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Your lip balm could be making your lips more chapped — derms explain why

For more hydrated lips, there are certain ingredients that you should avoid.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

As the cold winter weather continues in many parts of the country and wreaks havoc on our skin, we find ourselves continuously reaching for our most hydrating skin care products to help beat the dryness — and that includes lip balm.

But, if you've recently found yourself needing more and more balm to help soothe your chapped lips, we have some news for you: The one that you're using might actually be doing more harm than good.

So we consulted two experts, Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, and Dr. Brendan Camp, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York, to find out why certain lip balms dry out your lips and which ones you should be reaching for instead.

What causes chapped lips?

There are a number of reasons why your lips might be feeling dry and irritated, especially at this time of the year. As you may already know, the cold weather can have an effect on your pout, as your lips are very thin-skinned, so they're much more likely to dry out, Gohara says.

Everyday factors like the enzymes in saliva, yeast or bacteria or certain ingredients in skin care products or food, can also cause irritation, Camp explained.

It also might be a matter of not giving them enough attention. "A lot of people don't give love to their lips," Gohara says. "They'll moisturize their face, but they're not moisturizing their lips."

Though, if you are giving them plenty of love, but find that they're ending up chapped and dry not long after you apply a balm, it could be because you're using what Gohara calls the "wrong balm."

Why do some lip balms make your lips more chapped?

So what exactly does the "wrong balm" mean? "Here's the rule: Anything that makes your lips tingle, cold, soothes with that menthol-y [feel], that's bad news bears because it means that there's an ingredient in there that is a potential irritant," Gohara says.

So while it might feel good right when you initially apply, in the long run, it could leave your lips feeling more dry and irritated. That's why she suggests avoiding any lip balms with ingredients like camphor, menthol or alcohol.

Fragrances, flavoring agents and dyes can also potentially cause allergic contact dermatitis, Camp notes. "If someone develops a sensitivity to an ingredient in a lip balm it can cause the lips to become dry, cracked, red, scaly and itchy."

Lip balm ingredients to look for

So now that you're well-versed on what you should avoid, the question remains: How do you choose a lip balm that's actually going to help your lips, instead of hurting them?

To maximize hydration, you want to look for ingredients that will help trap water in the skin while keeping it moisturized for a long period of time, Camp says. "Ingredients like beeswax, olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil, and shea butter are often used for this purpose."

Gohara says that the ideal formula has a combination of humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin), which draw moisture into the skin as well as occlusives (such as shea butter and mineral oil), which work to lock the moisture in.

Camp also recommends getting a formula with SPF, to help protect the area from the sun.

Is it OK to use lip balm everyday?

According to Gohara, if you're using the right type of lip balm, you'll likely find that you can use it multiple times per day with no repercussions (plus, your lips should end up feeling ultra-hydrated).

Though, a general rule to follow is to apply a balm is once in the morning and once again before bed, Camp notes.

Here, the experts shared some of their favorite balms that they recommend for treating chapped lips. And we found some more shopper-loved options that fit their guidance.

The best lip balms for dry lips

Cetaphil Healing Ointment

"This ointment has many uses, aside from being a lip balm," Camp says. "It can be used on dry, cracked skin, rough cuticles and cuts and scrapes. It also contains shea butter and vitamin E."

Vaseline Lip Therapy Lip Balm

Gohara says that she likes Vaseline's lip balms. The non-greasy formula is designed to lock in moisture to soothe dry lips and prevent them from getting chapped later on.

Malin + Goetz Lip Moisturizer

Camp says that this lip moisturizer from Malin + Goetz is "smooth" and "hydrating" and is designed to keep your lips hydrated for hours.

EltaMD UV Lip Balm

"This lip balm offers SPF 36 protection and contains vitamins C and E, antioxidants and glycerin to keep lips protected and soft," Camp says.

Burt’s Bees Lip Balm

Burt's Bees is well known for its soothing lip balms, and this formula from the brand is loaded with hydrating ingredients, like beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil and more.

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Lip Therapy

According to the brand, this formula is free from alcohol, artificial colorants, artificial fragrances and more, so you're just getting the good stuff, like shea butter and glycerin. It's also said to feature First Aid Beauty's FAB Antioxidant Booster, to help further nourish your lips.

Meet our experts

  • Dr. Mona Gohara, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut in Hamden. She is an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine and vice president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society.
  • Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, is a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York. He is double board-certified in dermatology and dermatopathology.