If you’re in possession of naturally and adequately nourished lips, you will never know the pain of having perpetually dry ones. It doesn’t matter how many balms you own, or the frequency with which you apply them, lips remain as dry and inflamed as a cracked desert floor. And at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the world of lip balms is quite frankly a minefield. It all started in school, where rumours in the locker room swirled. They ranged from the laughable: “Vaseline is used to fix cars not lips” (hmm), to the ludicrous: “Carmex contains glass that lacerates your lips so that you apply and buy more,” (sure). Surprisingly that story endured, as demonstrated by this 2019 Quora thread. Other whispers bore more weight. For example, that the menthol and camphor in Carmex – the two tingling ingredients – exacerbate dryness and encourage licking, which lest you think is innocuous, is the work of the devil. Why? Because your spit contains digestive enzymes that wreak havoc on your lips. Told you this was tricksy.
“Like on the rest of our face, skin on our lips ages and needs to be taken care of in the right way,” says Lars Fredrkisson, Founder of Verso Skincare. But why is it so hard? “Skin on lips is particularly thin, and there are very few oil producing glands which makes them susceptible to cracking and chapping”, says Dr Anjali Mahto.
“Balms and salves come off easily when we touch, pick, eat and drink, so it’s best to use richer products with more staying power,” says Consulting Dermatologist for Keihl’s Dr Alexis Granite. She suggests something emollient to lock in hydration citing “petrolatum, ceramides, shea and cocoa butters, glycerin and natural oils” as worthy contenders. See our shopping list below for best in class.
Holidays call for extra backup, whether you’re on a beach or a ski slope. “UV exposure dries lips out which means SPF is critical. Sun damage can cause soreness, or worse, skin cancers – yes even on your lips”, says Dr Granite. There are also vanity considerations, because unfortunately, just like your face and body, overexposure to the sun will accelerate ageing on and around your lips, leading to smoker's lines and thinning.
So what's the deal with using skincare on your lips? Moisturisers are effective, but Dr Mahto warns against active ingredients as they can worsen irritation and soreness. Think lemon in a cut (*audible intake of breath*). First try treating flakes with moisture, and if they persist, use a sugar scrub – homemade, using coconut oil, sugar and honey – or brush very gently, almost gingerly with a toothbrush. After that, use a formula with almond oil (Hurraw! Almond Lip Balm, £4.99 or vitamin E (Body Shop Vitamin E Lip Care SPF15, £5.50), to quench and soothe.