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?

Michael Roizen, M.D.

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.