Fact Checked

How Do I Choose the Best Lip Sunscreen?

T. Alaine
T. Alaine

Choosing an effective lip sunscreen is an important element in preventing skin damage and minimizing skin cancer risk. There are several different varieties to choose from, but looking for certain desirable characteristics can help you identify high quality products. A highly effective lip sunscreen will have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15, and contain ingredients that protect the skin from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Additional characteristics of the best lip sunscreen include stability under stress from light and water and a long-lasting matte finish.

Neglecting to protect the thin, delicate skin of the lips from sun exposure can have consequences ranging from uncomfortable to life threatening. Since the skin in this area is so fragile, it is particularly susceptible to premature aging, chapping, or blistering as a result of overexposure. Repeated overexposure can lead to the relatively rare but very serious development of lip cancer. Choosing a protective sunscreen is easy when a few simple guidelines are followed, however.

Woman in breeze
Woman in breeze

The first thing to look for in a lip sunscreen is the SPF number. As a general rule, it is a good idea for consumers to select a higher SPF than they think they might need, as they typically apply far less product than is needed to achieve the sun protection factor listed on the label. Several drugstore brands of lip balm are made with at least SPF 15, but specialty items with higher SPF's can often be found in outdoor sports stores or in the sunscreen aisle. It is probably best to purchase a sunscreen made especially for the lips since some body sunscreens may not be suitable for the ingestion that is always possible when a product is applied to the lips.

A good lip sunscreen will also specify that it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Many sunscreens only protect against UVA rays, which are the rays that cause sunburn. Even if the skin does not burn, however, it is still susceptible to damage from UVB rays that penetrate much deeper into the skin. Checking the packaging for assurance that a product offers protection from both is a must when selecting a lip sunscreen.

While no sunscreens are 100% heatproof or waterproof, there are some formulas that are more resistant than others. Lip sunscreen should be water resistant even if the wearer is not going swimming because of its close proximity to saliva and susceptibility to lip licking. In addition, an effective lip sunscreen should be photostable, meaning that it will not break down or lose its protective integrity when exposed to light.

Finding a lip sunscreen with a matte finish is beneficial for a couple of reasons. There are certain natural pigments, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that are somewhat opaque in appearance and help reflect light away from the lips. Other pigments, such as those found in lipsticks can offer limited protection in a similar way. Using a product with a lot of shine, however, can draw sunlight to the lips and actually exacerbate sun exposure.

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