Chapped lips are a common problem during the cold winter months, especially for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. Lips that are chapped feel uncomfortable, and they crack and peel. Unfortunately, many people aggravate the problem by repeatedly licking their lips to moisten them. This only makes the problem worse.
What Causes Them?
The most common cause of chapped, cracked lips is dryness. Lips normally have a thin layer of moisture covering them for protection. The cold winds of winter combined with dry indoor heat can remove enough of this protective moisture layer to cause lips to become dry and cracked. Skin in the lip area is also thinner, which predisposes lips to moisture loss.
On the other hand, some medical problems can also cause chronically dry, cracked lips including an underactive thyroid gland, autoimmune diseases, allergies and chronic mouth breathing. Allergies to ingredients in toothpaste can cause problems as well as some medications that dry out the lips and mouth. That’s why it’s a good idea to see a doctor if chapped lips are a persistent problem.
Most people with chapped lips repeatedly lick them to reduce dryness, but saliva contains enzymes that can irritate dry, cracked lips, so it’s a habit you’ll want to break. Saliva also removes moisture from the surface of the lips as it evaporates. This is counterproductive. When the urge to lick your lips strikes, reach for a lubricating lip balm instead.
It’s also a good idea to avoid eating citrus fruits with chapped lips since these acidic foods can cause further irritation. Some chewing gum, candy, and mouthwash contain cinnamates that can also aggravate lips that are dry and chapped. Since ingredients in toothpastes can be a problem, switch to a natural toothpaste. Some lipsticks contain ingredients that can make chapped lips worse. The take-home message? Watch what you put into your mouth and on your lips, especially during times when your lips are chapped.
The elements especially cold, dry winds can aggravate chapped, cracked lips, so it’s important to protect them as much as possible when outdoors. Wear a lip balm that contains a sunscreen or apply a thin layer of sunscreen on your lips before facing the elements. Cover your face and mouth with a heavy scarf to block the wind. Drink plenty of fluids. Hydration helps to replace some of the lost moisture from the inside out, but avoid drinking liquids that are too hot or too cold since these can cause irritation. Use a home humidifier to add moisture to the air if you live or work in a dry environment.
Dry, cracked lips need moisture. During the day, wear a light moisturizing lip balm that’s free of camphor or menthol. These ingredients can irritate dry lips. Choose a balm that contains ingredients with emollient properties such as beeswax, shea butter and natural oils. Make sure it contains a sunscreen, and reapply as often as necessary throughout the day. At night, intensify the treatment by putting a heavier emollient ointment on your lips and turning on the humidifier to reduce dryness in the area where you sleep.
If the problem persists despite treatment, see your doctor. You could have a medical reason for chapped lips or even an allergy to a lipstick or lip product you’re using. Most garden variety chapped, cracked lips improve with moisturizing lip balms and protection against the elements, although the problem may return if you don’t continue to protect and hydrate.