It's like a chemical peel for your lips.

By Hana Hong
December 02, 2020
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I've struggled with extremely dry, flaky lips for as long as I can remember. Admittedly, my chronically chapped state is mostly my own doing—I’m a lip licker and suffer from an atrocious case of excoriation disorder. But I also have naturally dry skin that always seems to be shedding, so when winter rolls around, even the most abrasive physical lip scrubs can’t seem to keep the flakes away for long.

So when a fellow beauty junkie friend of mine recommended Fresh’s sugar lip exfoliant ($26; sephora.com), I was highly intrigued. Without visual guidance, you’re probably imagining a solid base with small sugar beads that slough off your skin cells. That is indeed the definition of a standard lip exfoliator, but this is no standard lip exfoliator. Housed in a small, purse-friendly glass vial and equipped with a dropper dispenser, Fresh’s version is a leave-on liquid formula with a viscous, serum-like texture. 

The non-mechanical lip exfoliator is made with AHAs derived from hibiscus flower, so the treatment is essentially a chemical peel for your lips. Chemical exfoliation is commonplace for your face but not as common for your pout. Because my lips are always so chapped, I’ve always entertained the idea of bringing my regular face exfoliator to my lips (alas, my derm warned me it can cause chemical burns), but now that there was one in a nifty lip form, I figured I had no excuse not to try. 

The first thing I noticed was how easily the formulation spread on my lips and how quickly it absorbed. There was no strong scent, but it did leave behind a slightly tacky residue and tightened feeling that didn’t exactly feel like hydration. I did expect this, however; despite being formulated with hyaluronic acid and sugar and fruit extracts, the product is not meant to be used alone, hence why it is categorized as a lip exfoliator and not a lip balm. In other words, it’s important to follow up with a rich lip balm afterwards—I use my trusty Smith’s Rosebud Lip Salve ($7; sephora.com). 

The pairing was quite beautiful. My lip balm alone isn’t enough to slough away existing flakes, but when preceded by an AHA my lip surface felt smoother and softer immediately. More significantly, it felt hydrated for longer, meaning I didn’t have to continue the vicious cycle of repeated lip balm applications throughout the day nearly as much as I typically would. 

This actually fixed another issue that I have with my lips, which is how much I can’t stand lipstick. Even if the initial application looks great, the flakes would usually resurface by lunchtime, leaving my pigmented lips looking even more cracked and jagged. But this product also works pretty well as a primer—my lipstick remained intact and flake-free so I could actually appreciate it for longer than three hours. 

Now that I’ve settled into the routine of using a chemical exfoliant on my lips, I find that it’s most effective to use it once a day in the morning—twice a day if my lips are feeling extra parched. My mouth is especially small, so one drop is plenty for a full application. (Speaking of small lips, an unexpected perk was that my lips felt plumper after a week of continued use—a friend even asked if I got lip filler.) 

As a heads up, your lips may get worse before they get better—read: they might feel drier at first. But if you stick to the routine for a week (make sure to layer it with a lip balm!), it should significantly improve your flaking cycle in the long run. 

To buy: $26; sephora.com.