If you’re suffering through lip pain this winter, find solace in the fact that you’re not alone. Cracked and flaking chapped lips are rampant this time of year, and a basic balm is not going to do you much good. Nor will your standard drugstore lip gloss, which is why we’ve delved deep into the lip care arena. We’ve talked to top dermatologists to figure out how we can get supple, smooth lips once more.
First things first: Why do our lips bear the brunt of dryness during the winter? “Lips don’t contain oil glands like other parts of the skin,” says Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. “This means lips are more susceptible to drying out and becoming chapped and cracked.”
Adds Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist in New York: “The skin on lips is extremely thin and less protected against trans-epidermal water loss, so they will take the biggest hit when it comes to cold weather and dryness.”
That said, wintry climes aren’t solely to blame. “Lip licking can also cause chapped lips,” says Nussbaum. “Do not lick your lips, as the saliva quickly evaporates, leaving them drier — it’s a vicious cycle that can lead to lip licker’s dermatitis.” And Dr. Dan Belkin, of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, says allergies to lip balm ingredients using retinoid medications or excessive sun damage can also cause inflamed lips.
Once the excessive dryness begins, many people pick or peel their lips, which Nussbaum strongly advises against, saying, “it will further aggravate the already sensitive area.” (More to know: “If lips are chronically peeling or irritation extends beyond the red part of the lip, you should have a board-certified dermatologist evaluate,” says Belkin.)
The good news is that some good old-fashioned self care — and the correct products and practices — will right this problem. We should all chug water, for example, maintain a balanced diet, add a humidifier to our bedrooms, and load up on Vitamins B and E and zinc and iron, because deficiencies in any of these can cause dry lips, advises Palep.
And in terms of regimen practices to adopt during the winter months (or when chapped flare ups occur), Palep says it’s all about exfoliation. “I like to tell my patients to use a soft bristled toothbrush at night a few times a week to get the dead skin off and then seal it with Aquaphor ointment,” she says.
Nussbaum agrees, adding, “When dead skin cells build up on the lips and dry flakes appear, you can use a gentle lip scrub containing sugar crystals and natural exfoliants. However, be careful not to over-exfoliate, which can lead to further inflammation.”
Beyond that, all three doctors agree that when building your lip care product arsenal, you want look for products with occlusive agents (“substances that enhance the natural skin barrier and hold moisture in,” explains Belkin), such as shea butter, coconut oil, beeswax, petrolatum, squalene and mineral oil. Meanwhile, ingredients to avoid include salicylic acid, phenol, menthol, camphor and fragrance.
We’ve rounded up the doctors’ and our favorite masks, scrubs and balms that will return your lips to their supple, dewy state in no time.
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask ($20; sephora.com)
With more than 8,000 positive reviews on Sephora (not to mention 316,000 likes!), this leave-on lip mask is officially a cult favorite. Belkin is a fan, too, saying it has a “mix of waxes, butters, silicones that can replenish hydration overnight.”
Tatcha Kissu Lip Mask ($28; tatcha.com)
Made with peach and rose extracts, Japanese camellia oil and squalane (a moisturizer derived from olives that can simultaneously plump and reduce redness and irritation), Kissu debuted on QVC — and sold out in 13 minutes. Now it’s back in stock, and you’re going to want to slather it onto your lips before bed nightly.
Patchology Lip Renewal FlashPatch 5-Minute Hydrogels Jar ($50; macys.com)
“Patchology’s FlashPatch hydrating lip gels are a great treatment when lips feel especially dry and flaky,” says Nussbaum. “The lip gels contain peptides, green tea extract and niacinamide, which deliver antioxidant protection, and soothing and hydration benefits.”
Bite Agave Intensive Lip Mask ($26; sephora.com)
From clean, vegan and gluten-free brand Bite, this is the 3-in-1 lip mask we all probably need — it cleanses, exfoliates and conditions. It features natural ingredients like agave nectar, mangosteen and açaí.
HydroPeptide LipLock Hydrator, Peptide Infused Lip Mask ($42; amazon.com)
This overnight mask not only hydrates but also improves the texture of your lips, so you’ll wake up with them feeling softer, and can even plump them up over time.
Beautycounter Lip Conditioner ($22; beautycounter.com)
Made of all natural ingredients (avocado oil! shea butter! meadowfoam seed oil! jojoba oil!), this super long-lasting, ultra-hydrating balm comes in two refreshing scents: peppermint and calendula.
