According to this LifeHacker article, some brands of lip balms actually cause the problem of dry lips rather than solve it.

America News Now spoke to dermatologist Gary Slaughter, who found camphor, phenol and menthol were the ingredients in bad lip balm. When you spread it on it seems to soothe at first, but quickly dries up and requires reapplication. Additionally, OL (which indicates alcohol) and salicylic acid are two more ingredients that may cause some people irritation. Look for these ingredients before buying. If you don't see them, you should be good to go.

Further, is applying petroleum jelly on your skin harmful? It seems to be a widespread belief even though the Wikipedia article claims otherwise. For example, this discussion on the above article.

That article actually suggests that people use petroleum jelly on their lips. Are you SERIOUS? I get funny looks at the dentist when I refuse it, but you are not putting a byproduct of gasoline on my body. NOT HAPPENING.

  • 9
    Wow, whoever wrote that article should realize that being a byproduct of gasoline doesn't automatically mean "unhealthy" and should look at a list of petrochemicals.
    – Sam I Am
    Jan 21, 2013 at 15:20
  • I have heard the claim multiple times, though without justification. Favoriting this question :)
    – Vorac
    Apr 4, 2013 at 10:57

2 Answers 2


Yes, some ingredients in certain lip balms can dry out your lips.

An article on WebMD includes this quote:

Some lip treatments do more harm than good, says Steven K. Grekin, DO, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Iowa.

"Many ingredients can cause dryness and irritation, including eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor," Grekin says.

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    Since this has already been answered, I'll just leave an anecdotal comment. I suffer from severe chapped lips and most popular brands don't work. I use cocoa butter which works great, and sometimes do use petroleum jelly at night. I don't like it because it can seep into your mouth and leave a funny taste, but it's better than bloody lips. Salicylic acid is used as an astringent, specifically to strip oil away. I use that too, on my face. Lips are very thin skin, and lose moisture much easier than other skin, so requires a waterproof barrier to keep moisture in.
    – Chloe
    Mar 20, 2015 at 18:08
  • @georgechalhoub Fair point, but I think WebMD is a more trustworthy messenger than America Now News, a site which no longer exists. The post doesn't specify that he is looking for an answer more authoritative than a doctor, it just says he is looking for a credible source. I wasn't able to locate any journal articles that specifically addressed this issue. (Though it looks like Avery's answer might have better sourcing)
    – Matt
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:34

The question as you posed it was whether "lip balm" in general can make skin dryer. Lip balm can have any number of ingredients. A long list can be found here. ChapStick, the most common brand of lip balm, contains petroleum jelly/petrolatum. A textbook on the subject, Dry Skin and Moisturizers, states: "Petrolatum blocks the evaporation of water from the skin (transepidermal water loss, TEWL), thus keeping the stratum corneum well hydrated." (In other words, ChapStick is mostly the same as Vaseline, and there is nothing harmful about putting Vaseline on your lips.)

A scientific study cited on that page showed petrolatum to have superior abilities at retaining moisture in the skin compared to herbal remedies like the active ingredients (?) of Burt's Bees organic lip balm. Burt's Bees provides an example active ingredient of salicylic acid. Of this, the Dry Skin and Moisturizers book states: "It should be remembered that salicylic acid preparations may be irritating and can cause systemic toxicity if applied to large areas of damaged skin." Elsewhere in the book, it's recommended to avoid giving salicylic acid to children. And there's more:

The treatment of the various familial ichthyoses requires exfoliating agents, often wrongly called keratolytics, aimed at removing excessive horn. These include α-hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, propylene glycol, urea, and mixtures of these. These same agents may be harmful on the dry face, often causing neurosensory reactions such as itching, burning, and stinging as well as scaling and redness.

The two doctors quoted in this question and other answer may also be discussing the many possible adverse effects associated with herbal balms. Some flavors of ChapStick contain menthol or camphor, which can cause allergic or other reactions in some people. A highly cited summary paper on this is available: Adverse effects of herbal drugs in dermatology (PDF)

Other popular remedies that can cause dermatological side-effects include St John’s Wort, kava, aloe vera, eucalyptus, camphor, henna and yohimbine.

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