Lip Balm: The Unexpected Skincare Product That Deserves Your Attention

Lip Balm: The Unexpected Skincare Product That Deserves Your Attention

By Norah Laughter, Reporter

There are some skincare products that are frivolous, purchased for the sense of luxury they bring to the buyer. Some products, however, are necessities that everyone needs in order to maintain their skin health. I am not a skincare expert, nor a qualified dermatologist, but for the longest time I have had an obsession with lip balm. Human lips are fragile, sensitive parts of the body that are often neglected. They need to be hydrated like the rest of the skin, and they also need to be protected from harmful UV rays. Lip balm has been used for years to hydrate, protect lips from earlier, crude inventions like a lanolin and water mixture to the more modernized Chapstick. Some lip balms are better than others due to their ingredients and functions. Regardless of where you purchase your lip balms (high end, drug store, etc.) it is important you pay attention to what you are using on your skin! I ranked my top three favorite lip balms from both higher and lower price points as a guide for what to look for.

Drug Store:

  1. Blistex Triple Essentials: This is probably one of my top ten favorite chapsticks. It smells fantastic, like a pleasant mix of citrus and essential oil, and it isn’t overbearing. The texture of this lip balm is very smooth and soft. It takes very little time to be absorbed and leaves your lips nice and hydrated. This balm is better suited for everyday use and not healing severely chapped lips.
  2. Carmex Classic Medicated: This lip balm is an oldie but a goldie. It’s a classic for a reason. The smell is very strong, but it is not overbearing. It has a nice, tingly feeling when it’s first applied because of the menthol ingredients. It works for mildly chapped lips, but if you have severe chapping, it might be a bit aggravating.
  3. Aquaphor: This is a cult favorite lip balm that is very similar in texture to Vaseline because it is petroleum based. This balm is better suited for a thick protective coat rather than a light, everyday balm. It is very protective of chapped lips and prevents further damage. I personally prefer to apply it a night during the winter, but if you are planning to be outside in the cold, this is a life-saver.

High End:

  1. Hanalei Lip Treatment: This is hands down the best lip balm I have ever used (and I’ve used a lot). It is thin, it smells great, and application is easy. The results are even better, as it leaves your lips soft, hydrated, and dewey. It is the most expensive balm I own, but it is absolutely worth it if you are looking for a good investment. You can buy clear and tinted versions of this lip balm. One of the best things about this balm is that it is paraben free and cruelty free, so you can feel good about purchasing it.
  2. Lanolips 101 Ointment Strawberry Multi Balm: This lip balm comes in the most adorable packaging. It is a thicker balm with no tint, it smells like strawberries (and chemicals, which is fine), and it nourishes dry lips. I prefer to apply it overnight, but it could work as a morning and day balm if you prefer. My only complaint is how hard the tube is to squeeze, but other than that it is a fantastic lip balm that is extremely versatile.
  3. DHC Lip Cream: I got this balm for Christmas around last year and have used it nearly everyday since. This is an incredible daily lip cream that’s thin, effective, and moisturizing. The downside to using this is the smell. Though it is a very light odor, it smells like chemicals. If you apply too much, you can taste some of it. The effects this balm has is undeniably good, however, so I can get past the smell. It comes in cute, easy-to-carry packaging and you get your money’s worth.



Like in every cosmetic product, the ingredients have an impact on the long-term performance of the lip balm. Some ingredients can have positive, lasting effects, but some can do more harm than good. When purchasing a lip balm, it is better to focus on the ingredients rather than what the packaging promises (I’m guilty of the latter). Often, lip products can be marketed as “hydrating” and “healing” though they may have reverse effects. Brands use harmful ingredients because it’s cheaper to manufacture which can lead to a larger profit.

