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We put our lips through a lot. Eating, drinking, kissing, licking, and exposure to the elements (unless you’re wearing a mask outdoors, that is) are just some of the factors our lips are up against, so it’s no surprise that they’re often dry, cracked, and just angry in general.
During winter months in particular, the cold wind and lack of humidity can cause extra dryness and discomfort.
“More water evaporates from the skin with hot showers and heaters,” said Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist with boutique clinics in Napa and San Francisco. “Then we lick our lips, which causes even more water evaporation.”
While these external conditions lead to parched skin everywhere, our lips are far more susceptible to drying out than most other parts of the body.
“It's pretty thin skin compared to other places on your face and it’s also much, much, much more vascular,” said Dr. Morgan Rabach, a dermatologist at LM Medical NYC. “There are so many more blood vessels in your lips than there are in your cheek skin, for example. You’re losing a lot more water through your lips, so that’s why they’re the only thing that really takes the brunt of the weather and the dryness.”
Essentially, most lips have no shot at staying supple all winter long without some intervention, so having an effective lip balm on hand is imperative.
What you should look for in a lip balm
As is the case for any hydrating product, you want the ingredients in your lip balm to include humectants, emollients, and occlusives, according to Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. She says that having all three is particularly important for good lip products because some have humectants without the emollients and occlusives, which will actually dehydrate the lips in dry environments.
“Lips can definitely take a lot more oil and what we would characterize as emollients than other places on the skin,” Rabach said. “Even for people that have acne problems who generally want to stay away from more oily or thick kinds of emollients, lips can definitely take it all.”
Emollients are those saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons that help protect the skin and improve skin texture and appearance. They include things like squalane, mineral oil, vitamin E, petrolatum, and ceramides and work very well to help you feel that moisture on your lips.
Rabach suggests slathering on a thick layer of your most emollient-heavy lip products before bed since you don’t have to worry about talking, eating, or mask-wearing while you sleep. That’ll allow more healing and prevent the usual dehydration that tends to happen overnight.
As far as the many varieties of emollients go, Campbell specifically suggests looking for ceramides, which are fats or lipids in our skin that keep the water in and the environment out on a microscopic level.
“With lip balm, it's more about creating a barrier because it [chapped lips] is usually related to lip licking,” she said. She also explained why products that have allergens or disguised drying agents can create a vicious cycle.
“You get licker’s dermatitis from frequent licking of your lips, and then the water evaporates and it's dry,” Campbell said. “And then you start using something that potentially has an allergen in it, and you're more likely to develop allergies on skin that's already kind of angry.”
The overwhelming PSA from all of these experts is simple: Avoid potential allergens in lip balms. And if you’re unsure about what could potentially irritate you, conduct a patch test before use.
“Generally in lip products I recommend avoiding ingredients like menthol, camphor, phenol,” said King. “They're initially cooling when you put them on but they evaporate quickly and you need to reapply, so it can dry out the skin. Any alcohol ingredients can also dry out the lips.”
Many of the basic lip balms on the market contain those drying alcohols, according to Rabach, which is really for their own benefit. The combination of ingredients in those products gives you that feeling of moisturization but then ultimately dries your lips out, which then makes people addicted to using the balm.
One ingredient that can sometimes trigger allergies is propolis, a resin-like material made by bees, Campbell said. Propolis can be found in some Burt’s Bee’s products or other bee-derived balms.
Lip exfoliators that contain salicylic acid can also be irritating, as well as things like cinnamon oil and peppermint oil, which are sometimes in lip balms that are designed for plumping, said King. They’re supposed to irritate the lips a little to create that plumped effect, but if used more regularly they can cause more serious irritation.
One more thing that the experts advised is to see your dermatologist if you’re having a hard time even after using one of the highly recommended lip balms on this list, particularly if the issue has to do with lip licking. They can create certain compounded formulations that are safe to apply but have a bad taste, which can help you stop licking your lips repeatedly.
