The season of sore, chapped lips is fully upon us, with the threat of snow, and maybe even another Beast from the East, looming large.
Lip balms are a pocket essential for easing the pain of dryness and protecting your most delicate skin from the elements.
Finding the most effective, easy to use and best value for money products in an increasingly saturated market involved testing each lip salve to check it lived up to “long-lasting” promises, left our lips feeling soft and protected and actually relieved discomfort in both the short and long term.
For medical back-up, we also asked some respected dermatologists to share their lipcare tips and the balms they recommend to their patients.
Here’s what they had to say:
* Lips are like a sponge. They absorb water and plump up, but when dehydrated, they dry out and shrink. They lack the waterproofing outer layer and oil-producing sebaceous glands that skin has, meaning they’re sensitive to moisture loss, especially in cold, dry air. Drinking enough water will keep the body, skin and lips hydrated.
* A lack of iron, vitamin B and fatty acids in your body can play a role in lip cracking and scaling. Be sure to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement every day to protect against the deficiencies that may be causing your chapped lips and up your good fats by eating more oily fish and nuts.
* Stop licking your lips. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that break down the lipid barrier and further aggravate dryness, leading to soreness and inflammation.
* Beeswax, shea butter and petrolatum are good ingredients to look for as they seal water inside the lips, helping to prevent and repair chapping. Coconut, jojoba and almond oils are good moisturisers. Ideally opt for agents that are free of flavour, fragrance and parabens, and avoid anything that stings or tingles after application, such as menthol, peppermint or other flavours or fragrances, as these may aggravate.
* Protect, protect, protect. Lips are susceptible to sunburn as they lack melanin, the pigment that helps shield skin from the sun. Lip cancers are prevalent, so it makes sense to ensure your balm or lipstick contains an SPF too, particularly when up in the mountains.
* Exfoliate lips at least weekly to boost blood circulation, remove dead skin and aid cell renewal. If lips are very flaky, smooth on some Vaseline first and use a dry toothbrush to gently brush back and forth, or invest in a lip scrub.
* Matt lipsticks can be extremely drying, so use sparingly when your lips are extremely chapped. Use a lipstick that doubles as a balm instead.
So, which lip balm will be your saviour this winter? We’ve whittled down the huge range out there to a top 15, featuring swivel sticks, pots and tubes. Some are vegan, some smell yummy while others are fragrance-free for easily irritated lips, and most of them cost less than a fiver.
Lanolips 101 ointment, £10.99, Look Fantastic
How much?! Bear with us.This might be the priciest product on our list, but its 50-plus global beauty awards speak volumes and Harley Street’s skincare queen Lesley Reynolds recommended it to us. This multipurpose balm has 101 uses, hence the name, from healing sore lips to treating brittle nails, cracked heels, stretch marks, dry nipples, nappy rash, wetsuit rash and insect bites. It’s made Down Under from medical-grade lanolin – a fatty substance found on sheep’s wool with a molecular structure similar to that of our natural skin oils. Its thick texture takes a bit of gentle rubbing in (try warming the tube in your hands a bit first) but feels like a hug for your skin, and the tube lasts for ages as you only need to apply a tiny blob each time. Expect to notice improvements within days, making this balm well worth the splurge.
Oriflame tender care protecting balm, £9.90, Amazon
This pocket-friendly balm from Swedish beauty brand Oriflame has been a bestseller for nearly 50 years, as its retro pink packaging attests. Its enduring formula uses beeswax, organic honey, antioxidant Vitamin E and blended emollients which creates a non-sticky barrier that helps reduce water evaporation and keep your lips moisturised for longer. It’s soft and creamy without feeling greasy.
Try it on dry or irritated patches of skin on your elbows, face, hands and feet, too (we use ours around our nose when we have a cold). This original screw-top pot is unscented, but if you like a taste to your balm, it also comes in pomegranate, cloudberry, cranberry, blackcurrant, bilberry, gingerbread, cherry and rose flavours. The only drawback is you have to dip your finger in to apply it, which is messier and less hygienic than using a bullet or tube.
Bioderma Atoderm lip moisturising stick, £5.99, Amazon
This clinical-looking balm from French pharmaceutical company Bioderma may not scream sexy, but as an all-year-round lip conditioner, it’s hard to beat. Dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto from Cedars Dermatology in London cites it as her favourite chapped lip product on the market for its nourishing and strengthening qualities, and particularly recommends it to anyone with sensitive skin as it’s hypoallergenic and paraben-free. Golden seaweed extract, shea butter and avocado oil help to restore the film of severely problematic lips while the natural raspberry flavouring is an unexpected bonus and tastes just like candy floss. Take this balm with you on a night out – it sits brilliantly under lipstick and is fabulously kissable.
