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The best lip scrubs for dry, flaky lips, according to dermatologists

There are two common formula types — our experts explain the difference and how to know which one is best for you. 
 Lip scrubs are great for removing slough away dead skin cells while also boosting moisture levels.
Lip scrubs are great for removing slough away dead skin cells while also boosting moisture levels.Kara Birnbaum / NBC

Chapped lips are not fun, but just like an acne flare-up or puffy under eyes after a sleepless night, dry, flakey lips are something everyone has experienced at some point or another. Whether it be due to cold weather conditions or drying lipsticks, a lip scrub can help alleviate signs of dryness and pave the way for smoother-looking (and feeling) lips.

That’s because lip scrubs exfoliate the skin and can help remove dead cell buildup, giving you more hydrated lips overall, says Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand, a board-certified dermatologist based in Dallas. 

With so many scrubs on the market, figuring out which ones are the best can be overwhelming. I spoke to experts about what to look for when shopping, and also put together a list of the best products based on their recommendations and guidance. I also included a few products that are in line with expert guidance.

SKIP AHEAD How we picked the best lip scrubs | The best lip scrubs in 2024

Selected.Our top picks

What is a lip scrub?

A lip scrub, also called a lip polish, is a topical treatment that helps eliminate dead skin cells sitting on the lips. “Most formulas contain exfoliating ingredients paired with hydrating ingredients to replenish any moisture lost with the exfoliating process,” says Dr. Annabelle Garcia, a board-certified dermatologist in Texas. After using a lip scrub, lips should look and feel softer and more hydrated.

How we picked the best lip scrubs

When shopping for a lip scrub, our experts recommend looking at several factors, including the type of exfoliator and the texture of the formula. Below, we highlight their suggestions when shopping for a lip scrub.

  • Formula: When most people think of a lip scrub, they think of a physical exfoliator that requires manual rubbing. In actuality, you can find them in either physical or chemical forms and what you choose will depend on the severity of your dryness and how much exfoliation you need. Chemical exfoliators, which tend to penetrate the skin giving you deep results, have a smooth, serum-like texture and do not require scrubbing since they do not have any granules. Instead, they use acids like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) or fruit or flower acids and enzymes to shed off the top dermal layer, says Houshmand. Physical exfoliators, on the other hand, have a granular texture that help physically polish away dead skin and smooth the skin’s surface. 
  • Texture: Physical lip scrubs have a grainy texture that can vary from coarse to fine and choosing one comes down to tolerance and your desired results. Coarse lip scrubs usually have larger particles derived from sugar, salt or other natural exfoliants, while fine lip scrubs have smaller exfoliating particles often consisting of finely milled sugars that can feel gentle on the lips. 

The best lip scrubs in 2024

iS Clinical Lip Duo

What we like
  • Two-step system
  • Has antioxidants
  • Lip elixir has a slanted tip
Something to note
  • Pricey

Dr. Jacquiline Hakim, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles, recommends this duo from iS Clinical, which comes with a polish (the exfoliating piece) and an elixir (the hydrating piece). The polish has natural sugars to exfoliate while the lip elixir has hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and shea butter to plump and moisturize the lips. 

To apply, the brand recommends massaging a small amount of the scrub onto the lips using circular motions and rinsing off after a few seconds. Follow up with the lip elixir, which has a slanted applicator for easy application and a click pen mechanism to minimize waste.

Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, shea butter | Size: 15g lip polish, 3.5g youth lip elixir

Ghlee Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Conditions and exfoliates
  • Travel-friendly
Something to note
  • Not widely available

This three-in-one lip scrub cleanses, conditions and eliminates dead skin using ghee, exfoliating brown sugar and moisturizing vitamin E, according to the brand, and is a go-to for NBC Select editorial director Lauren Swanson. “My lips are mega dry these days, so I like to use this before applying lipstick,” she says. “It’s like brown sugar without being drying.”

Key ingredients: Ghee, brown sugar, vitamin E | Size: 0.5oz

Burt’s Bees Conditioning Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Affordable
  • Has a pleasant honey scent
  • Suitable for all skin types
Something to note
  • Small size may run out quickly

Garcia is a fan of this two-in-one lip scrub because it has honey crystals to gently exfoliate the skin as well as beeswax to keep the lips from drying out. It also has moisturizing conditioners like castor seed oil and cocoa seed butter to keep lips moisturized. It has a honey scent and a thick texture that effectively eliminates dry flakes, according to the brand. You can use it to prime the lips for lip balm or lipstick.

