The Best Ways to Care for Chapped Lips
Summer comes to an end and we relish the cool days of fall. But with the gorgeous fall colors come dry air, dry skin, and chapped lips. So why do lips chap so easily this time of year? And what is the best way to care for chapped lips?
The skin on our lips is very thin when compared to the skin on the rest of the face. Tiny blood vessels lie just below this translucent skin and give lips their red color. Lips are fragile because they don't have hair, sweat or sebaceous glands. Without the usual sweat and body oils to keep skin smooth, kill pathogens, and help to regulate warmth, lips are at a distinct disadvantage. They dry out fast and chap easily.
Having said that, there are 8 main causes of chapped lips:
- Wind and dry weather pull moisture out of your skin and lips.
- Frequently licking your lips is a big cause of chapped lips. The enzymes in saliva can irritate your lips and the skin around them.
- Allergic reactions to products like lip balms or lipsticks, toothpaste, cleansers, anti-aging or exfoliating products, etc. If you think you're having an allergic reaction, this post might help: 8 Ingredients in Lip Balms & Cosmetics That Cause Allergies.
- Some oral medications for acne (isotretinoin or Accutane), high blood pressure, cancer and nausea can cause dry, chapped lips. In fact, most medications that have dry mouth listed as a side effect can cause chapped lips.
- A Vitamin deficiency, in addition to causing chapping, can cause persistent cracks in skin on the sides of the mouth. B2 / Riboflavin, folate, and iron are the most frequent causes.
- Taking too much vitamin A can cause skin and lips to peel and crack. This usually happens when people take too many supplements.
- Some diseases like Herpes simplex virus-1, Plummer-Vinson syndrome, lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, Sjögren's syndrome and hypothyroidism can cause a dry mouth and chapped lips.
- Yeast infections can also cause cracks on the lips and at the corners of the mouth. Yeast occurs normally on our skin, but cracked lips can mean too much yeast is being produced.
20 Ways to Care for Chapped Lips:
1. "The quickest way to fix them [chapped lips] is by dabbing on an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream before bed, and then smoothing on Aquaphor the next morning," says Jeanette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. "Keep using the Aquaphor morning and night until your lips are back to normal." Aquaphor Healing Ointment (which contains panthenol and lanolin) and hydrocortisone cream are available at drug stores.
2. Lock in moisture and care for chapped lips with an unflavored, non-medicated lip balm. To care for chapped lips, look for ingredients like almond oil, macadamia oil, and shea butter that will nourish and moisturize.
3. Face cleansers can cause dry lips. Before washing your face, apply a lip balm to your lips. Anti-aging and exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are often included in cleansers and skin care products. They can migrate to lips and cause dryness. During the day, remember to reapply lip balm to create a protective barrier for lips.
4. Dermatologist Audrey Kunin recommends applying lip balm right after brushing your teeth or washing your face to prevent chapped lips. Anything that disrupts the pH of your mouth can also affect the pH of your lips. So toothpastes, mouthwashes, teeth-bleaching systems and facial cleansers can all cause chapping.
5. Apply lip balm before bed. It's one of the best ways to care for chapped lips!
6. To care for chapped lips, apply balm outside of your lip line. "Oftentimes, it's the border of the lips that gets most chapped, so you don't want to ignore that area," says Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California's School of Medicine. "It may not be the cleanest look, but a dab just outside the natural line of your lips will work wonders."
7. Use a humidifier at night. During the winter, humidity levels drop and skin and lips get dry. A humidistat will measure the moisture level in the air of your home. A reading below 45 is considered dry. Turn a humidifier on in your room at night and anytime the humidistat reads below 45. "If you sleep with the heat on, as many of us do in the wintertime, this is particularly important," says Dr. Wu. "Many of us sleep with our mouths open, which dries out our lips. A humidifier can make the air a little healthier."
8. Drink water! "Staying hydrated is key," says Dr. Wu.
9. Eat fish or take fish oil pills. "These fatty acids are responsible for the health of the cell membrane, which is not only what acts as the barrier to things that are harmful, but also the passageway for nutrients to cross in and out and for waste products to get in and out of the cell," says Ann Yelmokas McDermott, PhD, a nutritionist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. In addition, McDermott says that since the membrane is what influences the cells ability to hold water, having a nice, healthy barrier yields moister, softer, more subtle, and more wrinkle-free skin.
But dermatologist Nicholas V. Perricone, MD, says that omega-3 fatty acids do far more than just reinforce the cell membrane. In his best-selling book, The Wrinkle Cure, Dr. Perricone says foods high in omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce the body's production of inflammatory compounds. They occur naturally as a part of aging and affect how healthy the skin looks and feels.
10. Don't exfoliate or pick at your lips. Lips have a thin layer of skin cells that are very sensitive. “Exfoliating causes damage and chapped lips, even if using a physical exfoliant like a toothbrush. Instead, stick to lip sunscreens and moisturizers,” says dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz. Picking at flaky, peeling lips can trigger a cold sore, cause bleeding, and make for very unattractive lips. It can also create an infection.