Kari Gran Lip Whip Perfector ($18; amazon.com)
Like something you’d find in a spa, this “lip whip” is actually a scrub mask combo that can be left on or wiped off prior to makeup application, leaving your lips clean, flake-free and hydrated.
Sara Happ The Lip Scrub ($24; nordstrom.com)
The doctors’ orders are to exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate, so it’s time to invest in a scrub if you don’t have one. This one, says Palep, is “fragrance free and has really occlusive agents like shea butter and beeswax, and is great for gentle exfoliation of not so chapped lips.” More to know: It comes in four yummy flavors, such as brown sugar and pink grapefruit.
Fresh Sugar Lip Polish Exfoliator ($24; sephora.com)
A lot of people love the Fresh brand, including Nussbaum. “This exfoliator is an effective, gentle lip scrub that helps to condition the lips while also hydrating them,” she says. “The formula features brown sugar crystals which help to gently remove dead skin cells and jojoba oil and shea butter to moisturize and nourish the delicate lip skin.”
Lanolips Lemonaid Scrubba-Balm ($17; nordstrom.com)
A scrub in a stick? Yep, it exists. Made with extra-fine sugar crystals and crushed orange peel, this gentle stick means you can exfoliate on the go.
Dior Lip Sugar Scrub Sweet Exfoliating Balm ($34; nordstrom.com)
We love this scrub stick because it hydrates like a balm and lends a natural tint to your lips. Did we mention that it smells amazing, too?
Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 ($8; sephora.com)
We don’t know about you, but we like the price of this hard-working balm. It’s one of Belkin’s favorites because it has “petrolatum to form a barrier to water loss, but also other soothing ingredients like vitamin E and avocado oil.” More to know: It has sunscreen! “Lips, like anywhere, can develop sun damage, precancer and skin cancer, and are a forgotten area when protecting oneself from the sun,” says Belkin.
Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 ($10; nordstrom.com)
One of our favorite skin care brands tops Palep’s list. “This balm is infused with skin protecting petrolatum and squalene, soothing aloe vera and nourishing Vitamin E,” she says. “It goes on really smoothly and feels more like an oil than a balm.”
FixMySkin Vanilla Healing Lip Balm ($11; walmart.com)
Another go-to for Palep: this ultra-effective balm. “This has hydrocortisone 1% cream in it, and it’s ideal for really chapped lips,” she says.
Eos Super Soft Shea Lip Balms ($2.99; amazon.com)
Sometimes, drugstore brands really deliver. Just ask Nussbaum. “I personally love Eos’ Super Soft Shea Lip Balms as they contain skin-nourishing and vitamin-rich shea butter and other natural oils, which provide lips with 24-hour hydration, leaving them protected, nourished and soft,” she says.
Dior Lip Glow Oil ($34; nordstrom.com)
If you love you a luxe lip product, look no further than Dior’s assortment of lip glow oils. Available in five sheer hues, the oils go on like a gloss, but are ultra hydrating, thanks to being enriched with cherry oil. Bonus: The minty tingle delivered upon application.
Fresh Sugar Advanced Lip Treatment (starting at $15; nordstrom.com)
From cult-favorite beauty brand Fresh, this anti-aging treatment not only hydrates for 24 hours, but can also enhance your lip volume and smooth the appearance of fine lines.
Naturally Serious Lip Service 3-in-1 Lip Serum ($16; sephora.com)
Packed with beeswax and shea butter, this gluten-free serum also contains six antioxidants that work to reduce the signs of aging, give lips an even tone — and oh yeah, it hydrates the heck out of your lips, too.
Lanolips 101 Ointment Multipurpose Superbalm (starting at $14; nordstrom.com)
We’re going to go ahead and say that this Lanolips product name is definitely accurate — it’s totally a superbalm! And get this, this baby-friendly balm actually has 101 uses — use it for everything from dry cuticles and cracked heels to windburn and paper cuts.
WEN by Chaz Dean Bella Spirit Restorative Lip Treatment ($35; qvc.com)
If ever there was a big ol’ balm to keep in your nightstand, this is it. Packed with paraffin, shea butter, beeswax and essential oils, the ultra-luxurious (and hydrating) balms come in three colors.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.