When the weather turns cold, lip balms seem to materialize everywhere: nightstands, desks, pockets, purses, center consoles, antique lockets and rings. Despite the products’ ubiquity in the fall and winter, most of us aren’t devoted to a favorite type of lip balm. Whatever’s closest to the drugstore checkout is what ends up on our lips. Unfortunately, that sparkly Dr Pepper–flavored salve really isn’t the best lip balm we can use.
But before we figure out which lip balm is the best, it helps to know why we need one at all—why are our lips are so prone to chapping?
"Lips don't have oil glands and the skin is very thin, so they are already more susceptible to drying than other parts of the skin."
– Dr. Sejal K. Shah, dermatologist
“In fact, the skin of the lips has been shown to have poorer barrier function and higher water loss than skin in other areas. Furthermore, exposure to the elements (wind, cold, UV radiation) and potential irritants [including saliva] contributes to dryness.”
According to Dr. Shah, of Smarter Skin Dermatology in New York City, good lip balms include ingredients that moisturize, soften, and help retain water, like petrolatum, dimethicone, beeswax, and glycerin. With that in mind, we decided to conduct an experiment: five Groupon employees—pulled from editors and experts on our Beauty team—tested four popular types of lip balm by using each exclusively for four consecutive days.
So which came out on top as the best lip balm? Our test subjects certainly had strong opinions, which we excerpted for each product and summed up in the table below:
ChapStick Classic Original
Notable ingredients: white petrolatum, carnauba wax, lanolin, paraffin
“I had a flaky pout when I started using this, and in addition to preventing chapped lips, it seemed to actively heal them, too. In just two days, it stitched up the cracks in my skin, and left it pretty smooth.” – Rebecca L.
“It was pretty long-lasting. I put it on before work, then randomly rubbed my lips together at, like, 11:30, and traces remained! Even though I had drunk a venti coffee. I was impressed.” – Mae R.
“It’s super easy to stash in your pocket and go about your day. I may have created a dependency, I went from not using [lip balm] at all to feeling like I needed some three times a day. ... [It] is a no-fuss classic that gets the job done.” – Katie A.
“It has this weird medicated smell.” – Shannon J.
“I experimented with wearing [it] underneath my lip gloss. It did not feel heavy or sticky. It was nice, smooth, and enhanced my lip-gloss wear through longer-lasting glossy moisture.” – Katrina T.
Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
Notable ingredients: beeswax, coconut oil, sunflower-seed oil, peppermint oil, lanolin
“When I put it on, my lips immediately felt all tingly. I know that just means the balm contains spearmint or the like, but it is the single factor that makes me think a lip balm is working.” – Shannon J.
“I’ve always enjoyed the refreshing peppermint smell. … But that’s about all I give Burt’s Bees an A+ in. After a day and a half of using [this balm], I stopped. I felt like I was constantly—and I mean constantly—applying. My lips started to feel drier and drier. It felt like I couldn’t get enough moisture. Personally, I think it was causing me chapped lips. It even made me wonder if this was some sort of sneaky marketing ploy.” – Katrina T.
“I think the peppermint tingle creates an illusion that the lip balm is [penetrating] deeper. … Toward the end of this trial period I began to feel like my lips were dependent on [it] and were more susceptible to dryness if I didn’t have the stick readily available.” – Katie A.
“One thing I noticed is that it’s not shiny—sometimes, I sort of lazily use chapstick as a lipstick replacement, but this was really not about that.” – Mae R.
“My lips became more chapped while we were using this. I'm not ready to assign 100% of the blame to Burt, though. I think it's partly due to the fact that I used this balm less frequently than I used the others, due to its annoying stickiness. The mint may have irritated my lips, too, however.” – Rebecca L.
Smith’s Rosebud Salve
Notable ingredients: white petrolatum, cottonseed oil, essential oils, botanicals
“It feels wonderful with my initial application and quickly became my favorite! It’s super smooth—the smoothest lip product I have ever applied. It’s glossy, rosy, and smells pleasant, too. … I rarely applied my normal lip glosses because I was satisfied with the color it provides.” – Katrina T.
“If you use it consistently it really softens your lips. … The packaging is a really cute vintage tin—but as cute as the tin is, I prefer a tube. I’ve had tins dent and it makes them very hard to open. Additionally I like to avoid dunking my finger into a tin of salve. The only other negative is the greasy smear it leaves behind on your drinkware.” – Katie A.
“I’ve used it on my cuticles before. It works (as the tin says, it is for ‘all-purpose skin preparation’) but it makes them shiny, which is kind of weird.” – Mae R.
“The rose scent made me feel like a classy, grownup lady. I found myself really mining this psychological benefit, slathering it on my lips, my cuticles, and my hands all day long. … The fact that it's a tin, rather than a tube, gave me some hygiene concerns. If I've just grabbed a subway pole or shaken hands with someone, I don't necessarily want to immediately dip my hands into a tin.” – Rebecca L.
Nivea Lip Butter Smooth Kiss
Notable ingredients: petrolatum, shea butter, castor-seed oil, sweet-almond oil
“In general, I am a big fan of this, although I feel like I have to really dig into the lip balm to get how much I want. Update: I dug in and things got gooey. Is it weird that I liked this lip balm more before the added gooeyness?” – Shannon J.
“Compared to the Rosebud tin, the Nivea product is a little more difficult to get the product to build up on your finger to apply. … I didn’t feel like I had to over-apply, and it did a successful job and keeping my lips hydrated and preventing chapped lips!” – Katrina T.
“It feels like butter going on. Seriously. No taste, as far as I could tell. ... Honestly, the sell here is all the feeling—it makes your skin feel like silk. I would put this all over my body if I could. Dear God.” – Mae R.
“I really like the consistency. It’s not as goopy as the Rosebud Salve and not as waxy as ChapStick. I can tell that a main ingredient is shea butter, it really smooths and softens. … I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on my face if I happened to have a dry patch.” – Katie A.
“Welp, I've found my holy grail. This is it. ... It's definitely preventing chapped lips, and it stays on for a long time. I get chapped lips easily—if I so much as look at a picture of a snowflake, boom, my lips crack into a million pieces—but this balm seems to have made my lips ultra-smooth and somehow strong. I think I could even stop using it for a few days and they'd remain smooth and healthy. … I think you've made a lifelong Nivea Lip Butter customer out of me. This is the best balm I've ever tried.” – Rebecca L.
Rankings and Final Thoughts
The smile of someone who hasn't been dealing with peeling lips in subzero temperatures.
Here are the rankings for the best lip balm:
Tie between Nivea Lip Butter and Smith’s Rosebud Salve
ChapStick Classic Original
Testers who had used Burt’s Bees in the past were surprised at its comparative ineffectiveness. Dr. Shah has a thoughtful reason: “This is likely due to some ingredients in some lip balms that may act as irritants. These ingredients cause skin irritation and inflammation leading to dryness.” Additives that cool, soothe, or numb on contact may end up drying lips in the long run.
Even with regular application of the best lip balm, though, our lips still might not be in tiptop shape, especially if they’re constantly exposed to cold, dry air. For next-level skincare, Dr. Shah recommends gently exfoliating with a toothbrush and applying a thick moisturizer, such as petroleum jelly, at night. Sleeping with a humidifier might help, too.