If Your Lip Balm Is Actually Making Your Lips Dry, This Might Be Why

If Your Lip Balm Is Actually Making Your Lips Dry, This Might Be Why featured image
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images
We may earn commission from links on this page. Each product featured has been vetted and chosen by our editors.

Like many of you, and just about every beauty editor I know, I am a lip balm devotee. I have them stashed everywhere that my life takes me (even my kids’ diaper bag). We’ve seen a tremendous number of lip products hit the market recently—balms, oils, butters and more—that claim to provide big benefits when it comes to moisturizing and hydrating. But how many of you have tried one of these products, only to be disappointed that your lips still feel dry? If you’ve experienced this, you’re not alone. There is a reason why some lip balms and other lip products actually make your lips feel dry. Here, the experts share their insight, and their favorite lip products to avoid this.

  • Julian Sass, PhD, a cosmetic scientist and product developer based in Canada
  • Abena Antwi, a cosmetic chemist for Burt’s Bees
  • Hemali Gunt, director of clinical and scientific affairs for Burt’s Bees
  • Marc Elrick, founder of BYOMA

Why the Lip Skin Is So Delicate

“The skin and cells on our lips are very different from our face or body,” says Marc Elrick, founder of BYOMA, which just launched its first lip collection. “This is because they form the inner lip, which is not keratinized. Then they transition to external skin on the lips, and the cells are much larger. Our lips are more susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL) than other areas on the body. They’re also more susceptible to chapping and flaking. The lips are also directly exposed to external irritants with no hair, oil or sweat glands to protect them.”

Our skin barrier is a protective layer that locks moisture in while safeguarding from external aggressors that can cause irritation. Elrick says, “This is usually around 15 layers thick on our body, whereas the protective barrier on our lips is only around three layers.”

The Reason Why Some Lip Products Seem to Make Your Lips Drier

“If you continuously apply lip products because your lips keep drying out, there’s a reason,” says Julian Sass, a cosmetic scientist and product formulator. “A lot of lip balms are anhydrous, meaning they don’t contain water. This is true for many of the products everyone is launching right now. If you apply lip balms without water to lips that are dry, you just get greasy, dry lips. Having water with a humectant in the product actually hydrates the lips rather than just coating them.”

Hemali Gunt, director of clinical and scientific affairs for Burt’s Bees, adds that “some lip products provide the immediate sensory perception of smoothness and moisturization. This is through the use of hydrophobic ingredients like silicones and other film-forming agents. These products, however, do not contribute to the long-term improvement of the lips and can cause drying.” 

These hydrophobic ingredients “simply create an occlusive barrier on the lips,” Elrick explains. “This can give temporary relief to the skin. However, the ingredients won’t penetrate deeper to deliver lasting hydration and minimize water loss. This can lead to people becoming dependent on this so-called barrier. It holds little benefit for the lips, as these long-chain waxes and oils simply sit on the surface.”

What to Look For When Shopping for Moisturizing Lip Products

“In my experience, the best lip balms are those that have water and some sort of humectant, like glycerin, proplyene glycol or propanediol,” says Dr. Sass. “My favorite is the Laneige Lip Glowy Balm ($19), but there are tons of other great products on the market.” And if you’re using a lip balm that doesn’t contain water but it’s working for you, then there’s no need to switch things up, adds Dr. Sass. A few of my personal favorites that don’t contain water but work really well for me are Mario Badescu Lip Balm ($8), Rhode Peptide Lip Treatment ($16) and eos Super Balm ($6). All three of these (and the Laneige) come in a variety of different scents, and trust me, you’ll want them all.

“Lip skin is delicate, so one should avoid harsh ingredients like alcohol,” says Abena Antwi, a cosmetic chemist for Burt’s Bees. “Also look out for higher amounts of flavors and fragrances, which have a tendency to irritate skin.” Higher concentrations of ingredients are listed toward the beginning of the list. “Our Lip Balms ($4) are clinically tested to show immediate and long-lasting hydration,” says Gunt. “These are supported by instrumental methods and consumer perception. We have tested our lips products on more than 5,000 subjects for safety and effectiveness. Results show improvement in overall lip condition and lip health.”

Elrick also suggests looking for products “that contain skin-compatible ingredients that nourish lips from the inside out, rather than just providing temporary, topical hydration. For example, our new BYOMA Liptide Lip Oil ($12) contains our Liptide Complex. This is a lip-compatible blend of ceramides, lipids and peptides that works to strengthen the skin barrier. It also minimizes water loss for fuller, healthy lips. And, they hydrate the skin for up to 24 hours.”

If you exfoliate your lips, will your lip products work better?

Exfoliation as a technique is beneficial in removing the dead skin surface cells, which smooths the skin texture and allows for better penetration of actives,” Antwi explains. “Exfoliating makes the lip surface even and smooth. Therefore, it can enhance the application and feel of lip care and color products. However, overexfoliation should be avoided. Many conventional lip scrubs have a larger particle size that can cause microscopic tears in the lips. Our Burt’s Bees Conditioning Lip Scrubs ($10) are formulated with ingredients like honey crystals and upcycled coffee grounds. These are gentle and therefore can be safely used two to three times a week.”

Related Posts

Find a Doctor

Find a NewBeauty "Top Beauty Doctor" Near you

Give the Gift of Luxury

NewBeauty uses cookies for various reasons, including to analyze and improve its content and advertising. Please review our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for more about how we use this data. By continuing to use this site, you agree to these policies.