If you suffer from dry, chapped lips, you naturally reach for a lip balm or Chapstick. You may have noticed that some lip balms will give your lips a burning sensation. Something that’s meant to treat your lips should make them feel better, right? So why does lip balm burn sometimes?
In this article we will look at lip balms, their ingredients, why some lip balms burn, and what you should be using if you have dry, chapped lips.
Why Do Lips Get Dry and Chapped?
Like the rest of our skin, our lips are made up of three layers of cells: the outermost layer, or stratum corneum, the epidermis, and the dermis.
The main difference is that these layers are much thinner in the lips — and more vulnerable to damage. The stratum corneum (the outer layer), which forms the protective barrier over the others, is especially thin.
Unlike the rest of our skin, lips don’t have any hair follicles or oil glands of their own. They rely on the oil from glands around our lips to provide moisture.
Why Does Lip Balm Burn?
Depending on the person, lip balms can make the lips feel tingly, have a numbing effect, or burn.
Quite often, this happens from ‘medicated’ lip balms. But a sensitivity or burning sensation can also occur with regular lip balms.
It all has to do with the ingredients.
What causes lips to burn?
Menthol, camphor, and salicylic acid are three of the common ingredients in “medicated” lip balms. These substances often produce a tingling, numbing, or burning sensation. They sometimes can cause an inflammatory reaction.
Phenol is another ingredient used in some lip balms that can worsen symptoms for a lot of people. Phenol is actually used in chemical peels, which makes you wonder why it would ever be added to a product meant to ease dry lips!
You will often see these ingredients in lip balms labelled “medicated”, but there is nothing medicating about them.
This language is really just a marketing ploy to make people think it heals cracked lips more effectively. When in actual fact, it’s making things worse! These ingredients often worsen the condition, causing the lips to burn.
People frequently falsely connect the tingling or numbing feeling with the product working.
And it’s not just a harmless marketing ploy – people become very reliant on these lip balms.
You have dry lips, so you reach for your lip balm and apply. As long as there is a good film on your lips, your lips feel moisturized, when in fact, the balm is just lubricating your lips.
This makes them feel good, but it’s actually robbing them of their moisture. Once the film is gone, you can feel that your lips are even drier.
So you reapply the lip balm.
And the more you use, the worse condition your lips will be in… so you use more, and so on, and so on.
More frequent use means you are buying lip balm more often, which translates to more sales and more money in the manufacturer’s pocket.
Scents and flavors like cinnamon, peppermint, citrus, and mint, will also irritate and further dehydrate your lips. Other ingredients to avoid in your lip balm are eucalyptus, lanolin and menthol.
So lip balm without those ingredients work?
Lip balms, particularly oil-based balms, do help seal in moisture on the skin of your lips temporarily.
But once the thin film of hydration they capture evaporates, your skin is actually worse off. It’s left even more dehydrated than before, which means more cracked, flaky and irritated lips and more in need of balm.
The shininess of oil-based lip balms can also intensify sunlight’s effect on the skin of the lips and increase damage from UV rays.
What should I use for chapped lips?
When looking for products to use on your chapped lips, dermatologists recommend products that contain one or more of the following:
- Castor seed oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Mineral oil
- Shea butter
- Sun-protective ingredients, such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide
We’ve put together our list of lip balms for night time and indoor use and lip balms for outdoor use.
Lip balms for night time and indoor use
Being a thicker ointment with a host of the recommended ingredients, like petrolatum, mineral oil and ceramides, CeraVe Healing Ointment is the perfect choice for really dry, chapped lips, reviving and strengthening the skin’s natural barrier.
Old faithful is also the perfect remedy for dry, chapped lips. It’s made of 100 percent USP white petrolatum with no additives, flavours or fragrances. Vaseline is both moisturizing and protecting and perfect for sensitive skin.
This nourishing formula is enriched with colloidal oatmeal, shea butte and glycerin for soothing and smoothing that parched pout.
ChapStick Total Hydration Moisture + Tint Lip Balm is packed with coconut, argan, rosehip, and jojoba oils for a smooth and creamy application, while shea butter seals moisture into place and it comes in a bunch of different shades!
Lip Balms for outdoor use
Formulated with sugar, which is a natural humectant that delivers long-lasting moisture, it contains nourishing meadow foam and black currant seed oils to condition lips and it comes in 13 shades and two different finishes – satin and shimmer, with the added protection of SPF 15.
Just a note – dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 15, but 30 or higher is definitely better. If you’re planning to spend a day outside in the sun, you might want to opt for something that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and/or an SPF of 30 or higher.
Castor Seed Oil, Shea Butter and Petrolatum are among the recommended nourishing ingredients that will relieve dryness and soothe chapped, cracked lips while 30 SPF will protect your lips from damaging rays.
Helps prevent sunburn, chapped or cracked skin and lips, drying effects of wind and cold weather, and protects against damaging rays and it’s also water resistant.
Made with Nourishing vitamin E, shea butter, and jojoba, Sun Bum zinc-based mineral sunscreen lip balm blocks the sun’s rays, rather than just absorbing them.
Avoid lip balms claiming to be ‘medicated’ and read your labels.
Stay away from lip balms containing menthol, camphor, salicylic acid, and phenol. Lip balms containing scents and flavors of cinnamon, peppermint, citrus, mint, and eucalyptus, as well as shiny, oil-based lip balms should also be avoided.
These are all likely to produce that burning sensation when applied.
If you’re going out in the sun, don’t forget to use a balm with a high SPF!