What to Avoid

  1. Petrolatum (Mineral oil, petroleum jelly): This is an ingredient used in most lip balms, and while it can have negative effects, it is not necessarily bad. Petrolatum dangles in the middle of the good-bad spectrum. It is thick and long lasting, but it doesn’t deliver moisture and hydration. It sits on top of lips as a protectant rather than acting as a penetrating source of moisture.Contaminated petroleum jelly has been linked to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) which studies show can cause cancer and irritation. Don’t stress about the PAHs, though, because it’s highly unlikely that the jelly can become contaminated in the first place. Simply stick with brands that have a good reputation and if you’re in doubt, skip the lip balm and buy something else.
  2. Parabens: A multitude of brands have been swearing off parabens in their products, and for a good reason. These chemicals mimic estrogen, which is an integral hormone which is responsible for many endocrine functions in the body. This can lead to breast cancer developments and have been shown to increase the risk of malignant melanoma. Propyl and butyl parabens can lead to decreases in female fertility and male sperm production. Denmark has banned the production of the two parabens in cosmetics for children three years and younger. Methylparaben has been found to block the breast cancer treatment drug Tamoxifen.
  3. Chemical Sunscreens (Oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate): These ingredients are used in sunscreens and often referred to as “organic” sunscreens. Organic, in this case, doesn’t mean better. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) rated oxybenzone an eight on their toxicity scale. Like parabens, the chemical has been shown to mimic estrogen in the body. Oxybenzone and chemicals similar to it are absorbed into the skin. They work as a sunscreen by converting UV rays into heat and releasing that heat from the skin, which is why they are often used in lips balms as a sun protectant. They absorb quickly and don’t leave a heavy, sticky film on the lips. Personally, I find that the increased risk of endometriosis rather repelling, so I prefer to stick with “physical” or “natural” sunscreens (like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide). These don’t absorb as well but they are safer to use and are more effective.
  4. Fragrance and Flavor: Do you ever wonder why brands list “fragrance” or “flavor” as an ingredient? Brands often don’t give out all of the information in their products because people will be appalled at the amount of chemicals used in the so-called “fragrance.” The chemical concoctions used to create the fragrances and flavors often contain phthalates, which are heavily drying. They are also hormone disruptors, which can lead to sexual reproduction issues like decreased sperm counts and fertility issues. Phthalates also can worsen allergy symptoms.
  5. Synthetic colors (Blue 1, Green 2, etc.): Dyes included in many cosmetics are made with heavy metal salts. They leave toxins on your skin and can increase sensitivity to wind and other environmental factors. Studies have shown that these dyes can be carcinogenic.
  6. Humectants (Glycerin): These ingredients have actually been proven to pull moisture out of the skin, having a reverse effect than what was advertised. Similarly to petrolatum, if paired with ingredients like natural oils, beeswax, or shea butter, glycerin will not have as strong of an effect. I find that glycerin can leave skin and lips feeling hydrated and smooth, so this isn’t as big of a concern as other ingredients, nor has it been found to be toxic.

Fortunately, many brands have been making an effort to improve the ingredients in their cosmetics. With the rise of natural beauty in the media, brands have labeled themselves as “organic” and “all natural.” While this isn’t exactly the case (most lip balms contain preservatives of some sort) the ingredients they use are significantly better for you than the ones listed above.

  1. Lanolin: Lanolin is a substance that sheep secret through their skin (like humans and sebum). It is yellow, thick, and greasy and has a somewhat unpleasant look, but it is all-natural and is harvested from the sheep skin itself. Lanolin is very waxy and contains cholesterol. The most prominent type of lanolin is lanolin alcohol, which is used in most cosmetics and makes skin smoother. Lanolin traps moisture under the skin and prevents further dryness/chapping. Lanolin can be very beneficial to skin, but if you have extreme dryness of eczema, the lanolin may irritate symptoms more than help.
  2. Sugar: Straight baking sugar will do the trick. Sugar is grainy which makes it a great exfoliant, and when paired with oils and other natural ingredients, it gently exfoliates and removes dead skin from lips.
  3. Zinc Oxide: Your lips are extremely fragile. The skin is thin and somewhat-protruding from the face, giving it more sunlight exposure. It’s important you protect your lips from UV rays just like the rest of your skin, and zinc oxide is a compound that’s natural and effective. It won’t cause irritation (unless you’re allergic) and it works extremely well when paired with moisturizing ingredients like shea butter and beeswax.
  4. Shea Butter and Beeswax: Burt’s Bees built an entire brand using beeswax. It’s a natural substance that, similarly to lanolin, traps moisture under the skin to protect and hydrate it. Shea butter is the same way. Shea butter is a solid that acts like a semi-solid, making it easily absorbed as well, which is ideal for light lip balms.
  5. Natural oils (jojoba, almond, etc.): Natural oils are a no brainer when it comes to lip balms. They are light, east to apply, and often have extreme benefits. Because oils are extremely penetrating, they are hydrating and restorative. The only downside is that the benefits aren’t as long lasting. Oils are light, so they tend to fade quickly.