Chapped Lips

What Are Chapped Lips?

Chapped lips are when your lips feel dry and cracked. If your lips burn, sting, or feel uncomfortable, they’re probably chapped.

You may think of chapped lips as something that only happens in the winter. But unless you take special care, your lips can get dry, sore, and scaly any time of year. This is especially true if you have a habit of licking or biting your lips or use products that irritate and dry out your lips.

Symptoms of Chapped Lips

Symptoms of chapped lips include:

  • Dryness
  • Cracks, peeling, or flaking
  • Bleeding
  • Redness
  • Burning, stinging or tingling

Causes and Risk Factors of Chapped Lips

Various things can cause chapped lips or make them more likely. These include:

  • Dry weather
  • Dry air indoors
  • Lack of oil glands in your lips
  • Not moisturizing your lips
  • Wearing irritating lipsticks or balms
  • Harsh or drying products like menthol, camphor, or salicylic acid
  • Too much sun
  • Excessive licking, touching or picking your lips
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Holding metal with your lips

Continued

Treatment and Prevention of Chapped Lips

Your lips don’t have oil glands, and they're almost always exposed to the elements. So if you don't take care of them, you'll pay the price. What can you do to keep them safe?

  • Use lip balm. A good balm can buffer your delicate lip skin from the elements. Choose one high in emollients. Check the ingredient list for petrolatum, which locks in moisture, and dimethicone, which seals off cracks and splits in drying lips. Don’t limit yourself to products with the word balm in them, either. Lip ointments are just as good a choice.
  • Apply early and often. Whatever type of product you choose, apply it before you put on lipstick or lip gloss, not after. To keep your lips protected, reapply frequently. You need about six to eight coats during the day, so apply first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every couple of hours during the day. To make this easier, stash a tube in your purse, one in the car, a third your desk, and another near the bed.
  • Protect your lips when you’re outside. You cover your hands and feet when the temperature drops; do the same for your lips. Wear a scarf or a ski mask that covers your mouth when you go out in the cold. And remember to choose a lip balm with broad spectrum UV protection year-round.
  • Drink up. You know it has tons of benefits for your body. One of those is to fight the dehydration that leads to chapped lips.
  • Use a humidifier indoors. These devices provide the moisture your lips and skin crave. It’s great to have one at work as well as at home, especially in the winter. Turn it on at night to replenish your skin while you sleep.
  • Don’t lick your lips. While it might seem like a good idea at the time, running your tongue over your lips is the worst thing you can do for them. As your saliva dries, it takes more moisture from your skin. Reach for your lip balm instead.
  • Don’t peel or bite flaky skin. The skin on your lips is thin and delicate. Picking at it can cause it to bleed and hurt, slow the healing process, and cause more irritation.
  • Don’t exfoliate. It can cause further damage to chapped lips. Instead, apply plenty of balm or ointment and turn on the humidifier.
  • Listen to your lips. Some treatments can do more harm than good. Ingredients like eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor can dry or irritate your lips. Stay away from them, especially if you have dry skin. If you’re allergic to plant-based oils and moisturizers like beeswax, shea butter, castor seed, and soybean oil, switch to a petroleum jelly-based product.
  • Call the doctor. See a dermatologist if your problem persists. Chapping that doesn’t heal, despite regular use of lip balm, can be a sign of infection or a more serious problem, like cancer or a precancerous condition called actinic cheilitis.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology:“Chapped Lips,” “7 Dermatologists’ Tips for Healing Dry, Chapped Lips.”

Lauren Ploch, MD, professor of dermatology, Ochsner Medical Center, New Orleans.

De Anna Glaser, MD, professor of dermatology, St. Louis University, Missouri.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: “Does licking your lips when they’re chapped really help?”

Steven K. Grekin, DO, Grekin Skin Institute, Wyandotte, MI.

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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