What makes the perfect lip balm? Is it consistency, smell, or effect? Is it the packaging (that old chestnut) or the science that goes into it? Is it addictive? Moreover, are you totally satisfied with your current balm, or do you have a wandering pout? ARE THERE ANY RIGHT ANSWERS? We think... maybe there are.
Below, the transcript of a conversation at ITG HQ on a topic both seasonally appropriate and plain important to us (particularly, our faces): the best lip balms. First, we surrounded ourselves with about a hundred popular and not so popular options, and then attempted an analysis of which potions are worth it. Trial-and-error. Enjoy:
Nick Axelrod : It’s almost ‘heritage.’
Alessandra : It is a little ‘heritage.’ Also, it’s funny that we call all lip balms “Chapstick,” like Band-Aids or Kleenex. You ask for Chapstick and someone will hand you a lip balm from wherever. We just accept that Chapstick equals lip balm.
Nick : Don’t even get me started on asking to borrow Chapstick. As if it’s not the most intimate product that you probably have on you.
Alessandra : It is kind of violating. I don’t know what’s worse—sharing a stick balm or a potted lip balm. With a pot, there’s always the argument that it’s not hygienic anyway.
Nick : It’s so gross. You know what you’re doing—you’re typing on your phone and then you’re putting that phone finger in a pot and then putting it in your mouth.
Alessandra : But if you avoid using your finger... I think it’s arguably worse, grosser really, when people open the tub and do this [motions putting pot all over mouth in circular motion, essentially inserting it into mouth].
Nick : [Laughs] That is disgusting.
Alessandra : There are people who do that. I’ve seen it in the wild. But some of these balms are quite nice and they come in pots. I don’t avoid pots.
Nick : I guess a pot is kind of like a free-for-all. So if I had to choose, I’d rather have someone else swipe into a pot than use my Chapstick stick on their mouth.
Alessandra : But you could just cut off the top part if someone used your stick.
Nick : I’ve done that.
Alessandra : I’ve done it too! [Laughs] Even using the cap to take it off. So you’re like, “Yeah, no problem—“
Nick : “— of course you can have some! I’m cool and laid-back.”
Alessandra : But I don’t really like squeeze tubes either. I just don’t like the whole application process—I feel like you can’t control how much ends up on your lips.
Nick : Probably the best lip balm, if you take hygiene into account, is that Aesop Lip Cream.
Alessandra : Oh, the little one in the metal tube? But don’t you have to use your finger for that one, too? Or do you just frost your mouth? Squeeze it all over? It’s so tiny!
Nick : No, it’s super light, and it soaks in, so you don’t really have to press around on your mouth… Do you care about SPF?
Alessandra : I should. Your mouth is most always exposed. I grew up using Chapstick and Blistex with SPF when I went skiing.
Nick : I wasn’t allowed to have the Cherry Chapstick… A) Because I think I liked that it had a little bit of a tint, which unsettled my parents; and B) Because I would just eat the whole thing. So my parents would only let me get the black one...which is, like, the least fun.
Alessandra : Blistex and Chapstick have such a smell to them…. Artificial-cherry mixed with wax and medicine... This is all very Katy Perry.
Nick : It is Katy Perry….So, what is it that you’re trying to do, by using lip balm? I don’t have cracked lips as a problem—they just get dry and it’s uncomfortable. So, I always have something on, to prevent it.
Alessandra : I think it’s the same as how, if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated: If your lips are dry, you’re already kind of fucked. So, either smack on some unguent, viscous whatever and repeat over and over again, or try and solve the problem with preventative measures…which is what that quite oily Aesop Lip Heal product I use on airplanes is for. It’s too greasy for everyday, though.
Nick : I hear that this Jack Black stuff is really good— commenters told me to try it as a Burt’s Bees alternative—but I’m not into anything that has SPF in it, because I feel like it makes it taste bad.
Alessandra : SPF lip balms give me really visceral memories of ski trips—I had a friend who went skiing with my family one year and she got a sunburn on her lips and they swelled like crazy. My father kept teasing her about Angelina Jolie—it was so awful. Aaand that’s why you wear SPF.
Nick : Maybe what worries me about the Nuxe Rêve de Miel potted balm, which I think is one of Pat McGrath’s favorites, is that there’s so much product in there. By the time you get halfway through, it’s kind of dirty. Do you really want to use the rest of it? Which is why I think a lip balm should be sort of small and sort of cheap.
Alessandra : But, see, here’s another question: that Nuxe balm is amazing, and quite sweet. Do you want your lip product to be minty and fresh, so as to imply you have fresh breath? Or sweet and delicious so your mouth tastes like you’ve been eating strawberries all day?
Nick : Well, what sells me on Burt’s Bees is that it’s matte and it smells so menthol-y, so minty, that people ask me if they can have a piece of my gum when I put it on.
Alessandra : But what about the whole sugary sweet lip thing? So when you kiss somebody, they’re like, “Oh your mouth is so sweet. You delicious creature.” Right? Is that not the idea? Why else would people do it? To be like, “My own mouth tastes like frosting, whoopee for me?”
Nick : I bet straight dudes get turned on by that. It’s a thing that they’re not allowed to do, but it tastes so good. But for me, a minty smell is essential. I like a tingle.
Alessandra : The problem is that we now have so many lip balms here. It’s like a lip BOMB went off. We’re drowning in lip balms.