Key ingredients: Honey crystals, beeswax, castor seed oil, cocoa seed butter | Size: 0.25oz

Frank Body Coffee Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Smells like coffee
  • Hydrates severely dry lips
  • Has two types of exfoliators
Something to note
  • Harsh for sensitive skin

For severely dry or chapped lips, try this lip scrub from Frank Body, which comes recommended by Garcia. The two exfoliants (sugar and coffee grounds) in this scrub “are very coarse and can remove multiple layers of skin in one use,” says Garcia. There is also caffeine in the coffee grounds that can cause blood vessels to widen, which increases blood flow to the area and has the effect of tightening the skin, she says. For these reasons, Garcia recommends using it sparingly one to two times a month. To counteract any stripping, the formula has macadamia oil and beeswax in it to keep your lips moisturized, according to the brand. 

Key ingredients: Sugar, coffee grounds, macadamia oil, beeswax | Size: 0.51oz

Dior Addict Lip Sugar Scrub

What we like
  • Applicator is easy use
  • Two-in-one scrub and balm
  • Universal rosy color
Something to note
  • Only comes in one color

For those not wanting to dip their fingers into a tub of lip scrub, the stick applicator on this scrub is a non-messy way to exfoliate. Houshmand recommends this formula, saying that its sugar grains exfoliate and then quickly dissolve, giving you more supple lips. “The exfoliating sugar crystals are melted into the balm, so it stays on and doesn’t have to be rinsed off,” she says. “I like this one because the texture wears like a gloss, so you can keep the product on as long as you’d like.”

Key ingredients: Synthetic beeswax, vitamin E, mango seed butter | Size: 0.12oz 

Colleen Rothschild Sugar Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Suitable for sensitive lips
  • Tastes like brown sugar
  • Great as lipstick prep
Something to note
  • Does not come with a spatula

This Houshmand-recommended lip scrub targets uneven texture and dryness. It will gently exfoliate your skin via brown sugar granules and has several ingredients that also keep skin hydrated during the process. “Shea butter, a natural emollient, creates a barrier on the lips to defend against environmental damage and lock in moisture,” says Houshmand. The formula also has jojoba oil, which the skin absorbs easily and improves texture by reducing inflammation and dryness. To round out the formula, there’s also vitamin E, an antioxidant that guards against damage from free radicals and moisturizes the skin, according to Houshmand.

Key ingredients: Brown sugar, shea butter, jojoba oil, vitamin E | Size: 0.5oz 

Fresh Beauty Sugar Lip Polish Exfoliator

What we like
  • Gentle enough for weekly use
Something to note
  • Not the best for very dry lips

NBC Select commerce editor Lindsay Schneider recommends this scrub for beginners. “This was the first lip scrub I ever tried and I continue to use it,” she says. “It comes out a little gloppy, but I always notice a difference on my lips when I use it. It is quite fragrant, though, so if you don’t like the smell of brown sugar, it’s probably not your best option.” Hakim also recommends this conditioning exfoliant, saying that it not only exfoliates with brown sugar crystals, but that it also gives you long-lasting moisture after using. 

YoFresh Beauty also carries several lip care products that you can pair with this scrub, including a lip mask and a lip balm, making it ideal for those looking for a dedicated routine for their lips. You can apply it two to three times a week, according to the brand. 

Key ingredients: Brown sugar crystals, shea butter, jojoba oil | Size: 0.35oz 

Dr. Brandt Smoothing Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Suitable for all skin types
Something to note
  • Can cause stickiness

This lip scrub, which you can use up to twice a week for the best results, is another recommendation from Houshmand. The formula activates the skin’s natural renewal process by targeting dryness, dullness and uneven texture, and uses sunflower seed oil to add moisture back in, according to the brand. 

Key ingredients: Biocellulose microgranules, sugar crystals, sunflower seed oil | Size: 0.35oz 

Sara Happ The Lip Scrub

What we like
  • Comes in four scents
  • Pocket size is good for travel
  • Vegan formula

Something to note
  • Some say scent is overpowering

Rich with hydrating ingredients like jojoba seed oil, grapeseed oil and sunflower seed oil, this lip scrub relies on sugar crystals for its exfoliation. It has a grainy texture that effectively removes dryness, and comes in several different flavors including brown sugar, vanilla bean and sparkling peach. I have used this scrub for years and love the Pink Grapefruit flavor, which has a citrus-y, bright scent that’s a nice pick-me-up in the morning. I appreciate that it does not require vigorous scrubbing and that it leaves my lips feeling smooth and hydrated, especially when I follow up with a lip balm.

