Protect your lips
Did you ever stop to wonder how the skin of our lips differs from the skin on the rest of the face?
The skin over our lips is very thin and highly vascular, hence their typical “vermilion” or red color. Our lips also have more nerve endings, making them very tactile and sensitive.
These anatomical differences make our lips attractive and nice for kissing, but they also make our lips vulnerable to dryness, sunburn and chemical sensitivities.
Painful and unattractive, chapped lips are especially common in the fall and winter because of the dry air inside and outside, and—paradoxically—because of the products we use to prevent or treat chapped lips.
Related post: Inexpensive and effective treatments for dry eyes
Tips to treat chapped lips
- Stay hydrated. Treat chapped lips from the inside out and drink plenty of liquids every day (caffeine and alcohol don’t count!).
- Use a humidifier. If your indoor air is very dry, consider using a cool mist humidifer.
- Use a lip balm or ointment. Look for a product with ingredients that moisturize (beeswax, shea butter) and protect (petrolatum).
- Dab on some olive oil. While a thicker product lasts longer and provides more protection, a dab of olive oil several times a day can keep your lips soft and moisturized.
- Don’t peel or pick chapped lips. This causes bleeding and delays healing.
Tips to prevent chapped lips
How do you prevent chapped lips in the first place?
Because the skin is so thin and sensitive, pay special attention to the ingredients of any products you use on your lips.
Avoid these common and irritating ingredients found in many lips products (read the label!):
- Menthol (or peppermint) and camphor are the primary ingredients of “medicated” lip balms such as Carmex and Blistex. They produce a temporary cooling or numbing sensation, but can be very irritating to sensitive skin.
- The chemical sunscreen avobenzone (oxybenzone), usually found in lip balms with an SPF of 15 or higher, such as Chapstick Ultra SPF 30, is a common allergen. Your lips might react by becoming swollen and painful. This happened to me and it was at least two years before I figured out I was allergic to chemical sunscreens. Good sunscreens for sensitive lips are zinc and titanium.
You might not realize you are sensitive to these products and get caught in a frustrating cycle of dry lips, more lip balm, drier lips. You might even feel it necessary to see a dermatologist who will give you a prescription for a steroid cream, but that won’t correct the underlying problem.
Be your own medical detective. If you use any lip product frequently and your lips continue to be chapped and painful, stop using the product and see if the problem resolves in a few days.
Break the habit of licking your lips. We all do it now and then, but if your lips are chronically dry, it is easy to do too often. As the saliva on your lips dries, moisture is pulled out of your lip’s skin as well, making your lips even drier.
Avoid flavored lip balms or lip sticks. They only encourage you to lick the balm off your lips.
Skip exfoliants. Many websites suggest using a toothbrush or scrub on your lips. Don’t waste your time or money. Exfoliation just irritates the sensitive skin and makes chapped lips more likely.
Lips have neither hair nor sweat glands, so they do need some protection against dry air and sun. Look for balms with as few ingredients as possible. Here are some of my favorite products.