As tragedies go, being caught without lip balm doesn’t rank highly—but if you’ve ever faced a whole day with chapped and peeling lips, it’s still a nightmare. A good lip balm keeps your lips moisturized, but beyond that, smell, application, and texture are all a matter of personal preference. We tested 22 different lip balms and found six hydrating options, in a variety of formulas and prices, that we love.
- A tropical-smelling lip balm for daily use: Supergoop! Play Lip Balm SPF 30 with Acai
- A luscious but pricey tinted lip balm in a dozen colors: Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen SPF 15
- An affordable lip balm with a cool tingle: Blistex Medicated Lip Balm SPF 15
- A moisturizing lip balm with style: Glossier Balm Dotcom
- A salve for dry lips (and irritated skin): Lucas’ Papaw Ointment
- An affordable, long-lasting classic: Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
- Can you get addicted to lip balm?
- How we picked and tested
- The competition
A tropical-smelling lip balm for daily use: Supergoop! Play Lip Balm SPF 30 with Acai
How it feels: Smooth and medium-thick, this gel balm absorbs into lips quickly instead of coating them but still leaves a subtle sheen.
The Supergoop! Play Lip Balm SPF 30 with Acai is one of our favorite squeeze-tube lip balms because it feels good to apply straight from the tube and our panelists thought the smooth gel formula smelled great. (If you’re not sure what “acai” smells like, think tropical berries.) “It has a really nice scent, a good, thick consistency, [and] a nice sheen, and its applicator feels both fancy and user-friendly,” said one of our testers. You apply the gel from a slanted plastic applicator that fits lips comfortably and looks more elegant than the tubes with screw-on lids that we tested. (Looking at you, Glossier.)
The Supergoop! balm has a medium-thick viscosity that feels pleasantly moisturizing on lips—in our tests it lasted around four hours before we needed to reapply. Although some SPF balms we tried, like the Aquaphor Lip Protectant + Sunscreen, have a strong sunscreen odor, the Supergoop! Play SPF 30 has an enjoyable berry scent. Its screw-on cap is bright yellow, which we found useful when you’re trying to spot the lip balm at the bottom of your handbag.
The lip balm costs a reasonable $10 for 0.5 ounces, around average for the balms we recommend. The Supergoop! Play is also available in Mint, though we didn’t test it; this one is untinted, so it’s a good choice if you’re more concerned about hydration than aesthetics.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: There is no unscented version of the Supergoop! Play, so don’t buy it if you’re looking for a neutral-smelling balm. The squeeze tube poses some dangers, too, particularly the possibility of bursting if you happen to sit on it while it’s in your pocket. (Editor Tim Barribeau can speak to this experience.)
Active sunscreen ingredients: avobenzone (3%), homosalate (10%), octisalate (5%), and octocrylene (10%)
A luscious but pricey tinted lip balm in a dozen colors: Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen SPF 15
How it feels: A firm wax instead of a gel, this smooth, slightly matte formula sits on top of lips but goes on so thin and light you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it.
We love Fresh’s Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen (which we tested in Untinted and Rosé) because the velvety formula feels soft on your lips and is accompanied by a light and pleasant scent. It’s also available in a variety of hues, if you want to add a small touch of color. Testers were wowed by the chic packaging that makes it feel as much like date-night lipstick as an everyday lip balm.
The Fresh feels smooth to apply and quickly settles lightly on the surface of your lips. It’s long-lasting, too—I didn’t need to reapply for about five hours. Unlike some other stick balms we tested, which have either an in-your-face scent (our Blistex and Burt’s Bees picks) or none at all (the ChapStick Lip Moisturizer), the Fresh balms walk a fine line of pleasant but not overwhelming. The Untinted smells faintly like vanilla and lemon and gives lips a light shimmer, while the Rosé smells like roses and leaves a subtle shade of pink. Our panelists loved its flush of color.
