Skin-Care Tips

Wait—Does Lip Balm Expire? Here’s What You Need to Know Before Digging an Old One Out of Your Purse This Winter

Photo: Stocksy / Lucas Ottone
We all have that one lip balm that's been with us through thick and thin. Whether it lives at the bottom of your junk drawer, bounces from purse to purse, or has taken up residence in your glove compartment, it's been with you for years. "My oldest one is probably three years old," says Ivy Lee, MD,  a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California—and, well, same. But if you've ever wondered "does lip balm expire?," the answer is "technically, yes."

On paper, lip balm is only good for one to two years. But depending on the type and how you use it, you may not need to be too strict.

"Lip balms are a little more shelf stable and more forgiving than other cosmetics," says Dr. Lee. This is especially true for plain and simple formulas. "The ones that are the simplest and based in petrolatum tend to be pretty stable." When you introduce ingredients like menthol or essential oils (which, it's worth noting, should be avoided anyway because they tend to be drying) the product will degrade faster. "The more complicated the ingredient list, the more likely you can have something that can degrade in terms of its stability."

And if you're using lip balm with SPF, stick to the listed expiration date so you know you're still getting sun protection. Plus, "sometimes lip balms with sunscreen separate. Then you know to toss it out because it's no longer giving you the sun protective benefits, and even the moisturizing benefits may be lost at that point," says Dr. Lee.

Regardless of the formulation, how you use your lip balm can determine how long it lasts. "The way that it's supposed to be used is you apply it to the body of your lip," says Dr. Lee. "And in that case, oftentimes it only touches the outside of your lips, so the colored version of our lip, the vermilion lip. And that probably minimizes the risk or the messiness of infection regarding lip balms."

But if your lip balm often makes its way into your mouth, ("I've seen people who take a little nibble of their lip balm," says Dr. Lee) you've got to be more vigilant about throwing it out regularly. The same is true if you're applying it over broken or infected skin. "Some people get lip-licking dermatitis or sometimes they get a little yeast infection on the corners of their mouth. And that's where you can see broken skin. And when you put lip balm over that, that's where you need to be a little more adherent to the expiration date," says Dr. Lee.

Plus, lip balms that come in sticks last longer than ones that come in pots. "Lip balm that comes in that little stick where you're actually twisting it to bring out the lip balm, that's a lot cleaner and less likely to be colonized by bacteria than if you have one of those little pots where you're putting your finger in and then applying it on your lip," says Dr. Lee.

This is a lot of information to remember, so the best thing you can do? Give that senior lip balm a look-and-sniff test. "If it smells funky, toss it out. Does it look like it's normal consistency? And a lot of those can Your lip balm won't last forever, so keep the above nuggets in mind to make sure you're keeping things clean and safe. "Overall, I've had lip balms for a long period of time," says Dr. Lee, "and I'm not as concerned about expiration dates regarding lip balms if they're used in the standard way."

One of Dr. Lee's go-to long-lasting lip balm is the Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment ($5)—which is so good, you'll wind up using the whole tube long before it expires.

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