Lip Moisturizers 101

Close-Up of a Woman Applying Lip Balm
Lips can be sensitive and chap easily if they are not properly protected.
Digital Vision/Getty Images

Your lips are a small but important part of your body. They help you eat, talk and communicate your feelings through your expressions. But they don't have as much natural protection as other parts of your skin do. It's no wonder, then, that so many products are targeted at keeping your lips moisturized and protecting them from the harsh conditions in your environment -- cold winds, dry weather and damaging sunlight.

With what seems like an endless array of ingredients and promises about what they will do to make your lips soft and beautiful, searching for the right lip care products can lead you on a trial-and-error mission to find one that will actually work. This challenge is made even more complicated by the fact that a lip balm's taste and scent are often as important as its effectiveness.


However, moisturizing lips is an important part of caring for your skin. Lips shouldn't crack when you smile or have a dull, dry appearance. That's where lip moisturizers come in. They add back necessary moisture to replace any natural oils that have been lost, and they should provide a protective layer to seal in the hydration and keep your lips from drying out again.

Keep reading to learn about the various types of moisturizers on the market and how to select the one that's right for you.


Types of Lip Moisturizers

So you need a lip product that will relieve your dry, chapped lips. However, once you're at the store, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the wide variety of products, such as moisturizing glosses, moisturizing lipsticks, medicated lip balms, natural and organic lip balms, balms with fruity flavors and essential oils, and so on.

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want a lip moisturizer that also contains a little color. If so, you will be looking for lip glosses and lipsticks that have moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin. Steer clear of matte or long-lasting lipsticks, as these can be drying and make your lips look even worse [source: Begoun].


If you're not looking to add any color to your lips, you might turn your search to lip balms. Effective moisturizers contain emollients, which are ingredients that hydrate and soften skin. Some lip balms might also contain humectants -- ingredients that help skin hold more moisture. One of the most common emollients found in lip balms is petrolatum, a hydrocarbon mixture that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for cosmetic use. Other emollients such as beeswax, cocoa butter and almond oil are popular ingredients in lip balms advertised as organic or natural [source: Duffill]. But if your skin tends to be oily or easily irritated, you might look for those that contain glycerin or water-based emollients.

In addition to deciding what kind of ingredients you want your lip moisturizer to contain, you also need to consider whether to use a product that contains a fragrance. So many lip balms and glosses are formulated with specific flavors or scents, but if you are concerned mainly with moisturizing your lips, then less fragrance is better. Many fragrances, including popular ones such as peppermint and camphor, can cause skin irritation or drying [source: Begoun].

With so much to consider in selecting a moisturizer, you might be wondering whether such a product is even necessary. Surely you could make it through a dry winter just by licking your lips to keep them hydrated? Keep reading to find out why this isn't such a good idea and why a proper lip moisturizer is important for your lip health.


Importance of Lip Moisturizers

At this point, you might be asking yourself whether you really need a lip moisturizer at all. The answer to that question has to do with the unique nature of lips. For one thing, the skin on your lips is very thin. The blood supply is very close to the surface, which is why lips appear pink or red. In addition, your lips don't contain any oil glands, so they don't produce any natural oils like the rest of your skin does [source: Begoun]. As a result, lips tend to become dehydrated and chapped more quickly than the rest of your skin would.

To make matters worse, you might think you're adding moisture when you lick your dry lips, but the relief is only temporary. Once the saliva dries, it takes with it any natural moisture on your lips, leaving them even drier than before -- so the more you lick your lips, the drier they become [source: Gibson]. An effective lip moisturizer needs to do what sebum, your skin's natural oil, does for the rest of your skin: Keep moisture in and protect lips from any drying environmental conditions.


In addition to these natural causes and your environment, dehydrated lips can also be caused by certain medications. For example, the acne medication isotretinoin is known for being particularly drying, so lip moisturizers can help counter that side effect [source: Begoun].

Choosing a lip moisturizer is an important decision and worth a little effort to help keep your smile soft and supple. For more information on lip care, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Begoun, Paula. "Dry, Chapped Lips -- Not a Pretty Picture." Paula's Choice. (Accessed Oct. 8, 2009)
  • Blistex. "Are Lip Balms Addictive?" (Accessed Oct. 8, 2009)
  • Duffill, Mark. "Emollients and Moisturizers." New Zealand Dermatological Society. Sept. 3, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 8, 2009)
  • Feldmeier, Julia. "Hot-To Get Over Your Lip Balm Addiction." The Washington Post. Dec. 14, 2008. (Accessed Nov. 10, 2009)
  • Gibson, Lawrence E. "Chapped Lips: What's the best remedy?" Mayo Clinic. Oct. 4, 2008. (Accessed Oct. 20, 2009)
  • MedlinePlus. "Lip Moisturizer Poisoning." National Institutes of Health (NIH). July 17, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 8, 2009)
  • Weil, Andrew, MD. "Chapped Lips." Prevention Magazine. Nov. 11, 2008. (Accessed Oct. 20, 2009)