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Why Your Lips Are Chapped

Has winter chapped your lips? Find out why it happens and what to do about it.


Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

WebMD Feature

Chapped lips are a sign of winter. You bundle up in extra layers during the winter months, but your lips are still exposed to the sun, win, cold, and dry air.

Your lips only have thin surface layers of skin, so they're more likely than the rest of your face to dry out, says Los Angeles dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD. You lose up to 10 times more moisture through your lips than you do elsewhere on your face or body.

Dry winter air, arctic blasts of wind, and the low humidity indoors can dehydrate your lips. That can make your lips so fragile that they develop tiny splits and cracks.

Make this winter different.

Licking Your Lips

The instinct to lick your lips makes the chapping worse, says dermatologist Jennifer Linder, MD, of Scottsdale, Ariz.

"As saliva evaporates, it dehydrates skin further," Linder says. Saliva also contains acids that help break down food. Those acids can irritate compromised lip skin.

Another common mistake is scrubbing, peeling, or biting off skin flakes. "Picking at the already thin skin of the lips can lead to bleeding and severe discomfort," Linder says. "This slows the healing process and irritates the skin further."

That could lead to an infection or a cold sore.

Protecting Lips With Balm

Your lips need a shield to stay in shape. A balm provides a buffer between your delicate skin and the weather or indoor heating, so never let your lips go nude.

"Skin heals better when it's kept moist," Wu says. "So I suggest wearing an emollient balm or ointment rather than a waxy stick treatment."

The goal is to seal in moisture and get extra hydration with beneficial oils, Linder says. That barrier will also help seal deep cracks and splits from infection and irritation.

For a non-waxy stick, the experts interviewed like Avene Cold Cream Lip Balm, Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment, and Softlips Pure Pomegranate Organic Lip Conditioner.

Petrolatum is a common ingredient. Castor seed oil, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, or squalane can also nourish cracked lips.

Linder suggests ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, and glycerin to ensure your lips stay moist. Wu suggests Kiehl's Lip Balm #1 containing squalane and natural oils. The experts also like the petrolatum-based Aquaphor Healing Ointment and Vaseline Lip Therapy.

Also look for SPF so your lips stay protected against the sun.

Aveeno Lip Conditioner Essential Moisture SPF 15 and Blistex Lip Infusion SPF 15 won praise from the experts.

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