No one wants a match-winning congratulatory kiss from a pair of lips that are damaged, cracked or crusty. Your pucker needs to be moist and just as protected as any other part of your exposed skin during a five-hour round—sun or clouds. When choosing lip balm, the No. 1 priority is that it contain sunscreen (look for a label that boasts of a Sun Protection Factor, SPF, from 15 to 50). Other factors that should be considered are the exclusion of harmful ingredients, its moisturizing efficacy, and, of course, flavor.
After SPF, the health hazards associated with certain ingredients used frequently in lip balms became the second-most important factor in our Editors' Choices. The reason it wasn't the No. 1 factor is because any protection from ultraviolet rays (UVA/UVB) is better than none at all. But we can't overlook the inclusion of some very nasty things that wind up in many lip balms. Perhaps the most common is oxybenzone, which has been shown to cause allergic reactions, disrupt the hormone system, and make it more difficult to have children. Another chemical to avoid is phenol, which can cause respiratory issues and irritations of the skin. Retinal palmitate, or vitamin A palmitate, also finds its way into many lip balms, but it has been linked to cancer, among other awful things.
Ingredients to look for in lip balms include zinc oxide (the active ingredient that blocks the sun's harmful rays) and natural moisturizers such as aloe, shea butter and other oils. When it comes to flavor, it's a matter of personal choice, though we found some "tastes" such as mint to be more refreshing on a hot, summer day. The final thing to consider is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you see a lip balm advertised with an SPF higher than 50, it's a marketing gimmick—the best you can get is somewhere between SPF 30 and 50. In the case of lip balms, the effectiveness wears out very fast, and it must be reapplied several times a round.