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7th September 2021

Protecting the lips from sun damage

Our lips have to cope with a lot: constantly stretched every time we speak, eat, drink or smile; continuously wetted and dried with saliva; often overlooked when it’s time to apply sunscreen—yet our lips are one of the most vulnerable sites on the body when it comes to sun damage.

What makes lip skin different?

The skin’s outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum, is the interface with the outside world. It is around 9-10 cell layers thick on most of the face and neck,[1] but the lips are less than half that thickness, on average.[2] This makes them more sensitive to temperature and touch since the nerves are nearer the surface. Lip skin also contains far fewer pigment-containing cells (melanocytes) than other areas of the body, which allows the pinkish/red colour from the underlying blood vessels to show through.[2] Finally, because lips lack hair follicles (thankfully) and sebaceous glands, they can’t produce the skin’s natural waterproofing agent, sebum, which causes them to dry out more quickly.[2]

The lips and UV damage

Through a combination of these factors, lips are more vulnerable to UV radiation than other areas of the body. In fact, a study looking at skin cancer rates in different parts of the body found that the lips are one of the most common sites for non-melanoma skin cancers.[3] A separate study of lip cancer in outdoor workers found that the overwhelming majority of cancers occurred on the lower lip, which the researchers explained by the fact that, due to its shape and angle, the lower lip receives far more direct sunlight than the upper lip.[4]

We’re frequently reminded about the importance of daily sunscreen use and other sun protection strategies but the lips are often overlooked. A survey of beachgoers in the US found that of the people using sunscreen, only 37% also used some kind of lip protection with SPF, and only around two-thirds of those reapplied it after swimming, eating or drinking.[5]

UV protection for lips

Hopefully this has convinced you that it’s important to look after your lips, not just to keep them from becoming dry and chapped, but also to protect them from the harmful effects of the sun. Lip protection should be part of your daily routine, especially during the summer months, since they are constantly being exposed to incidental UV radiation from everyday outdoor activities.

By using a high SPF lip balm, like SunSense Lip Balm SPF50+, and reapplying it throughout the day, you can be sure your lips are well looked after. With a soothing, moisturising formula that’s enriched with Vitamin E, and broad spectrum UV protection, you’ll be giving your lips something to smile about.


Sunsense Lip Balm Sunscreen SPF50+ UVA UVB Protection




  1. Tagami H. Location-related differences in structure and function of the stratum corneum with special emphasis on those of the facial skin. Int J Cosmet Sci 2008;30(6):413–34.
  2. Kadu M, Vishwasrao S, Singh S. Review on natural lip balm. Int J Res Cosmet Sci 2015;5(1):1–7.
  3. Buettner PG, Raasch BA. Incidence rates of skin cancer in Townsville, Australia. Int J Cancer 1998;78(5):587–93.
  4. Kenborg L, Jørgensen AD, Budtz-Jørgensen E, Knudsen LE, Hansen J. Occupational exposure to the sun and risk of skin and lip cancer among male wage earners in Denmark: a population-based case–control study. Cancer Causes Control 2010;21(8):1347–55.
  5. Busick TL, Uchida T, Wagner RF. Preventing Ultraviolet Light Lip Injury: Beachgoer Awareness about Lip Cancer Risk Factors and Lip Protection Behavior. Dermatol Surg 2005;31(2):173–6.



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