While many of the lip balms we recommend, including the Supergoop! and the Glossier, come in squeeze tubes, the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen comes in a lipstick-style hard-shelled tube. This stands out from other solid lip balms we like, such as the Blistex and the Burt’s Bees, both of which have small plastic caps rather than a full-length sleeve. If you’re strongly invested in the aesthetics of your beauty products, the Fresh is by far the best-looking balm we tested, which helps make this everyday item feel a little fancier—a small token of self-luxury. Other lip balms work just as well for less money but look less stylish, too.
It costs around $20 for 0.15 ounces, much pricier than our other picks for notably less product. We love that Fresh makes this balm in 14 other colors, though we tested only the Untinted and the Rosé.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Sunscreen costs a lot for its small size—about 2.5 times as expensive as the Supergoop! Play for about one-third the volume. (One tube of the Fresh contains 0.15 ounces versus the Supergoop!’s 0.5 ounces.) That said, panelists loved its luxe feel and look.
Shaped like a tube of lipstick, the Fresh is also larger than most other lip balms we recommend. It fits easily in a clutch or a bag, but it might be tricky to slide into the pockets on a pair of tight jeans.
Active sunscreen ingredient: octinoxate (6.74%)
An affordable lip balm with a cool tingle: Blistex Medicated Lip Balm SPF 15
How it feels: Waxy and softly matte, with a strong menthol tingle—but once the rush passes, it feels pleasantly thin to wear.
If you’re looking for an affordable SPF lip balm that you can pick up at your local corner store, try a tube of Blistex Medicated Lip Balm (sometimes it’s available only in a pack of three). When applied it zaps your lips with menthol, which is cooling and invigorating for some but may be too powerful for others. It’s one of the cheapest products we tested—less than a dollar per tube when you buy a multipack—so it’s affordable enough to keep one handy in every room of the house.
The waxy balm spreads thinly across lips, and we found it’s best to reapply every two hours (which Blistex also recommends). As the “medicated” in its name suggests, and due to its mixture of camphor and menthol, the Blistex smells reminiscent of a recently mopped hallway in an empty, unspoiled hospital wing. This may sound negative, but I assure you, it’s comforting. The formula is matte rather than glossy, so it should blend in seamlessly with your natural lip color.
For around $3, a package of Blistex contains three tubes of 0.15 ounces each. It’s a traditional-looking stick packaged in a short, hard tube with a small cap. Style isn’t its strong suit—Blistex is certainly not a fashion statement—but it’s small and sturdy enough to store anywhere, from your desk drawer to the bottom of your bag. Unlike with the Supergoop!, or any other squeeze-tube balm we tested, we aren’t at all worried about the Blistex exploding.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The intensity of Blistex’s cooling sensation is not for everyone. If you have particularly sensitive lips, you may experience irritation from something so strongly medicated, in which case you should go for something unscented instead.
Active sunscreen ingredients: octinoxate (6.6%), and octisalate (4.4%)
A moisturizing lip balm with style: Glossier Balm Dotcom
The Glossier Balm Dotcom is a thick, smooth lip balm that feels super-moisturizing and comes in an attractive-looking squeeze tube. Glossier offers a variety of pleasant scents and tints, including none at all.
How it feels: The Glossier Balm Dotcom is a gel that goes on thick, absorbs into lips quickly, and leaves a hint of color and shine.
The Glossier Balm Dotcom (which we tested in Original and Rose) is smooth to apply, moisturizing, and available in eight different colors and scents (with new options arriving occasionally), but it doesn’t contain sunscreen. It doesn’t add an overly glossy shine to your lips, either, which testers loved. Instead, Balm Dotcom’s tinted versions give you a sheer, natural-looking hue and sheen.
