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How to Heal Your Dry, Chapped Lips: The Best Lip Balms and Treatments That Actually Work

Why most products keep your lips chapped—and what to look for instead!

Is there any beauty product with a higher level of dissatisfaction than lip balm? 

Probably not! 

I've heard from dozens of readers complaining about their dry, chapped, even CRACKING lips—and how no lip balm ever seems to cure the problem.

Here's a recent email from my inbox:

Any ideas for a great lip balm? My lips are always chapped! I do live in a dry area. I also seem to lick my lips, which I'm trying hard to stop. I have installed a humidifier in my home that is on constantly. I apply lip ointment several times a day. My toothpaste does not have any SLS in it. Only my bottom lip appears to struggle. I use squalane on them, still no help! I read the new matte Dior Lip Glow doesn't work well on dry lips, which really bums me out. I figured you might have other ideas! — Kathryn

I, too, have struggled with chronically dry lips. But I've finally figured out what to use—and what to avoid.

That's right. It's just as important to STOP using products with ingredients that cause chapping, as it is to START using treatments that will truly heal your lips. 

In this article, you will learn:

  • Why most lip balms only exacerbate the problem
  • Which ingredients can keep your lips dry and chapped
  • My favourite healing ingredients to look for
  • Which products contain them!

Why Most Lip Balms Don’t Work

Most lip balms don't work because of irritants, allergens and occlusives.

There are three reasons why most lip balms on the market fail to actually fix chapped lips. 

Usually, these products contain:

  • Irritants
  • Allergens
  • Occlusives

What are those? Read on!

Irritants

Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15 contains chemical sunscreen ingredients that may cause irritation.

Anything that irritates your lips can lead to dryness, peeling and chapping.

This is why you may not see an improvement despite always re-applying lip balm—it's because your lips are in contact with the irritant over and over again!

Some of the most common potential irritants in lip balms include:

  • Fragrance
  • Flavour
  • Essential oils
  • Colour pigments
  • Menthol
  • Camphor 
  • Chemical sunscreen ingredients

Of course, you'll also find these things in other lip products, such as lipsticks, lip gloss, etc. So that Dior Lip Glow? It looks amazing on the lips, but is not something I would recommend to heal chapping.

Allergens

Bite Beauty Agave Lip Balm contains several potential allergens, including lanolin, beeswax, castor oil and vitamin E.

What you might not know is that even natural ingredients can be problematic because of allergic reactions.

Some potential allergens that you'll often see in lip balms (and other lip products) are:

  • Vitamin E 
  • Beeswax
  • Castor oil 
  • Lanolin (although medical grade may be okay)

I suspect vitamin E is one of the biggest offenders here, particularly its synthetic form, tocopheryl acetate. (On labels, vitamin E is listed as tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate.) In this study, one third of patients developed contact dermatitis from vitamin E! I suspect this may have been a factor in the eos lawsuit, as continued use by an allergic person could definitely lead to the rashes and blisters that people reported. 

Occlusives

Oribe Balmessence Lip Treatment is high in hydrogenated polyisobutene, which will not nourish dryness.

Occlusives are ingredients that form a surface barrier on the lips, such as:

  • Petrolatum
  • Mineral oil 
  • Silicones 
  • Hydrogenated polyisobutene

Now, I'm not saying these are ALL bad, in a lip product. Their barrier qualities can help protect the lips and seal in moisture.

But they're not actually delivering moisture to the area. So they won't heal existing chapping. 

You also have to be careful when they're combined with other ingredients, because they may be sealing in irritants or allergens.

The Best Treatments for Dry, Chapped Lips

Treat dry lips with emollient ingredients.

So, what's the best lip balm for chapped lips?

One that contains an emollient!

Emollients are softening, hydrating ingredients that absorb well into the skin, where they fill in cracks and prevent moisture loss.

The best emollients are natural oils and butters. I suggest using them in their pure form, rather than in combination with other ingredients. Since the lip area is so sensitive, it's better to use as few ingredients as possible in order to minimize the risk of irritation or an allergic reaction.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

These are the three emollients that I SWEAR by:

  • Medical-grade lanolin
  • Squalane 
  • Shea butter

Here's what to know about each chapped lips remedy, plus my top product recommendations. 

Medical-Grade Lanolin

Medical-grade lanolin is one of the best treatments for chapped lips.

Lanolin is a wax found on the wool of sheep that has a similar molecular structure to human sebum, making it one of the most powerful moisturizers available to us. (It's also cruelty-free.)

But wait—didn't I just say that lanolin is a potential allergen?

Yes, it definitely can be. But if you're NOT allergic, its emollient and semi-occlusive properties make it a fantastic ingredient for healing dry, chapped lips. The texture is a thick salve that makes your lips feel instantly moisturized and protected from dry air.

There are also different grades of lanolin, and a medical-grade lanolin is much less likely to cause an issue. This study found that Medilan, an "an ultra-purified, hypoallergenic, medical-grade lanolin" caused "almost zero sensitization." 

Now, we can't buy Medilan directly, since they're just a raw materials supplier. But there are a few companies that do use medical-grade lanolin, which is colourless and odourless, and has all the harmful elements filtered out. 

For example, Lanolips' lanolin goes through a patented cleansing process that leaves it with fewer than three parts of impurities per MILLION!

Best Lanolin Lip Balms and Treatments