Are the chemicals in lip balms with SPF safe?

I know it’s important to protect your lips from the sun. The most common lip balms with SPF have titanium or zinc oxide. Are these chemicals safe?

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Michael Roizen, M.D.
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Michael Roizen, M.D.

As chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, Michael F. Roizen, MD, is on a mission to inform... Read more

Not only are these chemicals safe, but they provide a physical block that protects lips from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. The problem with titanium dioxide is that when you sweat, the nano particles turn a most unpleasing hue of gray, which gives you the appearance of being dead. Meanwhile, zinc oxide in non-nanoparticle form leaves a white residue, similar to cream cheese. Neither is an appealing look.

So what’s a sun responsible gal or guy to do? Look for a zinc oxide lip balm with a low percentage of nanoparticles.

It’s also worth pointing out that plain old lip balm and lip glosses sans SPF actually attract cancer-causing UV rays. And if your balm has sunscreen and vitamin A, you could also have problems. When vitamin A (also known as retinol and retinyl palmitate) is exposed to the sun it becomes a pro-oxidant that creates free radicals, which in turn speed up the rate at which skin cancers grow. Meanwhile, using a lip treatment with Retin-A and then heading outdoors can leave your smackers with a low-grade burn. Do your lips a favor and save any Retin-A based lip products for nighttime use.

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