Chapped Lips

28 February 2024

Winter is the time of year we notice how chapped and cracked our lips become from the dry air, cold temperatures, and wind.

The human body has microscopic glands that support hair follicles and provide oil that serves to moisturize the skin and hair. However, lips don’t have these sebaceous glands. So, that is why they tend to dry out faster than other parts of the body.

What do we do? Generally we lick our lips more frequently.

Well, the National Institution of Health (NIH) says that licking lips often is only a short-term solution. In fact, for some people it will become a compulsion. Our saliva contains digestive enzymes that will break down the delicate skin on the lips. This leads to even more dryness, cracking, and peeling. It can also cause some conditions like contact dermatitis, angular chelitis, and secondary infections. If the cracks are severe, a thicker ointment like petroleum jelly can help protect and encourage healing.

Like other health initiatives, a daily routine that will involve preventive measures is recommended. You may also want to consider exfoliating your lips when necessary. That will eliminate the dry areas and allow lipstick and gloss to go on smoothly and look nice. However, if you have healthy lips, that won’t be required.

Actually staying hydrated is a good place to start. The experts also recommend a lip balm, especially when lips are feeling dry. However, they suggest avoiding fragrances and flavorants. Things like menthol, peppermint oil, etc. can contribute to contact dermatitis. They also suggest avoiding emollients (like lanolin) and solvents (propylene glycol).

What they do suggest is finding a product that contains an ultraviolet protectant. Using lip balm or an ointment at night will help hydrate your lips during sleep. Reapply during the day after eating and drinking. If outdoors, reapply every two hours or so.

In the winter a scarf that winds around the lower face can help reduce exposure to the cold and wind and a hat with a large brim is always a good idea, particularly in the summer sun.

When lips start to chap, the body’s reaction is to start licking them. Using a bland lip balm should provide moisture and add a protectant. It can also help break the habit of lip licking. While it may seem innocuous, excessive lip licking can be offputting to others. It can also make one appear nervous or trying to hide some fact or information. Not good at job interviews, first dates, or family events. Not to mention being interrogated by the police. Behavior modification is recommended if the action is persistent.

If the condition is serious, like dermatitis or bleeding, your primary care physician or dermatologist can prescribe a topical corticosteroid to allow the area to heal thoroughly.

As with most things, prevention is the preferred method of operation. That includes using lip balm or ointment before bed and upon awakening. Remember to catch the corners of the mouth. Be sure to use a lip balm with SPF before going outdoors, even in the winter. Use a humidifier indoors to prevent dry air. Keep a lip balm handy throughout the day.

In addition, you can exfoliate the lips once or twice a week, if necessary. That will remove the dead skin cells. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this product. You can easily make some at home by mixing two teaspoons of a naturally abrasive element, like sugar or salt, with one tablespoon of an ingredient that will provide nourishment to the area. These ingredients can include avocado oil, beeswax, almond oil, or coconut oil, etc.

lip balm

If you choose, you can also make your own lip balm using two tablespoons of shea butter, four tablespoons of a liquid oil (coconut or even olive oil) and three teaspoons of beeswax pellets. The pellets are available from a number of online sources including Amazon, Etsy, and craft stores.

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