Pros: The beloved tropical oil is an emollient, meaning it fills in the cracks between skin cells for softer, more supple lips. Plus it provides a protective moisture barrier. Naturally antibacterial, it also contains caprylic acid, a mild exfoliator that can slough off those flaky dead skin cells, adds Shillington. Major bonus: It’s so natural you can eat it—and it leaves lips with a silky, gloss-like finish. Check out our recipe to make your own coconut oil balm at home.
Cons: “It will seal the lips, trapping moisture in, but it doesn’t really penetrate to give complete moisturization,” says Toronto-based dermatologist Julia Carroll, which means you might have to reapply more often. What’s more, transferring it to portable pots can get messy. Since coconut oil is solid in cold weather, semi-liquid at room temperature, and a disaster in a hot car, it’s not a great on-the-go option.
Related: How To Make Homemade Coconut Oil Lip Balm
Pros: The bathroom cabinet fixture has been around since the 1870s. “Vaseline is an occlusive, so it traps moisture in the lips, and it’s free of many irritants such as scent and preservatives,” says Carroll. In fact, Vaseline—the brand—is triple purified and scored a one out of ten toxicity rating (the best rating a product can get) on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Shillington confirms that it poses very little health risk. The American Academy of Dermatologists also recommends it as a treatment for chapped lips. The price is right (a $3 pot can last up to a year), and you can pick it up practically anywhere.
Cons: Vaseline, a.k.a. petroleum jelly, is a byproduct of the oil-refining process. And even though Vaseline gets a nontoxic thumbs up, off-brands could be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a cancer-causing chemical. Plus, petroleum, while found in many foods, can cause upset stomach and diarrhea if you ingest too much. (But we bet you won’t be gnawing on it as a lunch substitute.) The biggest downside: “Vaseline doesn’t actually moisturize at all. It is only used as a barrier to prevent moisture loss,” says Shillington.
Related: How to Make A Soothing Calendula And Chamomile Lotion Right In Your Blender
Pros: The classic tube gets props for combining both protective and moisturizing ingredients, with aloe and vitamin E for hydration and white petrolatum (petroleum) to keep out the elements. It also scores points for convenience (no finger dipping) and portability. Plus the SPF versions protect against sun damage.
Cons: “Many of the ingredients are considered potentially toxic,” warns Shillington, including propylparaben, a preservative linked to fertility problems and breast cancer. “It also contains mineral oil, which can block the absorption and limit the efficacy of the moisturizing ingredients.” Fun flavors like cherry and pumpkin pie may smell good, but they can encourage lip licking, which irritates and dries out lips, Carroll notes. (Here's the most toxic stuff in your drugstore makeup—and 8 natural brands to try instead.)
(Like what you're reading? Sign up for our newsletter to get health insights, clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more—delivered straight to your inbox. Or follow along on Facebook.)
Coconut oil wins for its one-two punch: It both moisturizes and protects. While it can be high-maintenance to divvy up and cart around, it’s certainly the most natural option and feels the best on your lips. Opt for virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, and contains more antioxidants than the refined stuff.