The Glossier lip balm is smooth and thick straight out of the tube, but it sinks in when applied to your lips, so after a few minutes you won’t notice it’s there. We found that it lasted about four hours during testing before needing to be reapplied. Glossier’s scented versions have an enjoyable (but not overpowering) smell, similar to that of the Fresh balm we tested. The aroma dissipates quickly, however—the Rose balm’s floral scent was noticeable for only about a minute after application. Its pale pink shade is subtle, though it did boost the color of my naturally pink lips.
For around $12, a tube of Glossier’s Balm Dotcom contains 0.5 ounces of product. It’s available in six subtle varieties besides the Original and the Rose that we tested, including the clear but shimmering Birthday, an orange-tinted Mango, and a purple-tinted Berry.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Glossier’s screw-on top doesn’t make this balm as easy to apply straight from the tube as balms with a slanted applicator, like that of the Supergoop! Play. You may find it easier to apply with your index finger instead, which adds some mess to the application process. Each flavor of Glossier balm has a different color tube and cap, some of which are very understated (and easy to lose as a result). Others, including the Cherry and the Mango, are vivid enough to spot across the room.
In August 2020, Glossier workers publicly complained about sexist and racist microaggressions they faced while working on the floor of the company’s retail stores. Glossier has since apologized for its lack of support and released a list of policies it plans to enact to create a safer work environment for employees.
Active sunscreen ingredients: none
A salve for dry lips (and irritated skin): Lucas’ Papaw Ointment
Lucas’ Papaw Ointment contains twice as much product as the other balms we recommend, for about the same price. It’s a great SPF-free moisturizer that works to soothe cracked, irritated skin anywhere on the body—not just on your lips.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.
How it feels: Though it’s a thick ointment, Lucas’ Papaw feels slick and glossy when you rub it on your lips. A little bit goes a long way, so make sure you’re aware of how much you’re dispensing.
If you suffer from dry lips and skin and you want the biggest tube of lip balm you can find, Lucas’ Papaw Ointment is a great buy. I first discovered this Australian balm when I was studying abroad in Melbourne, and I’ve carried a tube of it ever since, especially on longer trips for which the bigger size is more practical. The ointment is more than just a lip balm, too—it can soothe mosquito bites and superficial burns and relieve pain around cracked skin. It’s what we refer to as “the big guns.” Australians call yellow papaya “papaw,” thus the name, and according to the company, the ointment’s fermented papaya concentrate is a natural antiseptic that helps heal irritated skin.
This salve comes out of the tube thick and slippery, and chances are you’ll want to apply it with a finger. It’s greasier than some other lip balms we tried, so you may need to wipe your hands if you apply too much. The Original ointment coats lips in a thin, comfortable layer that lasts a couple of hours. The fat red tube is about as long and wide as a pair of reading glasses, and although 0.9 ounces may not sound like a lot on paper, it’s nearly twice the size of the Glossier lip balm we love. The Papaw Ointment fits easily in a bag but probably won’t work in a pocket.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Lucas’ Papaw Ointment is great if you just want a huge tube of basic balm and you don’t care what it looks like. The tube’s mouth is bigger than those of our other lip-balm contenders, which means it requires more care to use, since a lot can come out at once (but you can always rub in the extra somewhere else on your body). The extra-large tube can be annoying if you usually travel light.
Active sunscreen ingredients: none
An affordable, long-lasting classic: Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
How it feels: The standard Burt’s Bees formula has a refreshing peppermint flavor that reminds you it’s there for the first few minutes after you apply. It coats your lips with a thin, waxy layer that lasts all day.
Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm is a traditionally shaped stick of minty-feeling and minty-smelling balm that goes on firm and light and lasts a long time. The peppermint tingle is more noticeable than I expected, and it has a strong smell (though it isn’t as intense as the Blistex’s menthol). If you don’t like mint, this balm comes in dozens of other flavors that tend to come and go frequently. Unlike some of our other picks that can be found only in beauty stores, the Burt’s Bees is widely available. You can pick it up at any drugstore or supermarket while you’re grabbing toilet paper.
