If your lips are on the dry side, you probably think you just need to slather on the drugstore lip balm and wait for your lips to restore themselves to their former glory. In most cases, you would probably be right.
But what if it doesn’t work?
Seasonal dry lips are perfectly normal. There are no oil glands in the lips, and the lips’ stratum corneum (the layer on top of the skin that acts as a barrier) is extremely thin, so they are particularly vulnerable to the lack of humidity during the cold winter months. Nevertheless, some cases of dry, chapped lips are indications of a medical abnormality.
Sometimes, you might merely need to put extra care and attention into your normal skin and lip routine. However, cracking dry lips that don’t improve with moisturizer, lip balm, exfoliation, and time might require the attention of a qualified dermatologist.
This Valentine’s Day, treat your lips to a little extra TLC. Here are a few things you should know about the causes of dry lips, and what you can do about them.
When to Treat Dry Lips Yourself
Here are a few common causes of dry lips that you can address at home.
Too much lip-licking.
Hang on – you’re not supposed to lick your lips?
Well, not when they’re super dry, no. The enzymes in saliva are meant to break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the foods we eat as part of the digestive process; too much saliva on dry lips can make them dryer.
Because keeping saliva off the lips at all times can be challenging, it’s important to have a good lip balm on hand that can effectively seal in maximum moisture while blocking the corrosive effects of saliva. The best lip balms combine humectants, emollients, and occlusives. This combination attracts atmospheric moisture to the lips and effectively seals it in, creating a protective layer. Paraffin wax lip balms are particularly effective.
If you are struggling with dry, chapped lips, choose a lip balm without potentially irritating ingredients like menthol or salicylic acid. Apply a thick layer before bed every night, and wear a lip balm with ultraviolet (UV) protection during the day.
Too much sodium or spice.
If you’ve spent this winter noshing on salty snacks, you might have found the culprit for your dry lips. The salt and spice content on the exterior of potato chips, crackers, or pretzels can linger on your lips, dehydrating and irritating them.
Skip the snacking (or switch to healthier raw vegetables and fruits), apply a layer of lip balm, and see if your lips heal in a day or two.
Too much sun.
The lip area is especially susceptible to sun damage because the outer barrier is very thin. If you’ve spent this winter on the slopes where UV rays are especially harsh, your lips might be paying the price.
Treat your lips as though they’ve been sunburned and soothe them with lip balm and aloe vera. Aloe vera gels contain a compound called aloin which has anti-inflammatory properties. It can also attract needed moisture which can minimize peeling.
Too many skincare products.
While those exfoliating acids or skin rejuvenating retinol might keep your skin bright and beautiful, they could also irritate your lips' delicate skin.
Make sure you aren’t overloading your skin with serums and exfoliants, and always wear a protective layer of lip balm before applying your products.
When to See a Doctor
You might have a medical concern if you don’t see improvement after a few days of at-home lip nurturing. Drugstore remedies can’t necessarily correct the following causes of dry lips.
Wearing dentures, drooling in your sleep, or having an underbite might make you more susceptible to yeast growth. This fungal infection can cause pain, dryness, and cracking in the corners of the mouth.
The most effective solution for fungal growth is anti-fungal medication. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to learn the best course of treatment.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause cracking, soreness, a rash around the mouth, and dryness of the lips. Check with your physician to determine whether you have a vitamin deficiency, and what the cause could be.
Acinic cheilitis is a condition that emerges after chronic damage from sun exposure. This complication is a potentially serious issue that can progress to skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas will emerge in between 10% and 30% of people with acinic cheilitis.
If your dry lips also have plaques or scaly patches, please schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for an evaluation.
Your skincare products, cosmetics, or personal care products like toothpaste could trigger an allergic response like redness, irritation, and peeling.
Your dermatologist can help you discover the source of the reaction and prescribe an oral or topical medication that will help address the issue.
Tell your dry lips to kiss off – schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist today! Visit our information page to find a location near you.