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How to Choose a Good Lip Balm

Choose a Lip Balm Free of Pore-clogging Ingredients

By: Dan Kern, Acne.org Founder & CSO
Last updated: October 09, 2020

The Essential Information

If you are acne-prone, the best approach for choosing a lip balm is to look at the ingredients. Steer clear of any products that contain pore-clogging ingredients. Also avoid fragranced or flavored lip balms, which may cause skin irritation or allergies in some people.

The Science

Lip balm, also known as lip salve, is an over-the-counter drug product that is applied to the lips to provide a protective layer on the lips in order to prevent or relieve mild conditions such as:

  • Dry, chapped, and/or peeling lips
  • Angular cheilitis (redness, chapping, and cracks in the corners of the mouth)
  • Stomatitis (inflammation of the lips and mouth)1

This is especially important in cold, dry, and/or windy weather.

While the lips themselves do not develop acne, lip balm can easily migrate to the skin around the mouth, where it might potentially trigger acne. Therefore, it is important to select lip balm that is safe for acne-prone skin. To find a lip balm that will not contribute to acne around the mouth, follow these guidelines:

Guidelines for Choosing a Lip Balm for Acne-prone Skin

What to Look for When Choosing a Lip Balm

  1. Avoid pore-clogging ingredients: Before buying lip balm, take a look at the list of ingredients. Avoid lip balms containing comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. Examples of comedogenic ingredients commonly found in lip balms include coconut oil, cocoa butter, and isopropyl myristate. The table below provides a complete list of common comedogenic ingredients.
  2. Avoid fragranced lip balms: Some lip balms contain added fragrances, which may cause skin irritation and/or allergies in some people. We know that irritation can aggravate acne, so the best strategy is to choose a fragrance-free lip balm.
  3. Avoid flavored lip balms: Many lip balms contain strong flavors. While some flavors are benign, others can be irritating, particularly mint or menthol flavors. To be safe, choose a lip balm without flavoring added.
  4. Sunscreen in your lip balm is a added bonus: Just like skin on other parts of the body, the skin on the lips can burn in the sun. If your lip balm comes with an SPF (sun protection factor) label, which means it provides some protection from the sun's rays, that is a plus.
  5. Do not worry about finding a lip balm made specifically for acne: Some lip balms made for acne-prone skin may contain salicylic acid, which is a somewhat effective anti-acne ingredient. However, the amount of salicylic acid that can actually reach acne-prone skin from lip balm is negligible. Do not worry about trying to find a lip balm with salicylic acid.

List of Common Comedogenic Ingredients

Many research studies have looked at how likely various ingredients are to cause comedones (clogged pores).2 Based on a thorough review of these studies, we have compiled two lists:

  1. Definitely avoid: These are ingredients that people with acne-prone skin should definitely avoid, because a substantial amount of evidence shows that they are comedogenic.
  2. Consider avoiding: These are ingredients that people with acne-prone skin may want to consider avoiding, because some evidence suggests that they might be comedogenic.

Ingredients That May Clog Pores

Tips for Using Lip Balm on Acne-prone Skin

It is always a good idea to avoid irritating the skin when applying or removing lip balm, as physical irritation of the skin can make acne worse. Practicing good hygiene is also important. Keep these tips in mind when using lip balm:

Tips for Using Lip Balm on Acne-prone Skin

  1. Apply lip balm only on the lips: If your lip balm comes in contact with the perioral skin (skin around the mouth), it might potentially trigger acne in this area. To avoid this, apply lip balm only on the lips, and be careful not to apply it beyond the lip line.
  2. Remove lip balm gently: Most people simply leave lip balm on, and that is usually the best way to avoid irritation when removing it. However, if you want to remove your lip balm, you can easily remove it by using cotton pads or tissues wetted with jojoba oil and/or makeup removers. Use gentle pressure and avoid rubbing so as not to irritate the skin around the mouth.
  3. Do not share your lip balm: Sharing your lip balm increased your likelihood of getting a skin infection.
  4. Do not use expired lip balm: Lip balm that is past its expiration date can start to break down or allow the growth of bacteria and mold. Never use expired lip balm.

Lip Balm Ingredients: The Full Scoop


The lips are particularly vulnerable to drying out because, compared to skin in other areas, the skin on the lips is 33 to 50% thinner and lacks sebaceous (skin oil) glands. This means that the lips cannot produce their own oils to help the lips retain moisture and prevent them from drying out. This is why some people choose to apply lip balm, which supplies a protective layer that helps the lips stay moisturized.

Types of lip balm

There are two main types of lip balm on the market:

- Soft lip balm

- Solid lip balm

Lip balm ingredients

The two main types of ingredients in any lip balm are: (1) waxes and (2) oils.3 In addition to these main ingredients, manufacturers may include various optional ingredients to add scent, color, flavor, and/or other properties to the lip balm.