Key ingredients: Sugar crystals, jojoba seed oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower seed oil | Size: 0.5oz

Stila Buff & Blur Lip Enzyme Exfoliator

What we like
  • Applicator has a scrubbing tip
  • Uses enzymes to exfoliate
  • Convenient size and applicator
Something to note
  • No hydrating ingredients

If you prefer the feel and results of a chemical exfoliator, this one from Stila fits the bill. It’s gentle on the skin since it’s made with papaya and pineapple enzymes (versus exfoliating acids like an AHA or BHA), but still has some physical exfoliation thanks to the scrubbing tip. It’s also infused with natural astringents that give you a soothing sensation, according to the brand. Unlike some other options on this list, this formula does not have any emollients to help counteract the exfoliation. So if your lips are already on the drier side, this might not be your best option.

Key ingredients: Papaya and pineapple enzymes | Size: 0.5oz

What to look for in a lip scrub

When shopping, our experts recommend considering several factors, including key formula ingredients and your skin type. Below, we highlight their suggestions about what to consider.

  • Look at key ingredients. Sugar, which helps buff away dry skin, is a common ingredient in physical lip scrubs. It’s a natural humectant, meaning it attracts moisture to the lips. When it comes to chemical exfoliators, acids like AHAs and BHAs are common, though they can be harsh and are not suitable for sensitive skin types. In this case, enzymes may be a more gentle alternative. “Enzymes are naturally occurring chemical exfoliants that are mild enough for just about anyone to use,” says Garcia. Finally, no matter what lip scrub you’re using, look for hydrating ingredients, like soothing emollients including shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, coconut butter, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, cocoa butter and pure vitamin E oil. “Many lip scrubs also contain humectants like ceramides, dimethicone and petrolatum to promote moisture retention,” she adds. If you’re concerned with irritating your skin, it can also help to use fragrance- free and hypoallergenic formulas.
  • Use the right exfoliator for your lips. While chemical exfoliators dissolve dead skin cells, physical exfoliators involve manual scrubbing of dry flakes. Since chemical exfoliators do not have abrasive granular particles, they are often gentler and a better choice for those with sensitive skin. If you are in the sun frequently, chemical exfoliators can cause photosensitivity, so be mindful of usage and only apply them at night. When looking at physical lip scrubs, which are best for extremely dry or flaky lips, choosing the right consistency is key. “Grainier lip scrubs are best for those with no damage to their barrier wanting slight exfoliation,” says Houshmand. “If there’s a lot of damage to the lips, consider a lip scrub with a [coarser] texture as your lips heal.”
  • Consider the application type. Most lip scrubs come in a tub or pot, and some even come with a spatula for easy scooping and applying. Some are also available in a lipstick bullet — these are best for on-the-go use since you can store them in your car or purse. They twist up and do not require a finger to dip into the product, so they are relatively mess free.

What are the benefits of a lip scrub?

Firstly, the skin on the lips is quite prone to dryness. For one, there’s environmental conditions to consider. “As the weather gets colder and the air gets drier, the lips are more likely to become very dry and cracked,” says Houshmand. “Unlike the skin on your face, lips don’t contain sebum-releasing oil glands that help to keep the skin soft and moisturized.” 

Another reason a lip scrub may be necessary is due to sun damage. “The sun is horrible for your skin in general, but the skin on your lips is particularly sensitive to sun exposure,” warns Garcia, who says the sun can cause lip peeling and trigger a cold sore outbreak. Other causes of dry lips can stem from matte liquid lipsticks, smoking, certain medications and licking your lips (which is medically termed “lip licking dermatitis“ and is often seen in pediatric patients, says Hakim.

How to use a lip scrub

To use a lip scrub that has physical exfoliators, start with clean lips and hands. Using your fingers, apply a small amount of the scrub onto the lips, rubbing in a linear or circular motion for 15 to 30 seconds. “There’s no need to leave it on, so right away you can rinse the scrub off with warm water or wipe it away with a damp washcloth,” says Garcia. “Immediately after, apply a lip balm or moisturizer to add in hydration.” 

You can use a lip scrub two to three times a week in the summer and one to two times a week in the winter to avoid irritating the skin or causing over-exfoliation, says Garcia. You can use them with physical exfoliators any time of day, while you should use scrubs with chemical exfoliators at night when you cannot expose the skin to the sun, says Hakim.

Signs of over-exfoliation include a burning or irritated sensation that worsens when exposing the freshly scrubbed lips to the sun, says Hakim. In this case, avoid using a lip scrub for two to four weeks and stick to simple hydraters, such as Vaseline and lip balm with sun protection. Resist licking your lips, as this can also exacerbate the rawness, adds Garcia.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust NBC Select?

Michelle Rostamian has more than 10 years of experience covering beauty and skin care topics. For this story, Rostamian spoke to board-certified dermatologists and included their direct recommendations and products based on their guidance.

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