You know what you’re probably using every single day? Lip balm. Especially in this harsh winter wind. But should you care what ingredients make up your favorite lip balms? Turns out yes, you really should, because a good amount of what your swiping on your lips is actually being consumed, via drinking, eating, talking, and kissing.
You’re essentially eating your lip balm. And just as you look at the ingredient list in your food, you should look at the ingredient list of your lip balms. And certain ingredients have a tendency to lock in moisture better than others.
We chatted with the experts from our favorite lip balm brands to get the 411 on the ingredients that make up your favorites.
Lip Balm 101
“In order for lip balm to effective, it should have four qualities,” says David Arbuthnot, founder of the clean skincare brand Context. “First, it should be able to heal any damage that has occurred to the lips. Second, it should be able to soothe lips. Third, a lip balm should be able to effectively soften your lips. Lastly, an excellent lip balm should also be able to protect your lips from free radical damage.”
“As a starting point, some ingredients do naturally hydrate better than others,” says Ann-Marie Ronlund Jensen, Brand Manager of Denmark-based brand NUORI. “But it really depends on the ratio of each ingredient in the formula and how the different ingredients are combined and work together. For example, most people are familiar with vitamin E and the fact that this ingredient is an effective antioxidant. However, this vitamin is also excellent at aiding the penetration and retention of other beneficial ingredients in the skin. It, so to speak, boosts the hydrating benefits of other ingredients.”
General housekeeping before we begin:
“Although safe for most people, lip balms may be implicated in causing allergic reactions in susceptible individuals,” says Dr. Shilesh Iyer of New York Dermatology Group. “Common culprits include castor oil, beeswax, lanolin, sunscreen agents, preservatives, or flavoring agents. If you are having a reaction to a lip balm, your dermatologist can help sort out what the causative agent may be. If sun exposure is anticipated, an SPF containing product should be used provided one is not allergic or irritated by ingredients in the formulation.”
Lip Balm Ingredients 101
Lanolin is a substance naturally found on the coats of sheep, which need lanolin to keep their fleece protected and dry throughout the year. The lanolin is removed from the shorn wool, after their annual shear (without harm to the animal).
Nature’s wonder: “The molecular structure of lanolin naturally most closely resembles your skin lipids than any other ingredient (natural or synthetic) making it the most compatible ingredient to use on your skin,” says Kirsten Carriol, Founder of lanolin-based balm company Lano. “Also, it’s semi-occlusive, which means it is a brilliant and breathable barrier that lets lips hydrate from within. I call it nature’s wonder moisturizer! Lanolin is the best because it mimics human oils so perfectly.”
Lanolin must first be purified before it can be used in any products and that can be a challenge because this process varies greatly between each company. Some companies can use chemicals that would be harmful.
Petroleum jelly, commonly known by the most popular brand name Vaseline, was originally found coating the bottom of oil rigs in the mid-1800s. It’s composed mainly of mineral oils and paraffin wax, a chemical preservative.
Cost effective: It’s super cost effective, and creates a protective barrier on your skin that prevents moisture loss. “Simpler is often better—an extremely safe and effective lip moisturizer is 100 percent petrolatum,” says Dr. Shilesh Iyer of New York Dermatology Group.
“Petroleum jelly and high beeswax content: Neither of them are good hydrators, they make you feel like you are being moisturized but they have no long term benefit,” says Kirsten Carriol, Founder of Lano.
“Petrolatum, synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrance may be linked to reactions due to skin sensitivity,” says Marc Cornell (MC), Director of Innovation, Englewood Lab.
“Petroleum jelly or mineral oil, although they are purified and safe to use (nothing has been proven to say it is harmful), they provide an airtight barrier and therefore your lips are not able to ‘breathe’,” says Omorovicza.
“Petroleum is that ingredient in a lip balm that keeps you wanting to reapply very few minutes,” says founder and professional makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis. “It gives immediate moisture but then ultimately dries out the lips.”
“The top ingredients to look out for, which are toxic to the body and endocrine system are Petrolatum (AKA petroleum jelly, mineral oil), Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Parabens (Propylparaben Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, and other ingredients ending in –paraben),” says an Herbivore spokesperson.
Bees are so crazy talented. Beeswax is created by special worker bees that secrete wax from their abdomens. They use the wax to construct combs, which they raise their young in and store pollen and honey. It’s beneficial for moisturizing because of the naturally occurring fatty acids.
“Beeswax conditions lips and acts as a protective barrier to maintain moisture,” says Marc Cornell (MC), Director of Innovation, Englewood Lab. “Absorbs instantly and glides effortlessly with beeswax base.”
“[It's] incredibly moisturizing and is an excellent emulsifier,” says David Arbuthnot, founder of Context. “It has the ability to soothe any pain caused by dryness and dehydration. Beeswax has the capability to lock in moisture and makes one’s lips supple and soft.”
Some question the use and ethicalness of the treatment of bees when mass producing beeswax.
Coconut oil is made from the fruit of coconut palm trees, either through fresh coconut meat or dried and cooked meat.
“Coconut oil is the ultimate multitasker,” says Kiana Cabell, Kopari co-founder and creative director. “It's naturally rich in vitamins and minerals, it's antimicrobial and locks in moisture.” It is rich in essential fatty acids and other nutrients, making it an intense treatment that moisturizes and heals dry, cracked lips. It’s also a well known anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Sage Lehman, founder of LOVE+SAGE, also notes that coconut oil fights bacteria, and even has a small bit of natural SPF. “Coconut oil is not only an excellent moisturizer but it promotes collagen production, repairs skin and helps you heal faster.”
For the rest of the face, coconut oil might be too rich for the skin cells.
It’s a superfood and fat that’s extracted from the nut of the African shea tree.
It is rich in fatty acids, as well as the ultra-healing vitamins A and E, which help to heal damaged skin and repair skin cells where needed. It moisturizes and protects lips from environmental aggressors and contains anti-inflammatory properties to calm, soothe and nourish lips.
“Shea butter is a great ingredient, soothes and moisturizes the lips and contains Vitamin A and E, both of which help reverse the effects of dry lips,” says the team at Omorovicza.
It can be so thick for some skin types that it can block pores and cause acne.
This vitamin-rich oil is made from the seed of the jojoba (pronounced ho-ho-bah) plant, which is found primarily in the the Southwest US and Mexico. Although we all call it an oil, it’s actually a plant wax.
Lightweight, vitamin-rich and soothing, jojoba can penetrate deep to lock in long-lasting moisture.
“Jojoba is rich in vitamins and minerals and soothes irritated and chapped skin and restores the natural balance of the skin,” says Sage Lehman at LOVE+SAGE.
It can be irritating or cause allergic reactions for a small percentage of people.
This is a natural substance found in our skin that acts as a cushion to lubricate our joints and tissue. It has a stunning ability to attract and hold incredible amounts of moisture.
“Hyaluronic spheres are a key ingredient which swell and plump the lips with moisture, providing long-lasting hydration, and stops them drying out throughout the day,” says the Omorovicza team. “We use it as the base oil in a number of our products as its effects are long-lasting and helps restore suppleness to skin. It also has far reaching health benefits and is non-allergenic.”
Uh, the cons don’t really exist because hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in our bodies, so it’s usually safely absorbed. But, it’s best to stick to more naturally made versions when possible.
Read more skincare 101:
Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Sensitive Skin
Your Guide to Perfect, Glowing Skin in 2 Weeks or Less
How to Care for Your Skin in Freezing Cold Weather
Learn to love your inbox again—sign up for Domino’s daily email.