Can Lip Gloss Cause Skin Cancer?

Recent discussions among dermatologists are questioning the safety of women’s #1 cosmetic, lip gloss. Most women claim they simply will not leave home without it. It is a cosmetic, it moisturizes and lubricates your lips, it gives them a nice shine and a little bit of sheer color. Few cosmetics do so many tasks in one.

Posted on | Susan Evans, MD | Comments ()

Recent discussions among dermatologists are questioning the safety of women’s #1 cosmetic, lip gloss. Most women claim they simply will not leave home without it.  It is a cosmetic, it moisturizes and lubricates your lips, it gives them a nice shine and a little bit of sheer color. Few cosmetics do so many tasks in one.


The concern about connecting skin cancer with lip gloss has nothing to do with the ingredients contained in the thousands of brands of lip gloss available. (However, a wise consumer will pay attention to ingredients and avoid things like lead and parabens.)  The problem with lip gloss is the fact that the vast majority of them have no sun protection built into them.


Some dermatologists consider applying lip gloss as sun protection the equivalent of sunbathing after lathering yourself with nothing but baby oil. By now, most people know that you must protect yourself against the UV rays of the sun. Using baby oil merely concentrates the rays of the sun so you’re much more likely to suffer from burned skin.  Lip gloss may present a similar problem.


Most consumers admit that they do not like the taste of sunscreen, so while they may be very careful to cover every square inch of exposed skin, most of them will not apply sunscreen on their lips. Your lips are skin. They need to be protected. Without adequate protection from the harsh ultra-violet rays of the sun, your lips are at greater risk of developing skin cancers.


People that spend a great deal of time out in the sun, farmers, sailors, etc, often develop lesions specific to their lips are called actinic cheilitis. These lesions are very similar to actinic keratosis that appear on the rest of your skin. Actinic cheilitis is the result of cumulative exposure to the sun without adequate protection. The symptoms include chronically dry, cracked, or chapped lips.


What do we do when our lips are dry, cracked, or chapped?  We apply lip gloss. And we perpetuate the problem.


Some dermatologists also feel that the shiny nature of lip gloss attracts the rays of the sun, gathering them and focusing them onto the lips like a magnifying glass. 


How do you protect your lips? Do you have to throw out all your lip gloss collection? No.  But you will have to either wear lipstick underneath your gloss, which serves as a sunblock.  Or, you can use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 underneath your lip gloss. Some companies are even producing lip balms with SPF 50 for greater protection.


Every time you go outside you remember to use sunscreen. Add one more item to your sun protection arsenal: SPF 30–50 lip balm. In fact, have a number of these in readily accessible places like your purse, gym bag, locker, desk drawer, glove compartment and anywhere you’ll need it at the ready to keep your lips moist and beautiful.

Blog written by Susan Evans, MD
Dr. Susan Evans is an internationally acclaimed, health and beauty expert one of Oprah's and Dr. Oz's healthy skin and beauty...