I’m a self-crowned sunscreen queen, but I haven’t always been so committed to applying it—especially lip sunscreen. Despite the fact that I spent the majority of my early childhood outside in shorts or a swimsuit in southern Florida, my mom wasn’t exactly the SPF police. And like a true elder millennial, I may have baked in a tanning bed a handful of times in high school, in pursuit of that early-2000s Britney glow (what a time).
Thankfully, rule follower that I am, it only took reading one magazine article when I was 18 to convince me that slathering on sunscreen all day, every day is essential for skin cancer protection and, more importantly at the time, a glowy complexion. But it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized (via another beauty article) that I was missing a very important spot on my face: my lips.
Looking back, it was kind of a duh that lip SPF is important, too: If UV protection is a must for the rest of your face (and body), why would the lips be any different? They wouldn’t. In fact, they might be especially vulnerable.
“People tend to completely forget their lips when it comes to sunscreen and, actually, the lips are probably even more susceptible to damage because they have less melanin pigment to protect them from sun exposure,” Susan Massick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “So you want to make sure you’re being more diligent about applying and reapplying on your lips because they’re more sensitive to UV rays and at a higher risk when it comes to skin cancers and sunburns.”
What should you look for in a lip sunscreen?
No need to purchase a separate product if you don’t want to: Dr. Massick says swiping on regular sunscreen will work just fine; ideally, it should have an SPF rating of at least 30. If you want to add a little color, she notes that you can apply a tinted balm or lipstick over top, or, if the formulas don’t mix well or you just want an all-in-one solution, try a pigmented lip balm with SPF.
That said, lip skin is particularly delicate since it has a much thinner outer layer compared to the rest of your body, and it also doesn’t contain oil glands, making it especially prone to dehydration, Dr. Massick says. For those reasons, she suggests giving your mouth some extra TLC by looking for sunscreens that contain “hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides, which are really helpful to help moisturize and protect the lips.” And if you have sensitive skin in general, or just want to err on the side of gentleness, she recommends mineral-based formulas, which physically block the sun’s rays and are generally less likely to cause irritation.
How much sunscreen do you need on your lips?
There’s no gold standard recommendation for the lips, specifically, but Dr. Massick says you should aim for about a tablespoon to cover your entire face and neck, and a chocolate chip-sized blob for just your mouth. (And if you’re using an SPF stick, one swipe isn’t enough—Dr. Massick recommends three swipes on each lip for good measure.)
How often should you reapply lip sunscreen?
Every two to three hours is the standard recommendation for sunscreen reapplication, Dr. Massick says, but for the lips in particular, it’s better to be on the safe side. “It’s very easy to wipe or lick it off unintentionally,” she says. “Maybe you’re drinking something, or eating, or wiping your lips with a napkin, so you want to make sure you’re consistently reapplying every two hours.”
The best lip sunscreens and lip balms with SPF
As a wellness editor and sunscreen worshipper, I’ve tried a bunch of SPF lip products and these are the ones I continue to reach for. They’re all hydrating (I struggle with dry lips) and non-sticky, and none have left me with a white caste or bad chemical taste in my mouth.
1. Aquaphor Lip Repair Lip Balm
2. Naked Sundays SPF 50 Glow + Go Hydrating Lip Oil
3. M-61 Hydraboost Lip Treatment
4. Coola Organic Liplux Lip Balm and Sunscreen with SPF 30
5. Paula’s Choice Lipscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50
6. Cocokind Tinted Lip Shield
7. Supergoop! Lipshade 100% Mineral SPF 30 Hydrating Lipstick
8. Tizo Tinted Lip Protection SPF 45