The Burt’s Bees balm is thick and waxy thanks to its primary ingredient: beeswax. This gives it a firmer texture compared with the gel-like petroleum-based balms we tried. The formula hits you with a minty tingle that lasts a full five minutes after application. Peppermint oil, which is only in the original Beeswax, is a potential skin irritant. If you have sensitive lips, we recommend trying another flavor. We found that we needed to reapply the Burt’s Bees only once during the day—in our tests we felt it on our lips for a long time, around six hours. Only the pomegranate flavor adds any color to your lips.
For around $5, the Burt’s Bees bundle is extremely affordable: It’s often sold in a pack of two, each containing 0.15 ounces. It’s shaped like a traditional lip balm and comes in a small, stiff tube with a tiny plastic cap. The presentation isn’t as beautiful as that of the Fresh we recommend, but the marigold-colored packaging is pleasant to look at and easy to find if you drop it. The small cylinder also fits handily in a pocket. Unlike a squishier tube, like that of Glossier’s Balm Dotcom or Lucas’ Papaw Ointment, the hard case will withstand some abuse at the bottom of a bag.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Burt’s Bees has remarkably few complaints for such an affordable product. While it comes in an astonishing number of flavors and variants, there’s no truly unflavored or unscented option.
Active sunscreen ingredients: none
Can you get addicted to lip balm?
Not really. If you find yourself reaching for lip balm constantly, it’s probably out of habit, according to the dermatologists we checked with. Dr. Marc Glashofer compared overuse of lip balm to other common behaviors. “Some people scratch the back of their head. Some people pick at their nails. Is it a true addiction? Not in the sense that there’s a chemical dependency on it,” Glashofer said in a phone interview.
If your balm isn’t working, or if it’s irritating you, try switching formulas (and if your lips remain dry, see a doctor). Although there’s no single ingredient that always causes irritation—anecdotally, people get “addicted” to formulas as different as Vaseline and Burt’s Bees—ditching lip balm containing menthol and camphor is a good place to start. Glashofer said that any kind of added flavor or fragrance has the potential to irritate some people. If that’s you, we recommend buying the Glossier Balm Dotcom in Original; or, for SPF protection, try the Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment, which panelists have loved in previous iterations of this guide, though it smelled less than ideal to testers this time around.
You can also try exfoliating your lips; just be gentle and don’t do it too often, as lips are particularly sensitive. (Some dermatologists, including Glashofer, advise against lip exfoliation entirely.) You can use a soft toothbrush—not the same one you use on your teeth, though—or buy a lip scrub (or make your own).
How we picked and tested
We looked at dozens of reviews and articles on lip balms, including roundups from The Strategist and Cosmopolitan and stories on the effectiveness of lip balm and the safety of menthol. We took stock of the most common, highly rated, and widely available brands by scrolling the websites of major drugstores and beauty retailers (and making a couple of in-person store visits).
The dermatologists we spoke to recommended a plain lip balm, especially if you already know your skin is sensitive, since added fragrances and tingly additives have the potential to irritate. That said, some people like those qualities in a lip balm, so we aimed to recommend a variety of options.
If you’re leaving the house often, you should look for a lip balm with some sun protection (SPF 15 if you won’t be outside for long; SPF 30 if you’re headed to the beach). “The key is to reapply often when you’re outside,” Lisa Quale, senior health educator at the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, said in an email interview. “Sunscreen wears off very quickly from the lips!” Unfortunately, some lip balms we loved don’t have SPF versions, or when they do, we liked them considerably less. And sunscreen ingredients can irritate some lips, so we included SPF-free picks, as well.
We considered lip balms you can find online as well as in drugstores and specialty beauty shops, and came up with a list of 22 popular lip balms to test. If they came in multiple colors, we tested both the standard or unscented formula and the most popular shade. We assembled a testing panel of eight Wirecutter staffers with a variety of skin tones, covering each balm with tape and assigning it a number so the testers wouldn’t be biased based on brand name or packaging (although we did take that into account afterward).