11. Resist the urge to lick your lips. Instinctively we lick our lips when they feel dry. It's counterintuitive, but continual licking removes lip's natural oils and dries them out even more. The same acids in saliva that help to break down food, also irritate your lips. Try to avoid flavored lip products. Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City says, “Anything that has a flavor is potentially irritating and anything with a flavor in it will make you lick your lips.”
12. Breathe through your nose to keep your lips from drying out. Remember the last time you got a cold? Because it's hard to breathe through your nose, your mouth and lips dried out. So intentionally breathing through your nose is a great way to prevent and care for chapped lips!
13. Use a lip balm that includes zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to prevent burned, chapped lips. "Forget chapping: Lips can age, burn, and get skin cancer just like the rest of the skin," says Dr. Cybele Fishman, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, adding that not all SPF products are created equal: "I prefer zinc or titanium to the chemical oxybenzone."
14. Don't use old lip balm or lipstick. "We tend to keep around lip gloss for a long time," said Wu. "But it can expire or dry out." Even worse, old lip products can grow bacteria.
15. To care for chapped lips, use lip balms in pots. Avoid sticks. Chapped lips heal best when they're moist. A lip product that is creamy will penetrate and heal cracks better than one with wax. Balms and lipsticks - especially matte and long-wear lipsticks - that come in sticks contain waxes that make lips drier. "Dragging a stick across your dry lips, especially one that's not brand new, can only irritate the skin further," says Wu. To heal lips more quickly, use lip products with ingredients like shea butter or hyaluronic acid.
16. Avoid using lip plumpers. Many contain irritants such as capsicum (pepper), capsaicin (hot pepper), ginger, menthol (menthoxypropanediol), or mint oil. If you experience tingling or burning with a lip plumper, often one of these ingredients is to blame. NOTE: Some lip plumpers use collagen or hyaluronic acid which should not irritate lips. Checking the ingredients is the key.
"Certain products such as DuWop Lip Venom use ingredients like cinnamon oil that will intentionally irritate the lips,” explains cosmetic chemist, Nick Morante, “and make them swell which gives an appearance of plumping.” Morante insists the irritation is mild and safe. Other plumpers use ingredients that, “increase the blood circulation in lips, and make them look fuller with the appearance of being plumper.”
17. Avoid eating or drinking any type of acidic fruits and juices. Oh, and skip spicy and salty foods until your lips have healed. Orange juice, grapefruit, lemonade, and other citrus fruits will hurt your lips and create even more dryness. Remember, tomatoes are acidic too. Foods that are spicy or salty, like wings and chips, can sting and lead to more flaking. "Eating a lot of citrus fruit in the winter can make it harder to heal chapped lips, because juice from oranges and grapefruits irritate them," says Jeanette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. "The same goes for certain toothpastes." To care for chapped lips, try using lip balm right after you brush your teeth or eat an orange.
18. Protect your face from windburn by wearing a scarf. “It’s [windburn is] actually the result of cold temperatures and low humidity that deplete the natural oils of your skin - causing redness, irritation, dryness and in some cases, skin peeling,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon and associate at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. Windburn can happen anywhere skin is exposed.
19. If your lips are still chapped after consistent care, you may be having an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis. This type of allergy looks like eczema or chapped lips and occurs when you touch something you are allergic to.
It's important to try to find the ingredient that is causing the allergy. Cinnamon, citrus (limonene), vitamin E (tocopherol), rosemary, eucalyptus, mint, menthol, lanolin alcohol, non-mineral sunscreen ingredients (like oxybenzone and avobenzone), red dyes, fragrance, flavorings, and preservatives (formaldehyde, phenol, and Q-15) can all an allergic reaction. Generally, If your chapped lips are caused by an allergy, they become chapped a few days after using balm and take about a week to heal. Learn more about how to heal lips with contact dermatitis in our post, 8 Ingredients in Lip Balms & Cosmetics That Cause Allergies.
And remember, "Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. Anthrax is natural but not safe,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The terms "natural" and "organic" are only regulated in food - not skin care products and cosmetics. So natural and organic mean anything the manufacturer chooses.
20. If you are unable to find the cause of your chapped lips, or if the corners of your mouth are constantly cracked, call your doctor. “You could have a type of yeast infection that's caused by the saliva that pools when you sleep with your mouth open,” says dermatologist Lori Brightman, M.D.
If you need a new balm to care for chapped lips, consider SkinCeuticals Antioxidant Lip Repair.
"The stuff works even if the complex descriptions and ingredients (silymarin and hydroxyethyl urea, in this instance) can be dizzying. So I had high expectations. It didn’t disappoint. Instead of reapplying balm all day, I needed only to dab on the lotionlike formula morning and night. One annoyance: It comes only in an imprecise pump, making application messy."
"I recently got sent SkinCeuticals Antioxidant Lip Repair, and I have to say, this product is the PERFECT moisturizer to wear underneath any lipstick. Rather than a balmy texture, this product is more like a cream, and hydrates lips intensely without leaving that greasy feeling. I just pump out a tiny amount and apply to my lips with my fingers before putting on my lipstick. My lippie (matte included) goes on smoothly, and my lips stay hydrated for most of the day. If they start to dry out, I just re-apply some of the cream overtop of my lip colour to hydrate, while still keeping the matte effect."
I wish you beautiful, soft lips! Thanks for reading!
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.
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