Does Lip Balm Make Your Lips Even More Dry and Chapped?

Does Lip Balm Make Your Lips Even More Dry and Chapped?
21.02.2024
  • Some ingredients found in certain lip balms can make dry lips worse.
  • Lip products with certain flavors or fragrances may also exacerbate—rather than hydrate—dry lips.
  • Experts recommend staying hydrated and using additional lip products like masks and oils to keep lips moisturized.

Is your lip balm doing more harm than good?

During cold winter months, you may find yourself reaching for moisturizers and lip balms more often, due to dry skin.

But not all products are created equally—some lip balms may exacerbate dryness.

“You have to be very careful about choosing a [lip balm] because some can make lip dryness worse,” Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Health.

Lip products that include certain ingredients, as well as fragrances, may contribute to dryness, especially during winter. They can be especially harmful to people who put on lip balm multiple times throughout the day, Michele Green, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York, told Health.

“There is no rule of thumb as to how often you should apply [lip balm],” Green said. “[Lip balm] should be applied to the lips when they feel dry or chapped and can be re-applied throughout the day, [but certain] ingredients can lead to increased dryness when overused.”

Here’s which ingredients to look for—as well as which to avoid—when picking out a lip balm.

Reapplying Lip Balm

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to how often you should reapply lip balm. But if you’re trying to get into a routine, it may be helpful to shoot for four applications a day.

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“If you are using a non-irritating moisturizer, you can’t really overdo it,” Lipner said. “My rule of thumb is four times per day or whenever your lips feel dry.”

It can also be helpful to use a lip product after eating a meal and right before bed, she added.

Products and Ingredients for Hydrated Lips

There’s a reason that our lips get particularly dry during winter.

“Unlike the rest of our body, our lips do not contain any oil glands and cannot produce moisture,” Green said.

For this reason, she recommends trying a lip oil if you’re experiencing dry lips.

“[Lip balms] keep the lips hydrated by creating a barrier between your lips and the environment,” she explained, “allowing for increased moisture retention, [but] these products do not penetrate the lips to add hydration.”

This is where lip oils can be helpful.

Green explained that lip oils can work to penetrate the lips and provide intense hydration, keeping the lips moisturized longer.

Some other lip products can also help combat dryness.

“Lip balms with occlusives such as petroleum jelly or shea butter can help prevent moisture loss throughout the day, [and] using a lip mask at night with hydrating ingredients is also excellent for providing intense hydration overnight,” Green said.

Green recommends looking for lip products that contain the following ingredients:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Shea butter
  • Beeswax
  • Vitamin E

“Hyaluronic acid is a powerful humectant that can hold up to one thousand times its weight in water to attract moisturizer to the lips,” Green said. “Petroleum jelly, shea butter, and beeswax are occlusives that lock in moisture to prevent water loss, [and] vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the lips from free radical damage from UV exposure.”

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It’s also important to pick a lip product that contains a minimum of SPF 15 to protect your lips from sun damage, Green added.

Ingredients to Avoid

Certain ingredients can dry out the lips, causing harm when applied over and over.

You should avoid lip products with the following ingredients:

  • Phenol
  • Menthol
  • Salicylic acid
  • Lanolin

Lipner explained that products with certain scents or tastes, like vanilla or cinnamon, can also be harmful.

Other Ways to Keep Your Lips Hydrated

Using lip balm or other lip products isn’t the only way you can keep your lips from being too dry, Green said.

“Face moisturizers can help to keep the skin surrounding the lips hydrated, and can also be used in small amounts on the lips for increased hydration,” she explained. “Face moisturizers typically contain hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid that can penetrate and be absorbed into the skin.”

Staying hydrated—by drinking enough water—can also help, as can using a humidifier in your home, Green said.

And though you might be tempted to lick your lips if they are dry, you shouldn’t.

“Avoid lip licking, which makes saliva evaporate faster, and can actually dry out the lips,” Lipner said.

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