Nick : [Laughs] Well, we’re weeding through them. This is RéVive Lip and Perioral Renewal Cream.
Alessandra : Oh GOD, that sounds like an intimate medical problem—
Nick : [reading the box] “Dryness around the lips and perioral skin can cause permanent lines…”
Alessandra : So you’re supposed to rub this fluid all up and around your mouth-piece?
Nick : Yeah, and it has contains something called Epidermal Growth Factor. [Applies some to his lips] This kind of feels awesome. Try it. It’s silky and it absorbs quickly.
Alessandra : The problem, though, is that if my boyfriend was in my medicine cabinet and saw something that said ‘Perioral Cream,’ he would probably get really freaked out.
Nick : He’d be like, “Go to a doctor.”
Alessandra : “What are you doing?!” Exactly. [Laughs]
Nick : It soaks in pretty quickly. And it’s not shiny at all.
Alessandra : It’s good! It’s quite emollient. But this isn’t something that you travel with. This is in your house and you put it on in the morning and at night. You do not reach into your bag and pull out your perioral cream at the movies… I was skeptical, but this is actually pretty good. It’s thick and it’s there but you can’t really see it. I am actually a fan. That Avène stuff is great, too.
Nick : It’s awesome, isn’t it? [Talking to Emily Weiss] Emily, why are people into the Avène Cold Cream Lip Cream?
Emily Weiss : It’s like a moisturizing cream for your lips; it’s just really good. It’s not too tacky. You know, Nick, how you don’t like some balms because they’re too waxy and sit on top of your lips and don’t really go into them? The Avène one is the perfect amount of moisturizing without being slippery—and it’s not so light that when you put it on it’s gone in two seconds.
Michael Harper: I have the blue Chapstick. I like it. It has a vanilla-ish taste. Emily gave me that Avène ointment once. I thought it was OK, but I didn’t like having to use my finger. I generally don’t like putting stuff on my lips.
Alessandra : Michael, you might like these. I love Stewart and Claire. She’s an editor at Food and Wine and he’s a musician and they live in Brooklyn and make these lip balms themselves, and they smell amazing. I’m obsessed with Old Fashioned. It smells like cedar, bitter orange, vanilla, and a little black pepper—but it’s not offensively fragrant. You can get custom-scented ones, too. They’re popular for weddings, apparently.
Nick : Question: who is Dr. Hauschka?
Alessandra : I don’t know. But I think I like him.
Nick : Is he some rich, German dermatologist?
Alessandra : Or some guy named Jim Bob Hauschka who was like, “Call me Doctor! Buy some ointments!”
Nick : Whoever he is, I’m really feeling his Lip Care Stick. It might be better than Burt’s Bees. It smells good for you. I like that. No shine. I’m sold. But I am getting a stomachache.
Alessandra : How can you have a stomachache?
Nick : ‘Cause of the blending and fragrances and eating of all the different fucking lip balms...
Alessandra : You’re like a big, sensitive baby. [Nick reaches for something] Don’t get your balmy hands all over my phone!
Clearly, we’ve got a whole lot of lip going on. Our recommendations for protecting your own pair? As far as we’re concerned, these are the cream[s] of the crop:
Creamy Stuff: For those looking for a matte, non-glossy, and luxuriously emollient finish
-RéVive Lip & Perioral Cream  is expensive at $115, but worth it (especially if you're worried about those little micro-wrinkles that can happen along your upper lip).
-Aesop Rosehip Seed Lip Cream  comes in at $13, which isn't cheap but it’s heavy-duty as far as moisture and results (also, lest you forget, Nick thinks it's the most hygienic).
Baby, You Look Fancy: If you’re looking for a little bit of scent and sheen with your nourishing balms
-Nuxe Rêve de Miel  has to be experienced to be believed (the stuff that dreams are made of! Honey-dipped for you honey dips out there).
-You can imagine Catherine Deneuve using By Terry’s beautiful Baume de Rose . It has a slightly tacky feel but is smoothing and beautiful on the mouth, with just a slight blush color and extremely pretty rose scent.
-Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Lip Balm  has SPF15, comes in a lipstick-style tube (no more pots!), and while it may look shimmery on the stick, goes on smooth and light.
-Stewart and Claire Lip Balms  are locally sourced, made in Brooklyn, only $5 each and you’ll want to keep reapplying them, especially the Old Fashioned and La Nuit flavors (both delicious). Bare is a great option for those with sensitive skin.
-Rosebud Lip Salve . It’s hard to find a girl in this town who doesn’t have a tin of it in her bag—it smells great and delivers shine but can err on the side of being too slick for our tastes.
-Dr. Hauschka’s Lip Care Stick (or potted Balm , though we tend to prefer the stick) delivers just the right amount of moisture, little shine, with the skincare line’s subtle herbal scent, and comes in at $14.
No Nonsense Balms: For bare-bones, protected-feeling mouths at a good price point
- Burt’s Bees . Nuff said.
-Jack Black’s SPF-enhanced Intense Therapy Lip Balm  come in a variety of flavors, like Natural Mint or Lemon and Chamomile and leave us feeling secure and happy about the price point.
-Good ol’ regular ChapStick !
-H2O+ Lip Mender’s  ingredients include sea fennel, sea lettuce, wakame, vitamin E, beeswax and peppermint extract, and it’s a penetratingly good deep treatment that smells a bit (not unpleasantly) like a hand lotion.