Boasting formulas that are optimized to moisturize and protect, the best lip balms for men (or for anyone, really) are noticeably free of certain ingredients. While this might seem counterintuitive, some ingredients in lip balms can do the opposite of hydrate. That's why you should make sure the product you're eying is free of three key ingredients: phenol, menthol and salicylic acid.
Lip balms containing these ingredients can actually make your lips drier, according to dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, in an interview with Cleveland Clinic. If you have sensitive skin or allergic contact cheilitis (ACC), it's a good idea to skip peppermint oil too, as it's been found to be a triggering ingredient.
Beyond what to avoid in a lip balm, it's also helpful to know what ingredients to seek out. A lot of balms use a base made of beeswax, but some will also incorporate lanolin (which is derived from sheep's wool) — both are great at locking in moisture. For those who are avoiding animal byproducts, there are excellent vegan options out there too with plant-based oils and butters. You’ll also find balms with SPF to help protect against UVA and UVB rays while moisturizing.
Beyond what's inside the balm, you'll also want to pay attention to how it's administered. Sticks and squeeze tubes both have their merits, but whatever you do, avoid balms that require dipping your finger into a tub or tin, since that can be wildly unhygienic.
With that in mind, these are the four best balms to keep around — and some even come in convenient multi-packs.
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1. The unscented one
An Amazon best-seller, this O'Keeffe's lip balm comes in a truly unscented, matte formula so it doesn’t look or feel like you’re wearing lip balm at all. "I like that [it's] a thickish balm forming an occlusive barrier to lock in moisture," one reviewer pointed out. Shea butter and sweet almond oil are nicely moisturizing, while a whip of beeswax and petrolatum adds deep nourishment.
This lip balm is free of menthol, phenol, and salicylic acid. It's also unscented and hypoallergenic, and the flat stick slips easily into a pocket.
"For nearly a month and a half I was dealing with the corners of my mouth being cracked," one reviewer wrote. "Y'ALL. This lip balm fixed everything in TWO DAYS. I'm back to normal. What sorcery is this???"
2. The one for really chapped lips
Burt's Bees makes a variety of lip care products, and some of them do contain peppermint oil or menthol. But the brand's Ultra Conditioning formula skips those ingredients in favor of deeply hydrating plant oils like coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil. This nourishing lip balm then locks in all the moisture with the help of beeswax, shea butter, and kokum butter. It's formulated without parabens, phthalates, and petrolatum — and it's also free of menthol, phenol, and salicylic acid.
"This lip balm with kokum butter has a wonderful but fairly neutral fragrance and is so very conditioning," one reviewer reported. "I've tried hundreds of lip balms and this is by far my favorite."
3. The one with SPF
Jack Black's lip balm is another solid option, with a fleet of moisturizing ingredients in a cruelty-free, vegan formula that boasts SPF 25. Thick cocoa seed and rich shea butter are folded into a heavy base of lanolin, beeswax, and petrolatum with antioxidant green tea and vitamin E. While this pick is free of menthol, phenol, and salicylic acid, it does contain natural mint flavor.
"This is my new go-to lip balm," one reviewer noted. "It's thick enough that you don't need to reapply constantly, it's got a good SPF rating, but it doesn't have that off taste that some SPF lip balms have. It's been excellent for summer running and cycling, and I look forward to the thickness of it in winter."
Looking for a mineral sunscreen lip balm instead? The zinc-based, SPF 30 Sun Bum lip balm has you covered.
4. The one with an award-winning design
If you want your lip balm to come in a more statement-making package, then you'll appreciate the skull design featured in this three-pack from Rebels Refinery. The skull cap opens to reveal the balm inside, and at the bottom there's even a Hamlet quote: “Be all my sins remember’d.” Taking home the 2018 Ask Men Grooming Award, this noteworthy lip balm pack features three different flavors (vanilla, mint, and passionfruit), all formulated with nourishing coconut oil, sweet almond oil, beeswax, rosemary extract, and vitamin E (and without parabens, phthalates, menthol, phenol, and salicylic acid). It has a smooth, matte finish, too.
"Eye catching black skull with lip balm 'brains' is ingenious and is reminiscent of an Eos container and surprisingly not clunky," one fan noted.