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The best SPF lip balms to hydrate and protect lips, according to doctors

Experts explain which ingredients to look for and what to avoid when picking out a lip balm with SPF.
3 of the best SPF lip balms to hydrate and protect lips, according to doctors
We spoke with doctors to learn the importance of using SPF lip balm and which ingredients best hydrate and protect your lips.Amazon; Ulta

You likely already know the importance of using sunscreen every day to protect your skin from dark spots, sun damage, signs of aging and more serious conditions like skin cancer. But there’s an area of the face many people fail to think about when it comes to sun protection: their lips. “Protecting your lips from the sun is as important as protecting every other part of the body exposed to UV radiation,” says Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon. 

SKIP AHEAD How to shop for an SPF lip balm | What to avoid when shopping 

In addition to skin cancer, exposure to harmful rays can cause a condition called actinic cheilitis, a precancerous condition colloquially known as “sailor’s lip” that causes rough, scaly patches, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Eileen Deignan. Deignan says that chronic sun exposure can also damage the skin barrier around the lips and make your lips look aged and discolored.

With these potential risks in mind, the experts we spoke with say that wearing SPF lip balm is a daily essential. To help simplify your search, we asked doctors for insight on what to look for as you shop.

Selected.Our top picks

How we picked the best SPF lip balms

We spoke with doctors about what to look for to ensure your lips get the proper protection. They recommend keeping the following in mind: 

  • Sun protection factor (SPF): This number measures your protection against sunburn, and the protection increases incrementally as the SPF number increases. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, SPF 15, for example, blocks 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. No SPF can block 100 percent of rays. Deignan recommends looking for a formula with SPF 30 or above for an SPF lip balm.
  • Broad-spectrum protection: Look for a balm with provides broad-spectrum protection. According to DeRosa, sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause signs of aging, while UVB rays can lead to sunburns and skin cancer
  • Moisturizing ingredients: While the main job of a SPF lip balm is to protect your skin from harmful rays, it’s helpful to choose a formula that nourishes your lips at the same time. Emollient ingredients like petroleum jelly, shea butter and mineral or coconut oil can soften, while humectant ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and honey will infuse moisture, says DeRosa. 

Best SPF lip balms of 2023

Below are our top picks for SPF lip balms that offer excellent protection based on our expert guidance. All contain expert-recommended ingredients, have at least SPF 30 and provide broad-spectrum protection.

Elta MD UV Lip Balm with SPF 36

Elta MD UV Lip Balm with SPF 36 is a personal favorite of Deignan, and DeRoa, who is also a fan, says she likes that it feels smooth on her lips and doesn’t leave behind any white residue. This balm is made with zinc oxide, which blocks the sun’s rays from penetrating your skin. It also contains octinoxate, a UVB ray shield and includes the humectant glycerin, according to the brand. 

Type: Mineral | SPF: 36 | Active ingredient: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes  | Applicator: Tube

Aquaphor Lip Protectant and Sunscreen

The Aquaphor SPF 30 lip protectant and sunscreen is fragrance-free and paraben-free. It contains protective ingredients like avobenzone, which protects your skin by absorbing UV rays, according to Deignan. The formula also includes the chemical ingredients octisalate, octocrylene and oxybenzone, which absorb UVA and UVB rays and add water resistance. There’s some hydrating shea butter in there for good measure, too. 

Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredient: Avobenzone | Water-resistant: Yes  | Applicator: Tube

Blistex Five Star Lip Protection

Blistex is known for its lip moisturizers and this specific balm has a 4.6-star average rating from over 4,130 reviews on Amazon. It has a SPF 30, offers UVA and UVB protection and rehydrates lips and protects them from getting chapped in the wind, according to the brand. The balm is vanilla scented and has a slightly glossy finish. 

Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredient: Avobenzone | Water-resistant: No  | Applicator: Stick

Coola LipLux Organic Classic Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30

This SPF 30 lip balm is paraben-free and includes many of the active ingredients recommended by our experts: avobenzone, octisalate and octocrylene. “This is one of my favorites. Not only does it provide UVA and UVB protection, it contains moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil so lips feel softer after applying it. There’s even a tinted version if you want a little color,” says DeRosa. 

Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene | Water-resistant: Yes  | Applicator: Stick

Banana Boat Sport Ultra Lip Balm SPF 50

According to Deignan, the chemical ingredients avobenzone, octocrylene and oxybenzone are some of the top ingredients to protect your lips from the sun. This formula from Banana Boat has all three. It also includes petrolatum and coconut oil, which DeRosa says will hydrate and leave lips feeling smooth. The Banana Boat lip balm offers broad-spectrum protection and the highest SPF on this list, with an SPF 50. 

