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Why Is It So Hard to Find a Lip Balm That Works?

We’re in the throes of winter which means your lips are probably chapped right now. Below, two experts explain how to get the most out of your lip balm, how to find a better one, and what simple habits can help keep lips from getting dehydrated in the first place.

I have a lip balm on my office desk, a lip balm in my office desk drawer, a lip balm on my nightstand, and on my vanity, and in my gym bag, and at the bottom of pretty much every purse I own. And yet, ever since winter hit, my lips are chapped all the time.

Despite being such a small and seemingly simple product, it can be surprisingly difficult to find a lip balm formula that does what it claims to do. After sharing my frustrations with two dermatologists, I learned that there are several reasons for this. Read on below to find out what they are.

You May Not Be Using the Right Type of Balm For Your Lip Concern 

There are three main types of moisturizing agents: Humectants (like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and honey), emollients (plant oils like argan and avocado), and occlusives (petrolatum and beeswax). While all three hydrate skin, they do so in different ways.

“Humectant ingredients can pull moisture to the top layers, moisturizing balms can soften and [add] moisture to the lips, and waxy [ingredients found in] ChapStick and Vaseline create a barrier to hold in moisture and prevent further dehydration,” says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles.

RELATED: The Three Types of Superstar Ingredients to Look for in a Moisturizer

What this means is that if you apply Vaseline or beeswax on dehydrated lips, for example, you’re not really treating the root of the issue. “[Emollient] ingredients such as shea butter will penetrate the skin while beeswax will just sit on the lips,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

A more effective treatment would be to apply a balm that contains humectant or emollient ingredients, and then apply the occlusive on top to seal the hydration in. Or even better? Apply a lip balm that contains all three of the aformentioned moisturizing agents like the Klavuu Nourishing Care Lip Sleeping Pack.

In order to fully reap the benefits of a lip balm, you may first need to exfoliate the dead skin cells away with a lip scrub. Dr. Jaliman recommends using a brown sugar formula once a week (you don’t want to over-exfoliate), and Dr. Shainhouse suggests a formula that contains fruit acids that gently sloughs flakes away.

Your Lip Balm May Contain Ingredients That Are Working Against You 

“If your lips are constantly dry and irritated, it is very possibly an irritation from an ingredient in the lip care product,” says Dr. Shainhouse.

There are a lot of lip balms out there that are loaded with potentially irritating and drying ingredients. According to Dr. Shainhouse, the list includes fragrance, preservatives, chemicals, phenol, menthol, and camphor (found in popular balm Carmex).

Instead, look for formulas that contain less filler and more hydrators like natural butters such as shea butter and cocoa butter, and oils like almond oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and calendula oil. The latter comes highly recommend by Dr. Jaliman. “Calendula is an excellent humectant and also has calming and anti-inflammatory properties which can help soothe very dry, chapped lips.”

Dr. Shainhouse also likes glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and honey as lip ingredients.

There Could Be Some External Factors Working Against Your Lip Balm 

“Lips do not have oil glands, and cannot produce protective oils. The skin on the lip is very thin; moisture easily evaporates, drying the surface skin,” says Dr. Shainhouse.

Cold temperatures, wind, indoor heating, salty foods, matte lipstick, and even talking a lot can all contribute to damage and dehydration of the lips. A lip balm can only do so much in the face of factors like these. To combat the elements, use a humidifier, drink plenty of water, avoid licking your lips, and opt for a tinted lip balm over a dehydrating liquid lipstick.

Bottom Line

All lip balms are not created equally. Always check the ingredient list and stay away from allergens and say yes to humectants and emollients. And if you’ve found the perfect lip balm and your lips are still chapped, take a look at your daily habits or consult with your dermatologist.

+What’s your favorite lip balm? Share in the comments below!

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