I have officially taken to referring to winter as chapped lips season, because my dry, painful lips seem to supersede any thoughts of joy I could possibly have during the cold months. But the good news? There are a seemingly endless number of products on the market that specifically help you deal with chapped lips. On the other hand… with that many options out there—from balms to masks to oils—it can be hard to figure out exactly which one you’re supposed to be swiping on. So, we tapped Dr. Lily Talakoub of McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center to help us navigate the vast world of lip hydration.
First up: Understanding the differences between balms, oils, and masks—AKA the three main product categories that derms recommend for dealing with a chapped pout. “They all generally treat dry, dehydrated lips,” she explains. “A lip balm contains waxes that prevent moisture from evaporating from the top layer of the lip; an oil simply hydrates the lip but doesn’t prevent the loss of moisture; and a lip mask usually just replenishes the lip with hydration, but doesn’t seal in any moisture.” A-ha.
Here, Dr. Talakoub breaks down when exactly to reach for each:
Lip balm: While a lip balm may be the most common go-to when your pout is feeling flaky (I currently have 17 of them on my desk), Dr. Talakoub notes that they can be tricky if you’re super dry. “The waxes in the balms help moisturize, but when it wears off, people [can begin to] feel like they’re addicted to them and need to use more. They then develop a habit where they find that they can’t go without it,” she says. If you’re going to use a balm, look for products with occlusive ingredients like beeswax or shea butter, and be sure to avoid fragrances, dyes, lanolin (which can be irritating to those with sensitive skin), and flavors, all of which can aggravate your lips. And instead of reapplying every hour on the hour, try to limit yourself to one or two swipes a day, max. One of my personal faves? Akar Skin Natural Pure Lip Restoration Lip Butter ($30).
Lip oil: Oils may not lock in moisture the way that balms do, but they also don’t give you the sensation of being “addicted to the product,” as Dr. Talakoub puts it—yet they hydrate you just the same. If you opt for an oil, she suggests sunflower, jojoba, coconut, and argan, but advises that you stay away from anything with a fragrance or cinnamon, which can all be drying. Your best bet for full-day hydration is to apply an oil, like Yes To Coconut Cooling Lip Oil ($5), two to three times throughout the day. For even more moisture, dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD suggests applying a balm on top of that to lock everything in.
Lip mask: Similar to the rest of your skin, your lips can benefit from masking, too. “[Use a] mask if there is extreme dryness that needs a little extra love,” says Dr. Gohara. Dr. Talakoub suggests treating your lips to this extra TLC once a week for 20-30 minutes after cleansing and drying your face. She likes hyaluronic acid for some added hydration, plus shea butter for its nourishing properties. Her personal favorite mask? Walmart’s Gold Collagen Lip Mask ($11).
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