We ranked each balm by how moisturizing it felt on the lips, how long it lasted before needing to be reapplied, how it smelled, how easy it was to put on, and finally its finish (we generally looked for balms with some sheen, a nice middle ground between matte and sparkling). In our testing we preferred balms we could apply with one hand and without accidentally applying too much. Our panelists also helped us gain a better idea of how people use lip balms in their day-to-day life, which helped inform our choices.
Although we liked the feel of ChapStick Lip Moisturizer, our larger group of panelists rated it at the bottom of the pack because it wasn’t as moisturizing or long-lasting as the other lip balms we tested. (We found that we had to reapply it frequently.) Its cap could be a little more secure, too.
Several lip balms didn’t make the cut because of overpowering or unpleasant smells: Carmex Original Lip Balm with Broad Spectrum SPF 15 and Natural Ice Original SPF 15 were too medicinal, and Blistex Deep Renewal Lip Protectant/Sunscreen was too sweet (and didn’t keep our lips hydrated for very long). ChapStick Sun Defense SPF 25 had a divisive citrus scent, while the Aquaphor Lip Protectant + Sunscreen smelled too sunscreen-y in our tests.
People largely did not like the jar shape of the Vaseline Lip Balm in Crème Brûlée. It’s a miniature version of the Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly that we tested, which makes it easier to throw into a backpack. Still, testers wanted a lip balm they could apply with one hand; the Vaseline Lip Balm requires more effort.
Most of our testers didn’t like the especially slick feel of Vaseline Lip Therapy Advanced Healing, or the round shape of its applicator tip.
We also tested a bigger, 13-ounce jar of Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly, which we thought would be a good contender to keep at your desk. All in all—and despite its great price—the OG tub of Vaseline was too unwieldy to use compared with other, sleeker contenders. We think it’s great to keep underneath your bathroom sink, but that’s another category of lip balm entirely.
Similar to the Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly, O’Keeffe’s Lip Repair Night Treatment can only be applied with a finger, which testers found annoying in practice. Although it’s advertised as something you use overnight, we think it works just as well as a regular lip balm; that said, we think you’ll like one of our other picks more.
Although we really enjoyed the feel and the smell of the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25 on our lips, it costs a fair amount and has a very matte finish. Testers wished it offered a little more sheen.
Laneige Lip Glowy Balm is too expensive for the middling reviews it received from our testing panel. We liked its slanted lip applicator but found its scent too sweet for regular use. (This was true even with the pear-scented formula, which is the only version of the Laneige that goes on clear.)
We didn’t like the shape of the Eos Super Soft Shea Lip Balm Sphere. It was awkward to find in a backpack and difficult to use. Because it’s wider than a regular stick of lip balm, putting it on our lips was an imprecise art, and we found ourselves worried it would somehow pick up dirt when the cap was off.
The Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm was a previous pick, and though we still loved it in this round of testing, we learned later that the peppermint-flavored version is often out of stock or is otherwise unusually expensive on Amazon.
We liked Nivea Smoothness Lip Care SPF 15 and Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Lip Moisturizer with SPF 15, but they left our lips feeling too wet for regular use.
The Supergoop! Acai Fusion Lip Balm was discontinued after we tested it. We loved it and found it nearly indistinguishable from the Supergoop! Play we recommend (except the Play uses more eco-friendly types of sunscreen).
We skipped Burt’s Bees All-Weather SPF 15 Moisturizing Lip Balm because a large number of reviews note that it leaves an unattractive white sheen on your lips due to its zinc-based sunscreen. Although zinc is a great sun protectant, it is notably less great at blending with your natural lip color.
Lisa Quale, senior health educator, Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, email interview
Dr. Marc Glashofer, board-certified dermatologist, The Derm Group, phone interview