Eucerin aquaphor soothing skin balm travel-size, £6.92, Amazon
The paraffin-based formula creates the optimum environment for your lips to maintain their moisture by forming a breathable barrier and encouraging the regeneration of cells. It’s gentle enough for use on highly irritated skin, as well as babies, and is newly available in a compact, travel-friendly pot. The gel-like texture spreads easily across lips and absorbs quickly, without any fragrance or taste, and it’s multipurpose for use on cuticles, knees and other rough patches. There’s a slight sheen to it, making it a great substitute for lip gloss on a night out, even if the packaging does look more clinical than club. The dermatologists we spoke to rated Eucerin’s balm highly for its clinically proven efficiency and excellent value, so it’s well worth a try.
Elizabeth Arden eight hour cream lip protectant stick sunscreen SPF15, £12.35, Amazon
This chic emollient balm from Elizabeth Arden was the big hit among the dermatologists we spoke to. They raved about its power to heal broken skin and form a protective layer, thanks to ingredients including petrolatum, lanolin and beeswax. Unusually for a balm, it is both packaged and shaped like a lipstick, making it easy to reach the corners of the lips where chapping often occurs and adding a bit of glam to your lipcare. There is a mild, non-irritant citrus fragrance while SPF15 is useful in the winter sun. If you want a hint of colour, try sheer tints plum, honey, blush and berry.
Burt’s Bees overnight intensive lip treatment, £6.99, Amazon
Keeping a lip balm with you on the go is all well and good, but severely chapped and painful lips require something stronger. Burt’s Bees – one of our go-to brands for natural skincare – recently launched a powerful moisturiser that you slather on overnight, giving the oils more time to hydrate your lips and strengthen the fragile tissue that shields them from the elements during the day. It comes in a little screw-top pot, tastes slightly minty and has a thick, buttery texture that fully coats without feeling slimy or sticky. If you’re willing to splash out on some lip TLC, we also recommend using the conditioning lip scrub to exfoliate your lips and boost blood circulation, before applying the intensive treatment – you can buy the duo for just over a tenner. If it’s good enough for dermatologists…
P’Ure papaya lips, £5.99, Holland & Barrett
This all-natural, all-vegan lip balm is made in Australia using candelilla wax – a deep yellow, plant-based wax native to Mexico, which helps prevent moisture loss without relying upon petroleum jelly. This is mixed with organic vitamin C-rich papaya, which gently exfoliates dry skin, and shea butter, which reduces inflammation and helps restore suppleness. The balm is then packaged in a tube with an easy-to-use applicator – just be careful not to squeeze too much out at once, as a little goes a long way. It has a mildly fruity smell and feels silky as it coats your lips before slowly sinking in to rejuvenate them. P’ure is an eco-friendly brand, so there’s no palm oil (associated with damaging deforestation) in the ingredients list.
Dr Bronner’s ginger and orange organic lip balm, £3.60, Ecco Verde
There’s a good reason why family soapmaker Dr Bronner’s has such a huge following in the States: its certified organic lip balms are made with the finest beeswax and absolutely no nasty synthetics. Moisturisation comes courtesy of jojoba, avocado and hemp oils, and the finished product is a steal for the price. Unlike many beeswax-based sticks, it glides on without the need for rubbing, absorbs quickly and feels luxuriously soft. There are four twist-up salves in the range: naked, peppermint, orange-ginger and lemon-lime. The three scented balms are lightly fragranced with high-quality essential oils, with orange-ginger our favourite, but if your lips are extra sensitive, opt for “naked”. The packaging is fully recyclable, with a third of profits going towards fairtrade initiatives.
Jack Black intense therapy lip balm shea butter and vitamin E, £7.95, Look Fantastic
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, try Jack Black’s handy tubes. This one comes loaded with beeswax, shea butter, avocado oil and vitamin E to relieve irritated lips, with the melty salve penetrating quickly to offer instant hydration and guard against windburn. Its SPF25 means you can enjoy the sun without burning your lips (apply it 30 minutes before exposure), and the flavour is sweet but far from overpowering. It is often voted a must-have male grooming product but is packaged for unisex appeal. It lasts for hours, meaning you get a lot of balm for your buck, and isn’t at all gloopy. There’s a chance you’ll notice a slight white residue if you’ve applied more than is needed, but it’s easy enough to rub in and doesn’t look too shiny.
Vaseline mirror mirror limited edition tin, £1.99, Amazon
Founded by a British chemist in the mid-1800s, Vaseline is made from highly refined petroleum jelly – nothing less, nothing more. Those who swear by natural skincare may choose to steer clear for this reason, despite it being purified, but dermatologists recommend it as a cheap and cheerful chapped lip saviour. The latest limited edition tin has a wintery, spiced apple taste and a subtle red tint, making it a perfect substitute when your lips are too chapped to wear lipstick. Its red and black packaging is Snow White-inspired but the size and shape of the tin are the same as the original you already know, and possibly already love. It’s a timeless handbag essential.
