The best products and tips for protecting your lips, plus how derms recommend treating lips after a sunburn.

By Melanie Rud
July 16, 2019
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No sunburn feels good, but as anyone who has ever experienced one on their lips will tell you, a scorched pout is particularly painful. Not only are the lips an often-forgotten area when it comes to sunscreen application, but they're also anatomically more prone to sunburn. "The lips have less melanin, the pigment that absorbs UV radiation, and are therefore at a higher risk of burning than the other parts of your body," explains Boston dermopathologist Gretchen Frieling, M.D.

That means that along with painful burns, skin cancer can also pop up your lips and, fun fact alert, the lower lip is 12 times more likely to be affected by skin cancer than the top lip. The bottom lip has more volume and hangs down slightly, and the surface also points upward, so it absorbs UV radiation more directly, explains Dr. Frieling. (Related: The Best Sunscreens Money Can Buy, According to Dermatologists)

As is the case when talking about any kind of sunburn sitch, proper protective strategies are (obviously) most important and your best bet. Seek out a lip balm with a broad-spectrum SPF 30 at least, suggests Dr. Frieling, just as you would with any kind of face product. The big difference? Whereas reapplication every two hours is recommended for your face and body, Dr. Frieling says you should reapply your protective lip care every 30 minutes to an hour. Talking, eating, drinking, licking our lips—all of these things make the product comes off more quickly. (Related: Drew Barrymore Called This $74 Lip Treatment ‘Mellifluous Honey from Heaven’)

SPF Lip Balms to Prevent Sunburned Lips

1. Coppertone Sport Lip Balm SPF 50 (Buy It, $5; walgreens.com) is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it our fave pick for outdoor workouts or beach days.

2. For a sheer wash of natural-looking color, reach for the Coola Mineral Liplux SPF 30 Organic Tinted Balm (Buy It, $18; dermstore.com), which comes in four pretty shades and is made with 70 percent organic ingredients.

3. Sun Bum Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30 (Buy It, $4; ulta.com) comes in seven fruity flavors, each one yummier than the next.

In a pinch, you can also apply your face sunscreen on your lips, though Dr. Frieling notes that physical formulas—those that use mineral blockers—aren't going to be effective since they simply sit on top of the skin and will come off quickly. If you are going to go this route, a chemical formula, which will actually penetrate into the skin, is better.

Also important: Avoid wearing lip gloss when you're out in the sun. Most glosses don't contain SPF, and the shiny finish attracts sunlight and makes it easier for UV rays to penetrate the skin, adds Dr. Frieling. (Related: How to Tell If You Have Sun Poisoning...and What to Do Next)

How to Treat Sunburned Lips

If you do end up with sunburned lips, opt for a mix of both cooling and healing treatments. (Related: 5 Soothing Products to Help Treat Sunburn.)

"Press a cold washcloth lightly on your lips or run cold water over them," suggests Dr. Frieling. "This will help reduce the hot, burning sensation." Follow that up with a hydrating balm rich in soothing ingredients; aloe vera is one of Dr. Frieling's top picks. Find it in Cococare Aloe Vera Lip Balm (Buy It, $5 for pack of 2; amazon.com). Other good ingredients to look for include shea butter, vitamin E, beeswax, and coconut oil.

A few products to try to soothe burnt lips:

1. Beautycounter Lip Conditioner in Calendula (Buy It, $22; beautycounter.com) has a mix of hydrating butters and oils, coupled with soothing calendula and chamomile.

2. The shea butter and beeswax in Avene Care for Sensitive Lips (Buy It, $14; amazon.com) hydrate, while licorice calms inflammation.

3. With an SPF 30 (thank you, zinc oxide) the ultra-hydrating Thrive Market Coconut Lip Balm SPF 30 (Buy It, $7 for 4; thrivemarket.com) heals lips and prevents future burns at the same time.

4. Follain Lip Balm (Buy It, $9; follain.com) touts moisturizing shea butter and argan oil, and contains antioxidant-rich vitamin E, too.

You can also apply an OTC hydrocortisone cream to help tamp down swelling and inflammation, though be extra cautious to not ingest any, warns Dr. Frieling. (Oh, and if it's so bad that your lips are blistering, don't pop the blisters.) But if all of this isn't helping after a few days, see your dermatologist or doctor, as you may need something prescription-strength.

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