I Kept Getting Pimples on My Lips Until I Banished This One "Healthy" Ingredient
I understand the allure of coconut oil. I do. Not only is it botanically considered a drupe (which is fun to say), but it also hails from Mother Earth (not a factory), smells nice, rings in at less than $10 per tub, and—my personal favorite—comes in clutch if you're making a batch of sweet potato fries. (It's lunchtime right now—bear with me.) And if you haven't been living under a rock for the past five years, you'll also know all facets of the beauty industry (from skincare to haircare to makeup) have developed a healthy knack for incorporating the stuff. In fact, many brands present the oil as a "hero" ingredient and many models swear by it for their polished strands and flawless complexion. Which, in retrospect, is interesting because coconut oil completely wrecked my skin and gave me an epic case of lip acne.
What's interesting about the coconut oil phenomenon is that it kind of came out of nowhere, and many experts in the beauty field (i.e., hairstylists, dermatologists, and estheticians) abhor its rising reign. Slowly but surely, coconut oil has garnered this untouchable veneer and is widely considered a one-stop solution for virtually every kind of ailment—from a dry vagina to a bacteria-ridden mouth. (Sorry for the visuals on both fronts.) And while coconut oil is, indeed, an oil (and thus should be helpful to our cracked hands and dull split ends), it isn't. The problem is that coconut oil possesses molecules simply too large to effectively penetrate our skin and hair. Here's the baseline: Coconut oil is one of the most comedogenic oils there is. Thus, if you're acne-prone, it's likely to be foe, not a friend.
"While coconut oil is the latest fad due to the fact that it is full of healthy essential fatty acids and antioxidants, these fatty acids are useful orally for increasing our 'good' cholesterol (HDL)," Suneel Chilukuri, MD, founder of Refresh Dermatology, confirmed to us last year. "However, the antioxidant benefits of topical coconut oil are often masked by its tendency to clog skin pores. Extra-virgin coconut oil actually has the highest potential of blocking the hair follicle openings under which sebaceous (oil-producing) glands reside. Even processed coconut oil (which is fractionated and smaller molecularly) may clog the follicular openings."
And Craig Austin, MD, the dermatologist behind beloved skincare brand Cane+Austin, agrees. "Coconut oil is one of the thicker oils, and the thicker the oil, the harder it is to get adequately absorbed by your skin, so it essentially sits on top of the dermis and forms a film over the pore. Bacteria and dead skin cells will then fester under the skin and cause your body to produce excess sebum, which can result in acne." However, Austin maintains that individual skin type does come into play and each person's skin will react differently to ingredients—especially something comedogenic like coconut oil.
"If you don't constantly battle acne, your skin might not be as sensitive to it, and it could have a beneficial moisturizing effect." In other words, coconut oil–infused lip balms might not give you lip acne. But if you have been experiencing suspicious breakouts around your lips and mouth, you might want to take a look at some ingredient lists.
Luckily, after one or two negative experiences with coconut oil outside the kitchen (think strands à la drowned rat and a fresh slew of pimples and whiteheads post–face slather), I realized it wasn't for me, and I quickly exiled my tub to the kitchen. Problem solved. (Except, of course, not quite.) For years, I have remained 100% monogamous with one lip balm and one lip balm alone (Rosebud Perfume Co. Smith's Strawberry Lip Balm, $7). But then I got hired as an assistant editor at Byrdie, and I began trying dozens of new lip products on a weekly basis. Lo and behold, I experienced a slew of herpes-esque breakouts all along my lip line.
I'm not sure why it took so long (I guess I just never thought something as innocent as a lip balm could wreak so much havoc), but eventually, I put two and two together, realizing that while I was staying away from coconut oil–infused skincare products, I wasn't doing so hot in the realm of lip care. Sure enough, I banned my new stash of glosses, balms, and salves, and within weeks, the onslaught of burgeoning pimples subsided.
What's disheartening is that so many lip care products feature coconut oil as their starring ingredient (despite the fact the oil doesn't really have any legitimate moisturizing benefits). Therefore, I can no longer use the majority of lust-worthy lippies out there. That being said, I've slowly cultivated an iron-tight arsenal of coconut oil–free lip products which fall much lower on the comedogenic scale and never trigger a pimple.
Some of them still feature oils as their main ingredients, albeit oils like castor, camellia, and marula which fall much lower on the scale of comedogenic skin offenders. Keep scrolling for seven of the best coconut oil–free lip balms—lip acne be damned.
Rosebud Perfume Co. Smith's Strawberry Lip Balm ($7)
Ahhh, my one true lip love. I've been using this little pot of gold for years, and as I mentioned above, it's never once incited an ounce of lip acne. The ingredient list is short and simple, featuring surgical-grade pure white petroleum, lanolin, white beeswax, and the brand's "trade secret" strawberry flavor, which is like an elevated version of cherry-flavored chapstick.
Okay, this pretty little green tube has almost knocked the above out of its perpetual first-place standing. It offers the most flattering tint of color I've ever seen, smells amazing, boasts organic ingredients, and simultaneously keeps my pout soft and supple. In lieu of coconut oil, its MVP oils included olive, apricot, green tea, avocado, and the list goes on.
Tatcha Beautyberry Camellia Lip Balm ($35)
This is a relatively new discovery (and the color is limited edition!), but I've quickly become smitten with this camellia oil–enriched lip balm from Tatcha. Oh, and it's also infused with 24-karat gold. So there's that. I've been wearing it most days of the week and plan on stocking up before it leaves Tatcha's website forever.
Glossier Flavored Balm Dotcom ($12)
I knew this whimsical balm from Glossier was a cult favorite, but I didn't understand the hype until I finally tried it a few weeks ago. First, it smells like cake. And I love cake. Second, the main ingredients (castor oil, beeswax, and extracts from rice bran, rosemary, and cupuaçu fruit) don't clog my the pores around my mouth. Instead, I'm left with a hydrated, glossy, ever-so-slightly glittering finish. I'm obsessed.
EOS Aqua Deep Hydration Lip Mask ($10)
If you're looking for a $10 high-gloss coconut oil–free lip treatment that can rival a $180 counterpart with similar results, look no further than this new launch from EOS. It's supremely moisturizing, and I love to slather it on at night post-scrub (which I rave about here).
Marula Nourishing Lip Oil ($26)
This is the one formula I always keep in my bag. It's kind of a hybrid between gloss and balm, and it never dehydrates my lips like so many other balms I've tried. (Why is it so many beauty products do the opposite of what they're supposed to?) Rich with luxurious marula oil (which is less comedogenic and ultra-moistruzing—I also put a version on my strands!), it's anchored with vitamin E and CoQ10.
Votre Vu Bébé Duette Lip Balm & Hand Crème in Raspberry ($24)
In pretty much every review or roundup I write, I iterate how much I love any beauty product that can multitask. I'm not sure if this comes down to the pure novelty and inevitable "cute" factor of the packaging or my actual laziness. Regardless, this French beauty from Votre Vu has me covered on both fronts. One part balm, one part hand cream (see those adorable stacked caps?), this is by far one of my favorite products I own, and it has a permanent home on my nightstand. There are two different versions, but I especially love the one with the raspberry-tinted balm (it's super-subtle) and almond-infused hand cream (it smells like heaven on earth.)