Everyone is familiar with Vaseline, but if you haven’t tried their mini tubs designed for on-the-go lip therapy, King suggests that you give them a shot. They’re made from pure Vaseline jelly to provide long-lasting hydration, lock in moisture, and give lips that natural glossy shine with some additional options for an aromatic boost. Those include rose, crème brûlée, and cocoa butter, but King specifically likes the cocoa butter since it’s skin-safe and still provides that lovely warm scent.
It contains petrolatum and cocoa seed butter, she said. “It’s just a really nice product.”
Campbell, on the other hand, prefers straight-up unscented Vaseline. The choice is yours.
Promising review: “This is my all time favorite chapstick. I use it constantly all year. I apply it over my matte lipsticks for shine. I apply it before I go to bed at night. I have bought expensive lip repair treatments in the past and nothing compares to Vaseline’s lip therapy.” —Carrie Loudermilk
What else to consider: The formula for this lip therapy is in fact a bit different from regular Vaseline. Reviewers note that it’s less sticky and lasts longer on the lips. However, pay close attention to the ingredients before opting for the rose or crème brûlée since they could contain other potentially irritating ingredients for fragrance.
Best for: Vaseline diehards who want a little something different and more portable to keep on them at all times.
You can buy a four-pack of Vaseline Lip Therapy Cocoa Butter from Amazon for around $8.
Campbell is a big proponent of the basic, fragrance-free lip balms, which include this CeraVe Healing Ointment. Technically, you can use this product anywhere you have dry, chapped skin since it’s noncomedogenic (won’t clog pores/cause breakouts), but the texture is particularly suitable for chapped lips. It features petrolatum and hyaluronic acid with three ceramides to soothe, hydrate, and protect the lips, plus it’s lanolin-free in case you’re extra sensitive. Lanolin is a waxy substance typically derived from sheep’s wool that’s often used in skincare products.
Promising review: “Small size is great for your purse, pocket, or by your bedside. I was hesitant putting a product on lips that was for skin and not lips specifically, but I am very impressed. After one use my flakey lips were soft and moisturized. I put it in directly after the shower, lather it thick before bed, and apply after eating during the day. Will definitely invest in a bigger bottle for around the house and use these for on-the-go.” —Kourtney
What else to consider: This product comes in many sizes, as mentioned above, but these little tubes are the best option to keep in your purse, pocket, or car for continued use throughout the day. Some reviewers noted that it does feel greasy, which tends to be the case with any petrolatum-based product, so just know what sort of consistency you should expect.
Best for: very dry, very sensitive lips that can handle a thicker balm.
You can buy a twin pack of CeraVe Healing Ointment from Amazon for around $8.
We know Eos as those colorful egg-shaped lip balms that were quite trendy a few years back. While they were fun, I did not find them particularly hydrating for dry lips. However, the brand has evolved into the legitimate lip treatment territory with this balm that came highly recommended by King.
“It has petrolatum, castor seed oil, shea butter, beeswax, cocoa seed butter, avocado oil, and olive oil. So that’s gonna support the skin barrier, hydrate, and moisturize,” she said. It’s designed for severely dry lips, promising 24 hours of moisture, and still remains hypoallergenic and phthalate- and paraben-free.
Promising review: “With the change in seasons from fall to winter, my lips got super dry and peely. I tried everything (shea butter, oil, Vaseline, etc.) and nothing was keeping my lips moisturized. I picked this up, put some on overnight, and by the next morning my lips were back to 90% of where they were before the season change. I’m so happy to have my lips back, will be using this for the rest of winter!” —Ashley, via Target
What else to consider: The reviews for this product were overwhelmingly positive. Some did note that it has a great smell and taste (a bit like candy), which they really enjoyed, but that also means it has some extra flavor added for fragrance. That didn’t seem to cause irritation for most users, just something to keep in mind in case you’re wary of unnecessary additives.
