Glossy Lips Might Increase Risk of Cancer

Shiny lips are beautiful. Lip glosses bring out the natural color of your lips, and the shimmery light gives you an irresistibly-kissable look. Lip gloss also, however, allows ultraviolet radiation to penetrate the delicate skin of your lips, increasing the risk for sun damage and even lip cancer later in life.


Data from a study at the University of California Los Angeles suggest that lip gloss increases the risk of skin cancer in women.

Ordinarily some sunlight is reflected off the skin on the lips, so it doesn’t penetrate. Shiny balms and glosses actually allow more of the light to penetrate, potentially causing damage.

Ultraviolet light damage can lead to pre-skin cancer growths such as actinic chelitis (rough scaly lips that never heal), dark spots called solar lentigos, or blebs of dilated blood vessels which form an unattractive purple bump called venus lakes. Ultraviolet light can also lead to a potentially dangerous type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Fear not though, glossy-lip girls, there is a simple solution.

Lipsticks and lip balms with sunscreens can protect your lips, even with the lip gloss. Apply a lip balm with SPF of 15 (or preferably SPF of 30 if you are going to be in the sun for more than 30 minutes) before you apply your lip gloss. Some of my patients have liked Kiels SPF 15 lip balm or Eco Lips SPF 30. Then leave the house both looking good and feeling good, knowing that you are protected.

Post written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD

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Photo credit: Mary B.

8 thoughts on “Glossy Lips Might Increase Risk of Cancer”

  1. What about those of us under bright neon lights in the workplace? My cubicle is immediately under a very large, double-bulb celing neon fixture.

    May I also tentatively extend this comment into a suggestion for you to please do a blog entry on skin damage/stress and preventive measures due to the office via UV and forced indoor air? Many thanks for your time and an excellent blog.

  2. Jessica-
    Great questions! So much so, that I am going to do some research and write a post just for you on indoor lights and risk of UV exposure.

  3. Hi, thanks for posting this up. So if lip glosses may cause cancer in the long run, what would you recommend for treating chapped lips? I know that drinking plenty of water and eating enough fruits would help, but surely many people want a more “visible” way of curing themselves.

    This in excellent blog, by the way. I think my mum will like it. She’s a dermatologist too.

  4. Hello,

    I love this blog! However, I’d like to call attention to a group of people (myself included) who cannot use SPF.

    I develop a red rash evertime I try a product with SPF (even those that claim to be for sensitive skin). It’s seems to be an unfair tradeoff–red rashy skin or potential skin damage. Is there any research being done on alternative SPF?

  5. I came across your website actually while I was browsing around with Alexa (see, alexia actually does do something more than show numbers, lol). Anyway, great job here. Where do I join the rss feed?

  6. Latisha Taylor says:

    I wanted to know if the risk of developing cancer or these pre-cancer growths are increased on areas like the lip. I have a spot on my lip and several fairly new freckles or potential moles on my face that this article makes me concerned about but I always wear chapstick on my lips or under lip gloss and sunscreen on my face. I also see that you recommend SPF 15 and I have been using chapstick with SPF 4. Is this not enough? Should I find something with a high SPF? Should I get the spot checked out? I am African American and I am very aware of the need for all skin types to wear sunscreen.

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