Your lips are unlike any other skin on your body. For starters, they don’t produce the natural oils that keep the rest of your skin supple, and while the rest of your body has 15 to 16 protective layers, your mouth has only three to four, says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, PhD.
"Lips are primed to be chapped," says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Manhattan. "They are in daily contact with saliva that contains alpha-amylase, a digestive enzyme that can break down skin, and are always exposed to the elements, so lips take a beating from the sun, the cold weather, wind and heat." Translation: They're especially prone to dryness, flaking, chapping and cracking. But the good news is that a great lip balm can help.
That's why the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab tested 175 lip treatments from more than 70 brands: To find the best balms that help to replenish much-needed moisture and seal it in. "A lip balm should be designed to deliver a film of moisturizers onto the delicate skin of the lips," says Aral, with emollients to replenish lost moisture, and occlusives to prevent further moisture loss. "Look for balms or formulations containing petroleum or beeswax to seal in moisture," says Dr. Engelman, who recommends formulas with some combination of SPF 30 or greater, vitamin E, beeswax, hyaluronic acid and lanolin.
Hydrating, tinted, wallet-friendly — we've got 'em all on this list. These are the best lip balms of 2021, with picks sourced from extensive Lab testing, plus the pro picks our Beauty Lab experts reach for every single day:
- Softens lips
- Makes lips appear fuller
- Not sticky
It's a splurge, but this GH Beauty Lab test winner provides both softening and anti-aging benefits in one thanks to ingredients like peptides, antioxidants and hydrators. In Lab evaluations, the VenEffect lip treatment formula made lips look fuller after four weeks of use, and testers gave it high marks for its non-tacky feel and the fact that it soaked in quickly.
- Sheer tints
Though we haven't formally tested this pick in the Lab, it's a favorite amongst GH editors. "I wear this lip balm almost every day and since it's less than $3, I don't feel bad about keeping a different one in every purse I own," says one GH Institute editor. "I especially like that the color never looks too pigmented when I reapply throughout the day, something that I often worry about with other tinted lip balms." Don't love the red? It comes in five colors (and a totally sheer shade).
- Shine-free finish
- Hydrating occlusives and emollients
Lightly flavored with coconut and pear, this beeswax-and-shea- butter stick hydrates with coconut and sunflower oils, Aral says. Its shine-free finish means no goo or visible gloss. With over 44,000 five-star reviews, it's also the most popular lip balm on Amazon. Reviewers say, "Burt’s Bees seems to go on smoother" than other lip balms, "and I can definitely feel the soothing effect more."
- Clinically proven to heal skin
- Smooth, non-sticky formulation
- Multi-purpose balm
This Beauty Lab gold standard ointment is a cure-all healer for everything from diaper rash to cracked knuckles, so of course, it's a star on irritated, dry lips. Clinically proven to restore smooth, healthy skin, it locks in moisture and creates a healthy barrier on skin to lock out irritation on even severely chapped, peeling lips. Plus, unlike heavier petroleum jelly formulas, this balm contains panthenol and glycerin for a less sticky finish.
- Mineral SPF 15
- Tinted and colorless options
On top of containing vitamins C and E, this pick shields your delicate lip skin from the sun's harmful rays with SPF 15. Thanks to mineral sunscreen titanium dioxide, this broad-spectrum balm doesn’t have the foul taste that some chemical SPF products can. Plus, it’s laced with antioxidants, and it's also offered in six tinted formulas for a touch of color, or a colorless pick for none at all.
- K-Beauty favorite
- Overnight formula
This K-beauty cult classic hydrates and protects sore lips while you sleep thanks to hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like vitamin C. Apply a moisturizing layer at bedtime and you'll wake up with a flake-free pout. It has over 8,000 rave reviews on Sephora, with reviewers saying, "I always, always wake up to smooth moisturized lips this ... beat any other Chapsticks I’ve owned in the past."
- Balm hydration; gloss finish
- Hydrating formula plumps lips
A winner of our 2020 Beauty Awards, this lip oil looks like gloss but functions like a soothing balm. Colors range from nude to deep-berry, and a combo of six plant oils plumps lips. One tester noted the formula left "no stickiness," yet "lips felt hydrated, not parched.”
- Thick, healing ointment texture
- Scented and unscented options
The cult-favorite formula heals painful lips with powerhouse petrolatum along with vitamin E, aloe, and squalene, a plant-based lipid that's easily absorbed by the skin and helps restore its barrier for soft, healthy skin. The ointment-esque texture on this balm gives some shine, but zero flavor and scent. If you do prefer some scent on your lip product, it also comes in mint, mango, and cranberry.
