I was sitting next to Austin on his couch a few weekends ago when I caught myself staring intently at his lips, which looked perfectly pink, pillowy and even slightly glossy despite the fact that it was 35 degrees outside and the radiator was clanking audibly as it pumped dry heat into his apartment. Their appearance was utterly illogical, and the longer I looked at them, the more hyper-aware I became of my own lips, which in stark contrast felt like two raisins rubbing up against each other with enough friction to roast a mini marshmallow.
“What?” he finally asked.
“Your mouth!” I said. “How does it look so…pretty?”
He laughed before revealing the secret to his impeccably moisturized pout: a tiny sample-sized tube of lip balm that he received in an airline goody bag on a recent overnight work trip. Lip balm! A revelation.
I’ve never really been a lip balm person — by which I mean someone who has a go-to product for moisturized lips on hand at all times and applies it religiously. I’ll do an occasional swipe of Chapstick here and there, which helps temporarily, but I haven’t invested time in finding a good lip balm and using it with appropriate vigor. As proved by my boyfriend’s transformed pout, the cure for raisin lips was seemingly simple, but as a journalist dedicated to my craft, I decided to make it complicated: What if I tested a bunch of different lip balms to find not just a good one but the best one? Self-challenge accepted.
To narrow down the process of deciding which ones to test, I hightailed it over to the Lip Balm & Treatment section on Sephora’s website, sorted by “Bestselling” and chose five colorless lip balms based on the average number of stars they received from reviewers (nothing below a 4.3) and based on the number of reviews they received in total (all of them had at least 100 reviews, and a couple had upwards of 4,000). Scroll down for thee unveiling of my personal findings.
The bumpy tip of this solid, lipstick-shaped, notably pricey balm felt like a cat’s tongue upon application — textured but in a gentle, pleasing way (feel: 4) — and it tasted like straight-up sugar (taste: 5) So gentle I’m not sure it actually exfoliated my lips, but it felt super nice so I can’t complain. I put it on first thing in the morning before leaving for work and I’m delighted to report it wasn’t overly sticky or goopy — a classic lip balm pitfall that doesn’t mix well with long hair, windchill and a winter commute. The effect was very subtle in the sense that it didn’t make me look like I was wearing lip balm, even immediately after I applied. They just looked not dry, which you’d never notice unless you were keeping tabs on what my lips usually look like (look: 2). I had to reapply after eating lunch, but other than that my lips remained moist for most of the day (effectiveness: 4).
Final score: 15/20
I love the taste of coconut, so I thoroughly enjoyed swiping Kopari Coconut Lip Glossy — which is formulated with actual coconut oil — on my lips in the morning (5). The texture was so slippery it almost felt like I had dipper my finger into a pot of melted coconut oil and dabbed it onto my mouth (5). It also made my lips look nice and juicy (5). But all good things come to an end, and unfortunately the effects of Kopari Coconut Lip Glossy came to an end very shortly after I applied (1). Even though I loved the taste and texture, it evaporated too quickly to offer a truly satisfying moisturizing effect, and almost left my lips feeling a little dry after.
Final score: 16/20
This stuff felt more like a paste than a balm — which I wasn’t mad about (4). I get the same pleasure out of applying a thick lip product to parched lips that I do putting on a heavy moisturizer and watching my winter skin soak it right up. Also, to its credit, despite the thicker texture, it wasn’t overwhelming or messy — and a little went a long way, instantly coating my lips in a subtle sheen (5). It’s billed as an “intensive nightly recovery lip mask” but I first tried it during the day. It tasted exactly like Vanilla Soylent, which I knew because Haley let me try a sip of her Vanilla Soylent earlier that morning (4). I wasn’t wild about the beverage, but I loved the balm, and it lasted a really long time — a fact I registered as I pulled up to JFK after sitting in two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I was flying to Florida for a quick weekend trip), almost forgetting to get my suitcase from the trunk because I was so struck by how soft my lips were when I absentmindedly smacked them together (5). Lip balm! A revelation.
Final score: 18/20
I put this one on right before bed (I figured I should given that “sleeping” was in its name). It didn’t really taste like anything (3), was super shiny and almost wet-feeling, which was interesting but not in a particularly bad way (3). Apparently it’s formulated with technology that forms a protective layer over your lips — neat! I could definitely notice a difference the next day when I woke up and could immediately identify the outline of my mouth when I looked into the mirror (as opposed to most winter mornings when it tends to blend in) (4). I don’t tend to love lip products that come in pots because I hate when my fingers have to get involved for reasons relating to both germs and stickiness, but other than that this is a great balm (4).
Final score: 14/20
This lip balm was love at first smack. Even though it didn’t have any discernible taste (3) and I’m a freak for sweet lip treats, it had the perfect consistency (not too sticky but also not so subtle that I’m denied the satisfaction of walking around with lips that resemble the inside of a pomegranate) (5), and it seems to last for hours (5). I kept taking selfies whenever I went outside because I was obsessed with how my mouth looked like it was July even though it was early March and still bitterly cold (5). Have I mentioned this balm costs $9.50? Rhetorical question, but feel free to answer with your desired degree of enthusiasm.
Final score: 18/20
In conclusion, the Bite Beauty Agave Mask and Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 are tied for my top contender. I actually probably liked the Kiehl’s one best of all because of how it made my lips look (a priority criterion for my lip balm preferences, I’ve learned), but would highly recommend the Bite one for anyone who prioritizes delicious taste when it comes to lip products. Any other beloved lip balms out there I should try? If recent temperatures are any indication, we still have a long way to go before I’m licensed to go without.
Photos via Harling Ross.