La Roche-Posay cicaplast lips, £6, Feel Unique
Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams from Eudelo Dermatology & Skin recommends buying a simple lip balm without many plant ingredients, as these can be highly allergenic. Her best buy is this squeezy balm from French brand La Roche-Posay, whose products are made with antioxidant thermal spring water and specially designed for sensitive skin. It works by creating a protective film on your lips, keeping them comfortable in even the harshest of conditions, yet also penetrates more deeply, filling in cracks and repairing damage. The texture is thick yet feels light on your lips and proved especially effective when applied before going to sleep.
Palmer’s coconut oil formula lip balm, £2.97, Amazon
US brand Palmer’s body moisturisers have been relied upon for generations and this lip balm is similarly trustworthy. Ethically and sustainably sourced raw coconut oil teams up with monoi oil and sweet almond oil to offer instant relief to painful lips and keep them hydrated for hours, while its SPF15 protects your pout in the sunshine. The swivel stick is slimmer than most, making it easy to carry around in your pocket. It’s less messy to apply, too, as the applicator mimics the shape of your lips, allowing the creamy formula to glide on. We did find it needed topping up more than others we tried, but it smells amazing, so this isn’t exactly a hardship. If you prefer a buttery balm, try the cocoa butter formula, but we found it grainy and uncomfortably tingly.
eos organic limited edition sugarplum lip balm, £4.33, Boots
This balm is a limited edition “festive flavour” from US beauty brand eos, meaning it’s not going to be around for much longer now that Christmas has been and gone. Luckily there are still a few on the shelves, as “sugarplum” smells so divine you aren’t going to want to miss out, even if it did surprise us by tasting more spicy than fruity. The slick and modern sphere design eliminates the problem of sticky hands by coating both lips in soft, certified organic salve with one quick application. It is small but easy to find in your bag thanks to its unique shape and recyclable purple packaging. Gluten-free, hypoallergenic and not tested on animals, this balm ticks a lot of boxes and gets the thumbs up from celebrity skin therapist Louise Thomas-Minns. Best of all, it’s a bargain at under a fiver.
Base lip solve, £7.50, Amazon
Plagued not only with dry lips but recurrent cold sores, too? Then check out this moisturising balm from British brand Base, which the Herpes Virus Association claims helps limit the frequency and severity of outbreaks. The “hero” ingredient, liquorice root, contains the anti-inflammatory extract glycyrrhizin, which strips the herpes virus of its power before a cold sore can form, as well as reducing any redness, itching and swelling from existing blisters. Shea butter smoothes and soothes, and the SPF30 makes this lip salve a handy companion on a skiing holiday. Conscious shoppers will be pleased to hear that it’s cruelty-free and vegan. It comes in a squeezy tube for the same price, but we found the bullet format less messy to use. It tastes more of vanilla than liquorice, and it’s modern, minimalistic packaging gets the thumbs-up from us.
Weleda skin food lip balm, £6.95, Amazon
Skincare addicts will already be familiar with the legendary skin food moisturiser, beloved by A-list celebrities including Rihanna and Adele. For the first time since the launch of that much-loved product more than 90 years ago, Weleda has extended the line to include a lip balm. It comes in a mini bright green tube and is crammed with natural essential oils and waxes. Rosemary, chamomile, wild pansy and calendula combine to nourish lips, leaving them feeling rich and supple. This balm feels velvety soft to apply and offers instant calming relief to red-raw lips, but be careful when squeezing as the consistency is quite runny. It’s on the pricey side for just 8ml, but proved one of the most hydrating on our list.
O’Keeffe’s lip repair unscented lip balm, £3.19, Amazon
O’Keeffe’s, the Californian makers of the ever-popular Working Hands hand cream, have finally added a hardworking lip balm to their range. Even the most stinging, split lips will breathe a sigh of relief after being smothered in this intensely moisturising salve, which quickly forms a moisture barrier without looking shiny. It’s unscented and hypoallergenic, making it an ideal choice for those with sensitive skin. This balm lost a point for crumbling slightly during testing, but the effects were rapid and long-lasting – if you find otherwise, the brand offers a money-back guarantee. The cooling relief variety got our thumbs up, too, but although the peppermint oil gave it a fresh minty taste, some people find it an irritant, so we’re sticking to this fragrance-free swivel stick.
The Verdict: Lip balms
Lanolips 101 ointment may be expensive at £10.99 a pop, but it’s a pleasure to use and looks after your lips and more to such a reliable extent that we now consider it a necessity buy. Bioderma’s atoderm lip moisturising stick might not be a glamorous addition to your handbag, but for a fiver is medically effective and tastes scrumptious too, while the innovative, quick-to-use design of the eos organic lip balm impressed us.