- Tinted yet hydrating formula
- Easy-to-apply crayon
While tinted balms can be too transparent and lipsticks can be too drying, Beauty Lab testers found this glossy lip balm to be both moisturizing and colorful. Amazon reviewers give it an average 4.6 stars, praising its "fresh peppermint feeling" and moisturizing finish. "The color is good and [it] does not dry out my lips as so many others do," says one reviewer.
- Smooths lip wrinkles
- Colorless and tinted options
This balm was named a winner in Good Housekeeping's Anti-Aging Awards for its soothing, softening formula. A combo of line-plumping hyaluronic acid and nourishing jojoba and grapeseed oils helped to visibly smooth lines on testers' lips after four weeks. It comes in both colorless and sheer pink formulas.
- Hydrating ingredients soften lips overnight
- GH Beauty Award-winner
A winner of our 2018 Beauty Awards, this overnight balm packs skin-healthy ceramides, jojoba seed oil, and castor oil to nourish dry lips as you sleep. One tester even found that her cracked lips improved over a few nights' time.
- Made of natural lanolin
- Extremely hydrating and effective
"Lano’s 101 Ointment is one of my favorites," says Dr. Engelman. "It works for so many different skin care concerns – from dry, chapped lips and cuticles to burns, eczema, and beyond." The dense balm is all natural, made with just two ingredients: Lanolin and lanolin oil, which mimic your skin's own oils. The brand claims that "this balm holds 200% of its weight in moisture," and Dr. Engelman swears "it really is a wonder ingredient for hydration and healing alike." We haven't tested it in the Lab, but it's an editor favorite.
- Multipurpose balm
- Uncomplicated ingredients
When it comes to balm, basic can be better. With just three ingredients — shea butter, petrolatum, and vitamin E — Vaseline's balm is a simple treatment for your parched, chapped lips that will hydrate without stickiness. It also comes in a slew of scents and flavors, from rose to soothing aloe to hydrating cocoa butter.
- Formulated with hydrocortisone
- Calms lips quickly
Formulated with 1% hydrocortisone, this lip balm doesn't just make lips feel better — it actually calms inflammation and irritation for noticeable results in just a few uses. It's made with just a few ingredients (beeswax, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and hydrocortisone) to soothe angry chapped lips and prevent future moisture loss.
- Thick stick for all-over hydrating
- Cocoa butter formula smells great
GH Beauty Director April Franzino recommends this do-it-all stick because of the cocoa butter and vitamin E-infused formula that heals cracked lips quickly. Made with hydrating cocoa butter (Palmer's star ingredient), the chubby swivel stick goes beyond soothing dry lips: It's also ideal for on-the-go moisturization for dry patches face and body, from cracked cuticles to eczema on the face and beyond.
- Subtle rose scent
- Convenient tin packaging
This tiny tin packs a big punch when it comes to fixing peeling lips, promising to heal skin with petrolatum and cotton seed oil. It may look pink in the tin, but it goes on clear, and is suitable for skin irritation, cracked cuticles, and flaking lips. First formulated in 1892, its long-standing reputation has made it a cult fave: It's racked up more than 4,000 reviews on Amazon. "Doesn't feel greasy or heavy and absorbs well, especially in dry weather," says one reviewer. "It has a slight floral scent that I’m addicted to," raves another.
- Stick formula is less messy than ointment
- GH Beauty Award-winner
A winner of GH's 2020 Beauty Awards, the stick version of the cult-favorite healing salve packs even more hydration specially formulated for lips, including shea, vitamins B5 and E, and sunflower seed wax. “My lips felt soothed instantly and through the day,” a tester said, for soft lips with no stickiness.
- OTC product with petrolatum
- Beauty Lab pro favorite
"I swear by this when my lips are severely chapped," says Beauty Lab chemist Danusia Wnek. "This thick, healing OTC ointment contains petrolatum to soothe chapped flaky lips." The occlusive locks in moisture for fast healing on even the driest lips.
- Nourishing balm formula
- GH Beauty Lab pro favorite
"This rich lip butter from French brand Nuxe has become a cult favorite and is one of mine, too," says Beauty Director, April Franzino. "It’s packed with nourishing ingredients like shea butter and plant oils like sweet almond and really works to heal dry lips. Plus, the lightly sweet honey scent is delicious!"
- Hydrating plant oils
- Biodegradable packaging
A winner of GH's 2020 Sustainable Innovation Awards, this organic balm is hydrating, thanks to a powerhouse combo of coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, and vitamin E oil (and flavored with real fruit!). Testers said the balm effectively moisturized lips and they loved its natural sheen. Earth-friendly bonus: Its unbleached cardboard packaging is entirely compostable.
- Gently scented
- GH Beauty Lab pro favorite
A favorite of Beauty Lab senior chemist Sabina Wizemann, this stick "glides on effortlessly, feels luxurious, and keeps lips hydrated for a long time with just one stroke. The floral scent is gentle, and the balm is not tinted, making it great for anytime use."