Some of these ingredients may be comedogenic.

Dermatologic Clinics

According to an article published in 2000 in the journal Dermatologic Clinics, "Some [lip balm] ingredients could raise concerns about comedogenicity and exacerbating…comedones [around the mouth] in patients with acne."1

Before buying any lip balm, check the list of ingredients and verify that none of them appear in the list of comedogenic ingredients at the beginning of this article.

Waxes

Waxes are non-comedogenic, which means they are safe for acne-prone skin.

Waxes are the #1 ingredient in lip balms. The purpose of waxes in lip balm is to provide solidity and contribute to forming a protective layer on the lips, which prevents the lips from drying out.

There are three main types of waxes in lip balms:

1. Mineral waxes: These waxes come from coal, shale, or petroleum and include ozocerite, paraffin, ceresin, and microcrystalline petroleum. While mineral waxes are relatively inexpensive and good for providing solidity, their texture does not match the lipids (waxes and oils) naturally found on the skin.

2. Vegetable waxes: These waxes come from plants and include jojoba wax, sugarcane wax, candelilla wax, and carnauba wax. The texture of these waxes is closer to the lipids naturally found on the skin because these waxes come from living things.

3. Animal waxes: These waxes come from animals and include spermaceti, beeswax, and lanolin. The texture of these waxes is closer to the lipids naturally found on the skin because these waxes come from living things.3

The amount of wax in any given lip balm can vary from 5% to 80%. Solid lip balms contain more wax than soft lip balms. The extra wax in solid lip balms helps them to avoid crumbling and to maintain stick form.3

Oils

Since some oils in lip balm are comedogenic, it is essential to look at the ingredients of your lip balm and make sure none of them appear in the list of comedogenic ingredients at the beginning of this article.

Oils in lip balms soften and moisturize the lips.

There are two main types of oils in lip balm:3

1. Volatile oils: These types of oils evaporate easily. They include:

a. Silicone-based oils: These are non-comedogenic and include hexamethyldisiloxane, octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane, and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane.

b. Volatile hydrocarbons: These are also non-comedogenic and include hexane, heptane, decane, and tetradecane.

2. Non-volatile oils: These types of oils do not evaporate. They include:

a. Synthetic oils: These oils are made in a laboratory, and some of them are comedogenic. Synthetic oils in lip balm include cetyl octanoate, isohexyl neopentoate, and myristyl myristate.

b. Vegetable oils: These oils come from vegetable sources, and some of them are comedogenic. Vegetable oils in lip balm include cocoa butter, lanolin oil, coconut oil, and sunflower seed oil.

c. Animal oils: These oils come from animal sources, and some of them are comedogenic. Examples include shark liver oil or mink oil.

Additional ingredients in lip balm

Some pigments can be comedogenic. In addition, some flavorants and fragrances may irritate the skin. Since irritation can worsen acne, this may be a cause for concern.

Besides the two main ingredients, lip balm may also contain:4

- Mild analgesics (pain relievers): To relieve itch or soreness, manufacturers may add mild pain relievers like camphor and menthol.

- Vitamins and antioxidants: To promote lip health, manufacturers may include vitamins and antioxidants such as tocopherol acetate and green tea extract.

- Sunscreens: To protect the lips from sunburn, manufacturers may put in sunscreen ingredients such as titanium dioxide or octinoxate.

- Pigments: To add color to the lips, manufacturers may add pigments such as various D&C or FD&C dyes.

- Flavorants: To add a pleasant flavor, manufacturers may include natural flavors.

- Fragrances: To add a pleasant scent, manufacturers may include various fragrances. It is best to opt for scent-free products if possible, as fragrances these may cause skin irritation or allergies in some people.

Lip Balm Ingredients

Lip balm is needed more during winter months.

References:

  1. Engasser, P. G., Lip Cosmetics, Dermatologic Clinics, 18(4), 641-649, (2000). https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/dermatologic-clinics/vol/18/issue/4
  2. Katoulis A. C., Kakepis E. M., Kintziou H., Kakepis M. E. & Stavrianeas N. G., Comedogenicity of cosmetics: a review, Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 7, 115-119 (1996). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-3083.1996.tb00606.x
  3. Callelo, J. F., Opel, J. E., Ordino, R. J., Sandevicz, R. W. & Jose, N. R., Method for treating chapped lips, United States Patent, No 6,086,859. Date: July 11, 2000. https://patents.google.com/patent/WO1999009936A1/en
  4. Magee, S. V., Bachert, J. O., Partridge, N. & Dickerson, J. R., Botanical butter stick balm, United States Patent, No 7,695,727. Date: April 13, 2010. https://patents.google.com/patent/US7695727

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