When I began my first round of Accutane in 2019, the prospective side effects (dry skin, joint pain, headaches, etc.) didn't scare me. Since I was struggling with a sudden eruption of acne, I was game to try anything. Within a month, my acne had disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and I ceased my first Accutane course shortly after.
However, a few months later, my breakouts returned. At first, they were minimal but steadily worsened. Undaunted by my previous experience, I returned to my derm for a second course of Accutane at a slightly higher dosage. This time, the treatment was just as effective. But, an increased dosage came with more noticeable and persistent side effects.
The skin on my face was drier, and my scalp, cuticles, and elbows were also. However, the most aggressive side effect I experienced was dry lips. My lips were chapped, flaking, and occasionally cracked throughout my treatment. While this may be a surprising side effect for some, experts say it is expected as Accutane decreases oil production throughout the body. "All the body's mucous membranes become drier—including the lips and nose," explains Virginia-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lily Talakoub. This chronic dryness—clinically known as cheilitis—often persists until Accutane treatment is completed.
With this in mind, I began curating a stellar arsenal of lip balms while on Accutane to help soothe and hydrate my lips. Ahead, find a breakdown of the best ingredients for dry lips and a roundup of my favorite lip balms.
Meet the Expert
- Lucy Chen, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami, FL.
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a leading board-certified dermatologist serving patients throughout Manhattan.
- Lily Talakoub, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Mclean, VA. Her special interests include ethnic skincare, medical & cosmetic derm.
The Best Ingredients for Dry Lips
"It's important to hydrate the lips and provide a protective barrier to help lock moisture in," says Dr. Garshick. This can be achieved using occlusive ingredients, which can help to trap moisture and protect lips from further irritation. Dr. Garshick and Dr. Talakoub recommend petrolatum, found in Vaseline, to create an effective occlusive layer. Glycerin, Dr. Chen's pick, is another commonly used ingredient for trapping moisture.
Dr. Garshick also says ingredients like shea butter, oils, and ceramides can help "lock moisture in, nourish the lips, and soften and smooth the lips. Ceramides, in particular, can also help to support the skin barrier by strengthening its structural integrity. Dr. Chen also notes that humectants—water-loving ingredients which attract moisture, such as hyaluronic acid— can support lip hydration.
Sun protection is also crucial while on Accutane, so consider snagging a lip balm made with SPF. "Accutane makes us much more sensitive to the sun," notes Dr. Talakoub.
My Favorite Lip Balms
Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25
This Jack Black lip balm promises "intense therapy," and frankly, it delivers. If my lips are at their worst, a nice thick layer of this balm helps to soothe them drastically. I always keep at least five tubes of this matte, non-sticky formula in my house. "[This lip balm's] antioxidants and SPF protection are especially helpful for someone on Accutane," notes Dr. Garshick.
Laneige Sleeping Lip Mask
Laneige's Sleeping Lip Mask is my favorite overnight lip treatment. It comes in several delicious flavors—my favorites are the seasonal peppermint and pumpkin spice. Dr. Garshick likes this balm because it delivers "a boost of hydration overnight"—thanks to ingredients like shea butter, murumuru seed butter, and coconut oil. And with 0.7 ounces of product in each pot, it's guaranteed to last you a while (I've yet to finish a jar). However, this best-selling mask may not be for everyone. While Dr. Talakoub argues that this is a "luxurious mask," she notes that it has a strong fragrance. So, if you're sensitive to fragrance, this might not be the best option.
Caudalie Lip Conditioner
Caudalie's Lip Conditioner is crafted with soothing grapeseed oil and antioxidant-rich grape polyphenols, "[Polyphenols can also] help prevent collagen breakdown and UV damage," Dr. Talakoub adds. Boasting a thicker texture, this lip balm is my favorite option for cold days and outdoor adventures. Aside from its moisturizing benefits, I love this balm's sweet orange and vanilla scent.
Aquaphor Lip Repair
Aquaphor is a dependable drugstore option, and Dr. Garshick dubs it "a go-to for any Accutane user." The formula is so gentle that even those with the most sensitive skin will love it: it's unscented, non-sticky, and offers exceptional hydration. "It's an occlusive, meaning it moisturizes the skin and also prevents water from evaporating from the skin's top layers," says Dr. Talakoub.
Sisley Confort Extrême Nutritive Lip Balm
I love using the Sisley Confort Extrême Nutritive Lip Balm during the day. It has a plush, luxurious texture that makes my lips look smoothed and plumped. The thoughtful formula includes a blend of nourishing oils (like shea, plum kernel, and jojoba) and hydrating butters (like mango and kokum). Dr. Talakoub loves that "it stays on all day."
Supergoop PLAY Lip Balm SPF 30
Supergoop's fan-favorite lip balm will keep your lips protected while you're soaking up some sun, thanks to the SPF 30. This nourishing balm is also formulated with shea butter and acai to provide moisture and antioxidant properties. "Overall, this is a great option," says Dr. Garshick.
Farmacy Honey Butter Beeswax Lip Balm
With a moderately thick texture, the Farmacy Honey Butter Beeswax Lip Balm is great for smoothing dry, cracked sections of my lips and prepping them for makeup application. It's made with honey to attract moisture to your lips and beeswax, which locks in moisture all day. As Dr. Garshick puts it, it is "an ultra-hydrating lip balm."
By Terry Baume de Rose
By Terry's Baume de Rose is a luxurious, rose-scented tinted lip balm. As someone not particularly sensitive to fragrance, using this offers a deeply pleasant experience. Most importantly, this balm is incredibly soothing due to its blend of rose flower essential wax, shea butter, and vitamin E. Dr. Garshick also notes that the formula's inclusion of ceramides will further help to "soothe and repair the lips."