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7 best SPF lip balms in 2021, according to dermatologists

Experts explain how to choose an SPF lip balm and share their go-to product recommendations.
Illustration of 5 best SPF lip balms and two friends laying out in the sun
Need a SPF lip balm for your next beachside vacation? We asked MDs for their favorite recommendations.Westend61 / Getty Images ; Amazon ; Dermstore ; Nordstrom

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Similar to your face and body, lips should also be protected from the sun. The medical doctors we interviewed consider SPF lip balms a daily essential to help protect lips from skin cancer — melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — as well as signs of aging and dehydration. The bottom lip, in particular, is “more susceptible” to UV damage (which can result in skin cancers and aging) because it usually “protrudes out more than the top,” noted board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon Anthony Rossi, MD. Additionally, “chronic sun exposure can break down the collagen in your lips,” which leaves it looking “dry, wrinkled and deflated,” said Adam Mamlek, MD, another board-certified dermatologist. To help simplify your search for SPF lip balms, we asked dermatologists about the best SPF lip balms and got their recommendations, as well as shopping advice.

SKIP AHEAD Best SPF lip balms

How to shop for an SPF lip balm

If you’re in a pinch, experts say you can apply face sunscreen to your lips — but it isn’t ideal. "Face sunscreens do not have the same consistency and are more challenging to apply to the lips,” said board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Lip products, including those with SPF, utilize heavier oils or waxes to stay in place. The doctors we consulted say they look for moisturizing ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, glycerin and shea butter.

For sun protection, the dermatologists we consulted prefer broad-spectrum sunscreens with at least SPF 15. They’re also keen on SPF lip balms made with mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Mineral blockers sit on top of the skin and physically shield it from the sun’s UV rays, board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, previously explained in our guide to mineral sunscreen — they are “naturally broad-spectrum” regardless of the brand, according to King. On the other hand, chemical ingredients — oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and homosalate — “absorb” the sun’s ultraviolet rays like a sponge through a chemical reaction that transforms them into heat and the heat is “released from the skin,” said King.

Multiple doctors we consulted also cautioned against using lip balms with cooling ingredients — menthol, camphor or phenol — because they are “potentially irritating or drying,” said board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD. Instead, she advised looking for a combination of humectants, which “draw moisture to the top layers of your lips,” and emollients, which “lock the moisture in place and prevent evaporation.” According to Cheung, common humectants are hyaluronic acid and glycerine while common emollients are shea butter and coconut oil.

Like with sunscreen for the face and body, you should reapply SPF lip balms at least every two hours for continued sun protection, advised Zeichner. He also suggested reapplying a fresh coat of SPF lip balm after eating or “significant lip licking.” You’ll also need to reapply more frequently if you swim or sweat, added Rossi.

Best SPF lip balms

We asked board-certified dermatologists for their go-to SPF lip balm recommendations. Their selections are readily available to shop at big box stores like Walmart and Target as well as Shopping reader-favorite retailers like Sephora and Amazon.

Best SPF lip balm overall: Vanicream

Vanicream Lip Protectant

Four out of five dermatologists we interviewed suggested this mineral SPF lip balm because it is free of allergens like fragrances and dyes — for this reason, Cheung called it “great for sensitive skin.” She also noted the water-resistant formula is non-sticky. Vanicream claims this balm is unscented and offers SPF 30 protection from the sun. It boasts a 4.4-star average rating from more than 4,560 reviews on Amazon.

Best smelling SPF lip balm: Sun Bum

Sun Bum SPF 30 Sunscreen Lip Balm

Mamlek and board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, both recommended this zinc-based SPF lip balm because it offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection and contains vitamin E which helps to “soften and smooth” the lips. Sun Bum’s SPF lip balm is also made with moisturizing shea butter and calming aloe vera extract. Garshick called this a “great option” for anyone who enjoys the tropical smell of coconut. It is also available in five other flavors, ranging from Key Lime and Mango to Watermelon and Pomegranate. Sun Bum’s lip balm boasts a 4.5-star average rating from more than 11,360 reviews on Amazon.

Best odorless SPF lip balm: Jack Black

Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25

On the other hand, if you’re not keen on smells, Mamlek suggested this “colorless and odorless” SPF lip balm that offers “good protection” and hydration. It contains vitamin E, shea butter and antioxidants, according to the brand. Notably, Jack Black’s Intense Therapy Lip Balm earned a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 13,930 reviews on Amazon.

Best hydrating SPF lip balm: EltaMD

EltaMD UV Lip SPF 36

Malmek recommended EltaMD’s zinc-based SPF lip balm because it contains glycerin to help hydrate lips. It’s also formulated with a moisturizing blend of bee and candelilla waxes as well as castor seed and olive oils. This product garnered a 4.6-star average rating from nearly 1,020 reviews.

Best shiny tinted SPF lip balm: Colorescience

Colorescience Lip Shine SPF 35

Garshick described this zinc oxide-based product as “easy to apply” and noted it “won’t leave the lips feeling sticky.” It also provides SPF 35 coverage and is available in five colors, including Rose, Champagne and Pink. Colorescience Lip Shine received a 4.56-star average rating from nearly 60 reviews on Dermstore.

Best affordable SPF lip balm: Aquaphor

Aquaphor Lip Protectant with SPF

Aquaphor’s fragrance and paraben-free SPF lip balm is “especially good for those with sensitive skin,” said Garshick. She noted those with dry or cracked lips will also benefit from this lip balm because it is formulated with a blend of hydrating ingredients, ranging from petroleum and glycerin to castor seed oil and shea butter. This SPF lip balm costs just under $3 and received a 4.6-star average rating from 7,160 reviews on Amazon.

Best SPF lip oil: Coola

Coola LipLux Organic Hydrating Lip Oil Sunscreen

If you prefer the feeling of an oil over a balm, Garshick suggested Coola because it combines SPF 30 protection with hydrating camellia and jojoba oils, plus vitamin E for hydration. “It leaves the lips looking healthy and plump, while still being protected,” she said. LipLuxe received a 4.5-star average rating from nearly 70 reviews at Nordstrom.

Is it okay to use SPF lip balm at night?

Yes, it is okay to wear an SPF lip balm at night, but it’s not necessary, the dermatologists we consulted said. Like regular lip balms, the SPF versions offer hydration that feels nice on the lips while others are tinted and may look aesthetically appealing. Generally speaking, the most notable value of an SPF lip balm is sun protection from UV exposure which isn’t relevant at night, said Cheung. According to Mamalek, wearing an SPF lip balm at night will not harm your skin, but he recommended washing it away before bed and slathering on a hydrating balm instead.