Can Lip Balm Leave You More Chapped? R29 Investigates

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In this winter of our discontent, where every inch of skin moisture counts, we come head-to-head with the age-old beauty dilemma: Does applying lip balm actually make our lips drier with every swipe?

It goes without fail that whenever someone finds out what we do for a living, they ask us this particular question. Wanting to get the truth about the hydrating abilities of lip balm, we talked to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a New York-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

It turns out, the formulation of some lip balms and treatments can cause your lips to feel drier, even with religious application. For example, formulations that contain salicylic acid, which is often included to slough off dead skin cells from the lips, might not be the best idea. “Ingredients like salicylic acid can exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the lips, but can also cause skin irritation, leading to inflammation and dryness,”says Zeichner.

Other potential irritants include camphor, phenol, and menthol, which are included in some formulas to soothe on contact. While that may sound like a good thing, Zeichner points out that, “Yes, they soothe immediately, but in the long term may be irritating to the lips.”

Many times, lip treatment formulas that contain these exfoliating and soothing ingredients are paired with emollient ingredients that can go to work softening the skin after exfoliation (salicylic acid) or immediate soothing (camphor, phenol, and menthol) has taken place. However, these ultra-moisturizing ingredients may not be enough to trump those that irritate. “Applying ingredients that are irritating can interfere with moisturizing, no matter how good the moisturizer is,” says Zeichner says.

Meanwhile, common ingredients like cetyl alcohol may sound counterproductive, but Zeichner says not so. “Even though this ingredient has the word alcohol in it, it actually is a fatty alcohol that helps hydrate the skin,” he says. That's totally not confusing at all. So, how do we keep our lips smooth and hydrated?

“The lips are able to repair themselves and maintain hydration, but sometimes, especially during the winter, they need a little extra help. Try to avoid lip licking, which can irritate the lips and ultimately dry out lips more in the end,” says Zeichner. “The best tip is to use a lip formulation with hydrating ingredients like petrolatum, but without the irritating ones.”

And, with that, we’ll be picking lip treatments without possible irritants (we like Osmia Organics Best Lip Balm) and laying off the LL Cool J impersonations.

Osmia Organics Lip Balm, $8, available at Osmia Organics.


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