Best for: a lighter option for smooth and sweet lips.
You can buy Eos The Hero Extra Dry Lip Balm Treatment from Target for around $5.
ILIA has blown up recently thanks to their super-light and additive-free skincare/makeup products, and that also applies to the lip category. If you’re looking for more of a mask or gentle exfoliator to incorporate into your lip routine, King says that this one is the way to go as long as you’re open to exploring a slightly higher price point.
“It’s got hyaluronic acid, sea succulent salicornia to support the skin barrier and papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate, leaving the lips smooth and moisturized,” she said. “There definitely are some lip exfoliators that you want to be cautious not to use too much. This one has all those supportive ingredients and mild enzymes so it's not irritating.”
Promising review: “I know this product is a bit pricey but it is so worth it. I love how creamy and moisturizing it is. I apply in the morning and before bed and my lips are never dry. I haven’t found another product that compares. The splurge is worth it!” —CERN
What else to consider: Since this is an exfoliating mask, you may want to apply a thin layer only once or twice per day. It has a naturally derived lavender-chamomile scent, which means there are some essential oils in there, so it may be smart to patch test before full use.
Best for: lip mask lovers seeking some gentle exfoliation in their lip care lineup.
You can buy ILIA Lip Wrap Treatment Mask from Amazon for around $26.
Avène is another brand that seems to pop up quite often in dermatologist recommendations. Their restorative lip cream was one that was suggested by King.
It can help in the skin recovery process by protecting compromised skin from the environment, she said. “It also has a zinc sulfate complex that helps with skin recovery, as well as beeswax, castor seed oil, and triglycerides, so it’s very helpful for dry lips.”
It promises immediate soothing, cooling relief to nourish severely dry or cracked lips without any of those potentially irritating ingredients. If you’re specifically worried about environmental aggressors damaging your lips, the copper-zinc sulfate is just what you need.
Promising review: “This stuff works great! It's the only lip balm that actually has gotten rid of the cracks and chapped areas on my lips. It does leave a white tint during application that usually clears within minutes. I usually apply this and then some vaseline on top. It's a little expensive but I will continue to purchase it. It gets the job done.” —Paige
What else to consider: This product also comes at a higher price point than the drugstore brands, but most reviewers felt that it was worth it. Many also used it in conjunction with a thicker balm since it has more of a thin, silky texture.
Best for: wounded, compromised skin that responds best to a creamier lip treatment.
You can buy Eau Thermale Avene Cicalfate Restorative Lip Cream from Amazon for around $18.
In the world of thick, multipurpose dry skincare, Aquaphor may be the most commonly used product behind Vaseline. I’m not sure if it’s because of the slightly more appealing aesthetics or the availability of so many varieties, but nearly all of my friends opt for Aquaphor over Vaseline. It’s similarly petrolatum-based and safe for dry, sensitive skin with no preservatives or fragrances. Other ingredients outside of the petrolatum include mineral oil, ceresin, panthenol, glycerin, bisabolol, and lanolin alcohol, which is the biggest factor that differentiates it from Vaseline. Lanolin can be great for some people, but it is a potential irritant that’s worth looking into if you’re prone to skin allergies.
Promising review: “After trying every lip balm on the market in the past decade, this is the one I keep coming back to! I have incredibly sensitive skin and lips. I can use this year-round with absolutely no irritation! It applies nice and thick, so it lasts quite a while before needing to reapply. The tube on average lasts me 6 months. This is a must have for anyone with dry lips!” —Sydney, via Target
What else to consider: While our experts do sometimes recommend Aquaphor, they make sure to note that it does have lanolin in it, so they advise you to be a little careful since that can be a potential allergen. In my personal experience, the one formulated for lips is much thinner and not as effective, so I would go for this classic multipurpose tube. It can be a little bit difficult to squeeze out sometimes but that hasn’t been a huge deterrent.
