look for in a good dermatologist recommended lip balm?

I recommend only hypoallergenic lip moisturizers made from deeply hydrating and protective ingredients. My top choices include olive oil and other botanical oils such as castor seed oil, shea butter, dimethicone and even Vaseline, though the latter is not my favorite.

dermatologist recommended natural lip balm for chapped lips

You can use pure Vaseline or a tin of shea butter. Nicer options include blended hypoallergenic products such as my certified organic Natural Lip Balm made with olive oil and castor oil. I apply this many times a day and always at bedtime. I keep one everywhere (purse, bathroom, desk, bedside table etc) and I give them as gifts - because everyone spends their day reaching for lip balm over and over.

When you need a SPF lip balm, look for zinc oxide products.

I don't like chemical sunscreen UV filters and I definitely don't like you to eat those chemicals. Of course, what's on your lips is eaten all day. You can also be allergic to chemical sunscreens in lip balms, benzophenone being one notorious culprit.

best lip balm SPF

Keep your lip sun protection products simple and use physical mineral lip sunscreens such as Vanicream Lip Protectant. This gentle product also contains dimethicone to help prevent chapping from wind and weather. Like all VaniCream products, it is free of notorious allergens including those that can cause you to be "addicted to lip balm".  

Are you addicted to lip balm?

If you are using lip balm all day and still have chapped lips, it may be the lip balm that is the problem. Lip skin (mucosa) is thin, absorbs allergens and gets allergic chelitis (allergic lip rash) that looks just like chapped lips. Allergic chelitis to lip balm is not rare. Use only hypoallergenic lip care products as I mentioned above.

Use hypoallergenic dermatologist approved lip balm to treat and prevent chapped lips.

dermatologist recommended lip balm

Preventing annoying and painful chapped lips is why I'm so particular about lip balms and carry only the two products that I mentioned. They are hypoallergenic, free from the notorious allergens that create lip balm addiction, and work really well to treat and prevent lip chapping. These are the products I use for my sensitive skin patients, and the products that I carry in my purse and recommend for my family.  

The bottom line with lip balms and why I am so picky about them as a dermatologist .......

Before I was a dermatologist, I was "addicted to lip balm" because I used a popular lip product (which will go unnamed) for years. I had well worn tins and tubes of it everywhere - and chronically chapped lips. My bottom lip would split, my top lip was always chapped and the angles of my lips would crack and fissure too. I bought tons of that brand over the years and trusted them to my detriment. Now that I'm a dermatologist, I know better - I was addicted to the lip balm and suffered the consequences. I'm glad I finally figured it all out! Learn from me and prevent chapped lips by using only hypoallergenic lip care products!