Experts would agree that it's a skincare sin to step outside without slathering your face, neck, chest, and beyond sunscreen. Unprotected skin is at a greater risk of photodamage, premature aging, and skin cancer. Yet one area frequently glossed over is the lips, which deserve equal protection and attention, especially since they are out in the open and exposed to damaging elements.That's where SPF lip products come into play.
Today's SPF lip products go beyond the basic lip balm in a stick. You can find everything from sunscreen-packed tinted lip oils to high-shine glosses and moisturizing lipsticks that cater to all your needs. Ahead, we're breaking down the benefits of SPF lip products and some of our favorite formulas.
Meet the Expert
- Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey.
- AJ Addae is a cosmetic chemist at Sula Labs, a research and development lab innovating in the Black beaut category.
The Benefits of SPF Lip Products
Applying a lip product that contains SPF is helpful to the health of the lips overall. Board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick calls lip products formulated with SPF "multitaskers that protect against UV damage while nourishing the lips so that they look healthier and more hydrated."
Without proper sun protection, the lips can easily succumb to sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and skin cancer in worse cases. Since the lips are thin and lack melanin (a pigment that acts as a natural sun defense), they have less natural protection from the sun. Failing to wear a lip product with sunscreen daily allows UV rays to infiltrate the lips, leading to dryness, chapped lips, and sunburns. The more sun exposure the lips incur, the higher the risk of sun damage and dark spots that can cause fine lines and wrinkles on and around the lips. Unprotected lips are also at risk for developing actinic cheilitis, or sailor's lip, where the skin is constantly chapped, scaly, and dry.
According to cosmetic chemist, AJ Addae of Sula Labs, SPF lip products provide sun protection and potential antioxidant benefits. "Therefore, they're a great option if your concern is UV-induced photoaging or addressing fine lines and wrinkles of the lips," she explains.
In addition to their sun-protecting abilities, most SPF lip products contain humectants that hydrate the lips, like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, or emollients such as coconut oil, shea butter, and petrolatum for a softening effect. Addae says that all SPF products, whether for the lips, face, or body, use the same UV filters to achieve UV protection, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It's pretty easy to find clear sunscreen products specific to the lips that don't leave behind a white cast. "Still, it is common for SPF lip products to have lower-than-normal sun protection factors," she says.
How Often Should You Reapply SPF Lip Products?
For optimal lip protection, use SPF lip products with an SPF of 30 or higher daily and reapply it every two hours, if not sooner. "If you tend to lick your lips, you may want to swipe on more product more often." If you're spending the day outside, make sure to apply lip SPF 30 minutes before heading out.
It's also important to protect the lips year-round from skin cancer and sun damage, not just during the summer or hot days. "UV radiation is present 365 days per year, although SPF lip products are essential during the summer with increased time outdoors," Garshick explains.
Is One Type of Lip SPF Better Than Others?
Whether you prefer a balm, oil, gloss, or lipstick, they are all equally equipped to protect the lips from potential sun damage. Garshick adds that products with an SPF of 30 or higher are considered effective sun protection lip products regardless of their formulation. There's also no harm in layering lipstick or gloss over lip sunscreen. "If you prefer to maintain color on your lips, opt for an SPF that comes in different shades, which makes reapplying it easy," Garshick recommends.
Whether you wear a gloss, balm, or lipstick with SPF, Addae says the research still needs to improve efficacy and best practices of UV protection in the lip area. "However, we know that the perioral area, similar to the eye area, displays some of the earliest signs of aging, suggesting that daily SPF protection and reapplication of products to the lip area can be essential if you're looking to curb photoaging," Addae says.
When it comes to protecting the lips from the sun, the ingredients in the formula matter more than the formulation itself. "Mineral blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are preferred for sensitive skin," Garshick says. "Chemical filters can sometimes cause irritation or sensitivity." She also recommends avoiding allergens, including fragrances or propolis-containing products in beeswax. If sensitive skin isn't an issue, choose a formulation that feels the best on your lips.
Should You Ever Avoid SPF Lip Products?
Unless your dermatologist recommends avoiding SPF lip products because of extremely dry or chapped lips that require more hydration, you should apply one daily. If you like wearing face or body sunscreen on the lips, you may skip applying a separate SPF lip product. However, Addae says that the advantage of SPF designed explicitly for the lips is that it rubs in and absorbs better.
While most lip products containing SPF feature hydrating and nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and emollients, Garshick points out that sensitive skin types should avoid using chemical filters on the lips. "They may cause the skin to become irritated or reactive," she says. Instead, look for mineral sunscreen lip products. And steer clear of anything with fragrance, alcohol, or menthol, which can dry out the lips.
Technically speaking, Addae says you can achieve some degree of lip protection by wearing lipsticks because they contain pigments called iron oxides, which share structurally similar UV-reflective properties to zinc oxide and zinc oxide titanium dioxide. "That's why it's common to see lip products with a declared SPF on the label as an added benefit," she says. Still, lipstick minus SPF blockers isn't enough to guarantee UV protection.
The Best SPF Lip Products
Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Pop Lip Gloss with SPF ($9): This vegan lip gloss is packed with SPF 50, higher than the standard. Void of oxybenzone and octinoxate yet rich in hyaluronic acid, tripeptides, jojoba, avocado, and vitamin E, you won't have to sacrifice hydration over protection.
Naked Sundays Glow + Go Lip Oil SPF 50 ($22): Unlike typical lip SPFs, this plumping, hydrating, and sun-protecting formulation is a non-sticky lip oil that softens dry skin. In addition, the natural-tinted formula is chock full of skin-protecting antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, lycopene, and amino acids.
Cle de Peau Protective Lip Treatment SPF 25 ($65): This refillable lip treatment provides the lips with serious moisture and a smooth finish. A slew of good-for-the-skin ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, argan oil, peppermint powder, and Moroccan thyme extract, protect the lips from damaging external factors—the sun included—while improving texture, tone, and contour for more supple lips over time.
Vacation Strawberry Jello Salad SPF 30 Lip Balm Sunscreen ($4): This hydrating broad-spectrum balm tastes exactly like strawberry Jell-O with a hint of whipped cream yet leaves the lips with a transparent sheen. The nourishing formula contains natural oils, including jojoba, olive, and coconut, and other botanical-based ingredients, such as aloe vera, sunflower, and candelilla wax.
Supergoop Lipscreen Sheer SPF 30 ($22): Supergoop lip SPF formula is invisible when applied to the lips and packs a powerful punch in the moisturization department thanks to a blend of emollients plus acai fruit oil to glide on super smooth without the goopiness of a heavy gloss.
MD Solar Science Hydrating Sheer Lip Balm SPF 30 ($23): Each of these bullet-packed lip balms with sunscreen is formulated with shea butter and avocado, and olive oils for long-lasting moisture. This hydrating vegan lip balm is a staple in Garshick's bag for its SPF 30 protection. "It's also gentle, so it's safe for someone with sensitive skin to use," she says.
Coola LipLux Organic Hydrating Lip Oil Sunscreen ($18): Dr. Garshick recommends this one, combining SPF 30 protection with hydration through camellia, jojoba oils, and vitamin E. "It leaves the lips looking healthy and plump while still being protected. And it also contains an antioxidant-rich plant complex for additional protection."
Hughes MCB, Williams GM, Baker P, Green AC. Sunscreen and prevention of skin aging: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(11):781-790.
Actinic cheilitis: causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic.