Is Lip Balm Good for You?
By: Dr. Paul Rickard
We all know that it’s important to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, but have you considered the importance of protecting your lips?
Your lips are just as susceptible to the sun’s rays as your skin. As a dentist, I frequently see patients with dry and flaky patches on their lower lips that do not quickly improve after treatment with lip balm or petroleum jelly. When these patches are caused by the sun, then they are said to be a common precancerous condition known an actinic keratosis. Some people believe that they cause the crusting by habitually biting their lips. However, usually the sun caused the crusting and a person reacts to the crusting by biting their lips. Actinic keratosis will often resolve itself and return to normal if you take good care of your lips, but it occasionally progresses to a more serious condition called squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common form of skin cancer.* If you have a spot that does not improve, I recommend consulting a dermatologist as soon as possible.
I used to practice in Illinois and when I was there, I often saw the effects of the sun on people who worked outdoors. But when I moved to Wisconsin, I found that people like to spend much more time outdoors and I’ve noticed a change in patients’ lower lips where the damage most often occurs. No matter if you work outdoors or simply like to spend time outside, wearing lip balm is important to protecting the delicate tissue on your lips.
What Kind of Lip Balm Should I Use?
It’s important to use a lip balm with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or better. There are two different types of ultraviolet rays that we need to protect against. Make sure that your balm specifies that it has a broad-spectrum sunscreen or that it protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays are more harmful, as they penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, but UVB rays can cause damage the outermost layer of skin as well.
If you haven’t checked your lip balm lately, you should read the active ingredients. There is good chance that your lips are not getting the sun protection that they deserve. Lip balms with broad-spectrum sun screens are easy to find online for a variety of prices. Lip balms containing zinc oxide are reasonably priced and protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Some balms may be more expensive because they have more than one active ingredient, but they also may be more effective in protecting your lips.
Is Lipstick a Substitute for Lip Balm?
No lipstick is not equal to lip balm. If you are heading to a special outdoor event and plan on wearing lipstick, be sure to apply lip balm before your cosmetic to provide a protective base, as the sun’s rays can penetrate straight through cosmetic products and harm your lips. Lip balm should be applied a half hour before heading outdoors so that it has time to penetrate the tissue, and it should be reapplied every hour. Lip balm is also important if you participate in outdoor sports such as cycling, baseball, and golf.
Your dentist or hygienist can answer any questions you have about lip balm and its use, so be sure to ask questions at your next appointment. Remember: just like your skin needs sunscreen for protection, your lips need protecting too!