Type: Chemical | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, octocrylene and oxybenzone | Water-resistant: Yes  | Applicator: Stick

Sun Bum SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm

Sun Bum’s mineral lip balm is made with zinc oxide — an ingredient that physically blocks the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin, says Deignan. It also contains sweet almond oil to hydrate, and it will not leave a white cast on lips, according to the brand. It has a 4.5-star average rating from over 4,700 reviews on Amazon.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredient: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: No | Applicator: Stick

Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lip Balm

If you tend to be on the more active side while outside, consider this lip balm. It has an SPF of 50 and is water-resistant for 80 minutes, according to the brand. It has a 4.6-star average from over 5,885 reviews and is free of dyes and fragrances, making it a good choice for sensitive skin. Along with this lip balm, Coppertone also offers a sport body sunscreen.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredient: Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate | Water-resistant: Yes | Applicator: Stick

Supergoop Play Lip Balm

The Supergoop Play Lip Balm is another option that includes Deignan’s favorite protective active ingredient: avobenzone. This lip balm has SPF 30 and shea butter, which DeRosa likes because it leaves lips feeling softer. The formula feels lightweight and a doe-foot applicator makes it easy to apply, according to the brand. It has a 4.3-star average rating from more than 2,300 reviews on Amazon.  

Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Avonezone, homosalate, octocrylene, octisalate  | Water-resistant: No | Applicator: Tube

Panama Jack Sunscreen Lip Balm

For under $20, you will get four scented lip balms in this set — dreamsicle, mango, tropical and vanilla. Each balm has SPF 45 and are free of parabens and oxybenzone, making them a good option for those with sensitive skin, according to the brand. This set has a 4.7-star average rating from over 2,470 reviews on Amazon and is also available in a set of five.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 45 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate  | Water-resistant: No | Applicator: Stick

How to shop for a SPF lip balm

When it comes to shopping for a SPF lip balm, our experts agree that paying attention to the ingredients is key so you can find a formula that offers both sun protection and nourishment from your lips 

Ingredients that add sun protection

Beyond making sure the lip balm has a SPF 30 or above and is broad spectrum (which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays), you’ll need to decide if you want a chemical or mineral sunscreen. Chemical ingredients absorb harmful UV rays so that your skin doesn’t. Look for active ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene and oxybenzone, according to Deignan. 

The other option is mineral sunscreen, which blocks the sun from making contact with your skin. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two mineral ingredients that physically block UV rays to prevent your lips from burning, says DeRosa. “Many good SPF lip balms — and broad-spectrum SPF sunscreens, for that matter — have formulated these mineral ingredients into micronized and nanoparticles so they don’t leave a white tint.”

Ingredients that nourish

In addition to sun protection, a good SPF lip balm should keep lips from excessive dryness and cracking, says DeRosa. She says you’ll want to look for humectant ingredients, which add moisture to the lips. Commonly used humectants include hyaluronic acid (which DeRosa calls an anti-aging additive), glycerin, aloe vera and honey. 

You can also look for emollient ingredients, which help soften the lips. These include petrolatum and petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter and coconut oil. “Petroleum jelly works as an occlusive ingredient that traps the skin’s moisture, preventing it from evaporating, as does lanolin,” DeRosa says. Deignan recommends looking for squalane and vitamin E, which have both humectant and emollient properties.

What to avoid when shopping for an SPF lip balm

Avoid using lip balms with cooling ingredients, like menthol, camphor or phenol, because they can be drying, according to both DeRosa and Deignan. Alcohol is also known to dry, so discontinue use if any signs of irritation occur, says DeRosa. Some lip balms also contain cinnamon or peppermint oil, which may temporarily plump your lips, but they can also irritate, says Deignan. If you have sensitive skin, she suggests avoiding propolis, which can be found in some beeswax-based lip balms, because it can also irritate the skin.

How often should you apply SPF lip balm?

As with face sunscreens, you need to use this product daily, say the experts we spoke to. You should be reapplying it multiple times daily, too, says DeRosa. Reapply it every two to three hours — but more often if eating or if you’ve wiped your lips, says Deignan. You should wear SPF lip balm in all types of weather, even if it’s not sunny, because harmful rays can still impact your skin when it’s cloudy outside. The same applies if you are sitting near a window or riding in the car, say the experts we spoke to.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts with specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Jaimie DeRosa is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Boston University. 
  • Dr. Eileen Deignan is a board-certified dermatologist and chief of dermatology at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts.

Why trust NBC Select?

Justin Krajeski was formerly an associate editor for NBC Select.

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two experts to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for SPF lip balm.

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