Do you really need a special sunscreen for the lips? | Ask Doctor Anne


We talked at length about the best sunscreens for the face, we talked about sunscreen for your hair, is there still a topic we didn’t cover yet?
Of course there is – sunscreen for the lips!


Ultra Violette Sheen Screen Hydrating Lip Balm SPF 50
One of my favorites: Ultra Violette Sheen Screen Hydrating Lip Balm SPF 50


But why do your lips need extra sun protection? Are sunburned lips even a thing? And why do I think a dedicated lip product is recommended?
All that and my favorite product is what we are going to talk about today.



Why lips need sun protection

Just like the skin around the eyes, the skin around your lips is way thinner than the skin on the rest of your face. This is something you can actually see, as the color your lips have naturally is due to the blood you can see shining through. Your lips are more intense in color when you exercise or can get a bluish tint if your blood isn’t well oxygenated. (More info: Do you really need an eye cream?)

It is not only the thinner skin with the compared to other parts extremely fine stratum corneum though, but also the fact that in comparison to the rest of your face it has very little melanin.
Not no melanin, people with deeper skin tones tend to have darker lips than someone as pale as me, but way less than the rest of your face.

Lips also have no hair follicles, no sweat and very little sebaceous glands, meaning they don’t have that protective layer preventing Transepidermal Waterloss. This is not very relevant for sun protection, but explains why your lips dry out so quickly. (More info: What is Transepidermal Waterloss?)

Now the stratum corneum, the layer of dead skin cells, offers a – very small – SPF, and of course the melanin naturally present offers sun protection as well. If we now take into account that the lips have less stratum corneum and less melanin and look at how especially the bottom lip is a so called “sun terrace”, similar to the bridge of your nose or your shoulders, the answer to the question why lips need sun protection is easy: Because they are even less protected than the rest of us! (More info: How much sunscreen do you need for your face?)


What does sunburn on the lips look like?

Sunburned skin gets red, hot and sensitive, starts to peel and in bad cases even has blisters – have you ever seen that on your lips? I haven’t.
Does that mean my lips have never been sunburned? Sadly not.
Sunburn on the lips just looks and feels different. Lips don’t get red and hot, they get dry, feel sore and irritated and, even quicker than the skin, start to peel.
And that is a feeling I know all too well, I just didn’t realize it was my lips being sunburned until a few years ago, I always thought it was the wind and the heat causing me discomfort.

Speaking of discomfort, that might be the first thing you noticed, but is certainly not the worst thing you have to worry about. Our lips, especially the bottom lip, are constantly exposed to UV rays and burn much easier than the rest of our face. All that means that they are at risk of being affected by signs of premature aging like vertical lines around the mouth as well as skin cancer. And believe me, if a part of your bottom lip needs to be surgically removed due to cancerous lesions, vertical lines around the mouth are the least of your cosmetic problems.


Ultra Violette Sheen Screen Product
Looks, more like a gloss, don’t you think?


Do I need a dedicated product for the lips?

Just as it is with the rest of your face, the amount you and your lips are exposed to harmful UV rays depends on a multitude of things like your work environment, the area of the world you live in, the amount of time you spend outdoors and in this case, the size of your lips. Thin lips like mine offer way less surface that could be exposed – yay!

As for the question if you need a dedicated product for the lips – that depends. Lips are skin, so skin sunscreens work on them as well.
But… because there is always a but, isn’t there? But there are a few things to take into consideration.

Depending on your sunscreen of choice, they can be drying or even irritating on your lips, mineral sunscreens often leave a white cast that you might not want and quite frankly, the majority of facial sunscreens don’t feel right on the lips and taste awful.
We lick our lips, especially in the heat, and while it is not toxic to lick sunscreen off your lips, I personally don’t want that taste in my mouth all day long, so I only do that when I have no dedicated product at hand. And if I am on a hike/ at the beach/ camping or such – just to be clear, I do NOT wear sunscreen on my lips on a daily basis, even though I probably should.

I wonder how much protection the pigments in my red lipstick offer…

There are numerous different lip sunscreens available, most of which don’t offer a protection factor of more than 15, which is quite frankly not enough. I have only tried a few myself, I mainly used Labello Sun, but I didn’t enjoy it that much and was looking for something that offers more than SPF 30.

If you have seen my latest haul, you know that I purchased the Ultra Violette Sheen Screen Hydrating Lip Balm SPF 50 and I love everything about it but the price. (If you haven’t, it is here)

It uses Octinoxate, Octocrylene and Avobenzone as filters, so not really the most modern ones, but in my opinion that is more than made up for by the texture, the pleasant taste and the fact that it looks like a lipgloss rather than a pasty sun block. I used it when kayaking a few weeks ago and did not experience any sunburn symptoms, and as it has a slight shimmer, both my kids were very eager to get some as well. (More info: Which sunscreen filters are best for sensitive skin?)

You need to keep in mind though that no product should ever replace sun smart behavior, so avoid the midday sun, seek shade and of course wear a hat – all that is incredibly important and way more affordable.


Why your lips need sun protection and the best products to use for that.
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