Best for: people who are looking for thick lip balm that’s a great alternative to Vaseline (if you’re not a fan for whatever reason) that you can also use on chapped skin anywhere.
You can buy Aquaphor from Target for around $6.
Just like all the rest of our skin, lips can be seriously damaged by the sun. Combine that with the cold, dry conditions you may face in the winter, particularly during outdoor activities like skiing, and it’s a recipe for disaster for your lips. That’s why you want a moisturizing, protecting lip balm with mineral sunscreen in it, like this EltaMD option. It’s a creamy texture with glycerin for immediate and long-term moisturization as well as transparent zinc oxide with broad-spectrum SPF 36. There are no fragrances, parabens, or any ingredients known to cause sensitivities. Plus it’s water-resistant for 80 minutes, so it’s also great to use in the summer for beach days or any outdoor water activities.
Promising review: “I live in the midwest where the winters are long and cold. I’ve tried EVERYTHING. Decided to give this a try, as I am a long time user of this brand’s face lotion. True to its brand, THIS works! Love it so much, I just ordered five more (one for each purse).” —psychlady
What else to consider. As with many other creamy zinc products, some reviewers note that it can leave a bit of a whitecast on your lips. That being said, you can layer it under a lipstick or other lip product of your choice to get the benefits of SPF with some extra color or shine.
Best for: everyday protection from sun exposure, particularly helpful for all of those extra-drying outdoor activities.
You can buy EltaMD UV Lip Balm With SPF from Amazon for around $12.
Anyone who has been on Accutane and scoured all of the random articles and message boards (just me?) to find something that could actually help with the horrible lip dryness and cracking knows about Dr. Dan’s CortiBalm. My journey with these side effects ended back in 2017, but Campbell validated that it was a good choice for severely cracked and bleeding lips.
“If you’re really flared up, [Dr. Dan’s] has got a little hydrocortisone in it and it’s over the counter,” Campbell said. “Don’t use day in and day out, just as a rescue. Use it for two weeks until things calm down and then go back to your CeraVe or Vaseline.”
Hydrocortisone is a steroid that interrupts the inflammatory cycle, stops the pain. and allows the natural healing process to begin. Just 1% of that along with beeswax, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil is life-changing for your lips. The sticklike vehicle also means that it doesn’t feel super thick or sticky, especially because a little goes a long way.
Promising review: “My daughter has eczema and severe chapped lips. I have tried so many things to clear up her lips. Some things work temporarily and made it a little bit better but nothing really healed it. I have used this for 4 days now and her lips are almost completely healed! I know it’s not good to use the hydrocortisone long-term but I’m so thankful that I found something that has cleared it up quickly and that I can use when she has flare-ups.” —Christina P.
What else to consider: You’ll feel the difference almost immediately, but as Campbell advised, you shouldn’t use any steroid long term. It’s best utilized as an intermittent last resort so that you don’t become dependent on the hydrocortisone. Use it correctly and you’ll see the desired results.
Best for: a short-term treatment for extreme lip dryness and even open wounds caused by medications (Accutane, chemotherapy) or just harsh weather, eczema, or allergies.
You can buy Dr. Dan’s Cortibalm from Amazon for around $8.
Everybody is aware that juicy, supple lips are all the rage. There’s no shame in seeking that plumping effect, but many products promising to give you that boost are actually quite irritating to your lips over time. If you want a little extra fullness along with your hydration, King recommends this PCA Skin lip booster.
“In addition to having good humectants, emollients, and occlusives, it has hyaluronic acid, antioxidants to help protect the skin from free radical damage and peptides to stimulate collagen production,” King said. These extra qualities can really help with texture while the brand’s patented filling spheres help increase lip volume. Along with plumping and dramatically improving hydration, it also promises to decrease the appearance of lip lines with daily use.
