Winter comes with its fair share of beauty problems, and chapped lips are right up there with static-shocked hair and those itchy red dry spots you get around your nose from blowing too much. (So. Gross.) We always keep lip balm on hand—how are you supposed to wear lipstick 24/7 otherwise?—and wearing it at all times becomes nonnegotiable once the cold front rolls in.
Despite the promises of the balms, glosses, and “miracle” treatments you impulse-buy all season long, what you see isn’t always what you get. If you’ve ever used an anti-acne product that made you break out, then you already know what we mean: Counterintuitively, some lip balms can make a bad situation worse by actually exacerbating dryness. What gives?
The answer lies in the ingredients. “Lip balms with humectants such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin make lips worse,” says dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD. “These ingredients pull moisture out of the skin, especially in a dry environment, and then the water evaporates away.” Confusing, considering we regularly apply these ingredients to our face to keep it well-hydrated.
Here’s the thing: Humectant ingredients need to be offset by occlusive ingredients to work their moisturizing magic. Occlusive agents, like beeswax, shea butter, and various oils, create a physical barrier to prevent water loss. “Humectants hold on to water, and occlusives keep it from evaporating,” explains Dr. Baumann. Without occlusives, the moisture that the humectants pull out simply vanishes on the surface of the skin, leaving lips drier than they were in the first place.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid humectants in your lip balms—just look for those ingredients alongside the occlusive agents. You don’t have to opt for anything fancy: In fact, Dr. Baumann recommends Burt’s Bees Lip Balm ($3.30) for its perfect balance of occlusives and humectants, and your Fresh Sugar Lip Treament SPF 15 ($22.50) shade of choice is still a safe bet.
Also, just like your mother told you, don’t ever succumb to licking your lips in order to make them feel “hydrated.” Once you get into the habit, you’ll never be able to rock matte lipstick again.