Promising review: “Yes, it's a small bottle but it packs a punch. Think of it as part of your skincare routine, not a chapstick. I've been using it since January and am just about to order my third bottle. My lips are super hydrated and all of a sudden, I'm not sure how far in, my lips are so much fuller. The effects are cumulative. $46 is an expensive chapstick but I'm sure it's next to nothing compared to collagen injections. Sure, the results are not dramatic but they are def there.” —Amazon Customer
What else to consider: Given the price of this product, you should make sure you’re comfortable with the fact that it’s not going to suddenly make it look like you have lip filler. It’s intended to build up to a subtly plumper look, not create an instant transformation, along with lasting hydration and smoother skin.
Best for: hydration that may just add a little extra oomph to your pout.
You can buy PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Lip Booster for $47 at Amazon.
Balm Dotcom is a universal skin salve from cult-favorite brand Glossier. It’s another universal skin salve, aka a trendier evolution of mom’s tub of Vaseline. It’s soothing, moisturizing, and conditioning for the lips, cuticles, or heels — if you get the unscented original, you can truly use it anywhere. The texture feels a bit thicker and less greasy than traditional Vaseline, featuring castor oil, beeswax, and lanolin, along with fruit extract for additional fatty acids and antioxidants to protect against free radical skin damage.
Promising review: “It really does live up to the hype. Thick without being too greasy. Very hydrating for day or night.” —David, via Glossier
What else to consider: Like Aquaphor, this product contains lanolin, which you should be aware of in case your skin is sensitive or prone to allergies. The other varieties have scents or tints, so you should review the ingredients if you opt for a different flavor, and you’ll likely only want to use those ones on your lips.
Best for: clean, skin-safe moisturization in a cute and trendy product.
You can buy Balm Dotcom from Glossier for $12.
Any skincare fanatic will know about Dr. Barbara Sturm. This pricey brand has lots of big-name users who publicly swear by it, and though not everyone will want to splurge on such an expensive lip balm, it may feel worth it if you do. It’s infused with a blend of plant-based oils, butter, and waxes to help moisturize and protect against dehydration, with vitamin E to shield against environmental aggressors. The silky, lightweight texture won’t feel thick or sticky, promising to give your lips (or cheekbones/brow bones/eyelids) a soft glow with essential hydration.
Promising review: “I love this stuff. It’s smooth, feels (and is) moisturizing but not sticky or greasy. I keep it by the front door and use it every time I walk out. Love it.” —Havilah B., via Dr. Sturm
What else to consider: The price. It’s a lot. You may be able to get similar benefits from more affordable products, though this is probably the lightest, longest-lasting option that offers substantial nourishment.
You can buy Dr. Barbara Sturm Lip Balm from Dr. Sturm for $55.
Sometimes you just need a bit of color on your lips to look alive, and you shouldn’t have to deal with dryness, cracking, or creasing to get that. This celebrity-founded brand (yes, it’s Jessica Alba) is surprisingly affordable. The tinted lip balm is not going to give you the most intense pigment since it’s a sheer, buildable formula, but it will give you hours of hydration and a solid, smooth base for additional color. The key ingredients include avocado oil, acai, and pomegranate sterols for antioxidant power. Key ingredients not included are parabens, paraffins, synthetic fragrances, and silicones.
Promising review: “This is a great tinted lip product which gives me a fresh lip color and leaves my lips comfortable and moist without feeling thick. Probably my go to everyday lip product when I don't want a dramatic lipstick look. Great job, Jessica Alba.” —Olive, via Ulta
What else to consider: Since there’s no beeswax, mineral oil, or petrolatum in this lip balm, it’s not going to feel as thick or protective as some other items on this list. However, that also means it’s super safe for sensitive skin. It comes in several different shades, all with very similar formulas, so you can choose the one that best complements your skin.
Best for: sacrificing a bit of density for a tint that’s still moisturizing, nourishing, and light.
You can buy Honest Beauty Tinted Lip Balm from Ulta for around $9.