While dry, cracked, cracked lips can happen to you at any time of the year, this pout problem is especially common in cold, dry weather.

In particular, walking around in the bitter temps without a scarf covering your lips — or fighting a cold that leaves you dehydrated and breathing through your mouth due to a stuffed-up nose — can also make the situation worse.

woman-lips-closeup - chapped lips

Thin skin

UW Health dermatologist and integrative medicine specialist Dr Apple Bodemer explains that the skin of the lips is really thin compared to other parts of the body. And the lips have fewer oil glands that help protect from dehydration. So they are really susceptible to the effects of dry environments.

“Once lips start to get dry, people also commonly lick their lips or start to pick at and peel them,” says Dr Bodemer. “There are enzymes in saliva, and with a little bit of lip licking, you do add some moisture back in — but it is easy to overdo it, which only makes the problem worse.”

How to protect your lips

To help retain moisture in the lips, Dr Bodemer recommends using a lip balm or lip ointment frequently — once every hour or two when you’re awake. And look for a product that contains thick ingredients that help to create a barrier on the lips, such as:

  • Shea butter
  • Bees wax
  • Coconut oil
  • Petrolatum (such as Vasoline jelly or Aquaphor)
  • Dimethicone
  • Ceremides
  • Cocoa butter

If you wear lip gloss or lip stick, apply the balm before applying the cosmetic. And if you’re going to be outside, look for a product that contains an SPF factor to provide UV protection, especially in winter. While you’re protecting those lips, make sure you stay well-hydrated (which is good for your entire body). It can also help to wear a scarf that covers your mouth when outdoors in cold, dry conditions.

>> Cold sore or not: What’s that red thing on your lip?

A special note about children: Kids are especially prone to dry, chapped lips. Using products such as petrolatum and applying it frequently can help. It might be challenging to keep it on them, but doing so can help keep the lips from getting dry.

Other things to avoid to heal your lips

“Using flavored lip balms can actually cause you to lick your lips more, which only makes the problem worse,” notes Dr. Bodemer. Additionally, there are some ingredients in lip care products that can actually cause your lips to dry out. These are commonly found in lip plumping or lip cooling products, so be on the lookout for:

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  • Menthol
  • Camphor
  • Phenol
  • Peppermint
  • Alcohol

A tingly feeling when you apply the product is usually an indication that it might not be the best thing for your dry lips. Spicy and acidic foods may aggravate the problem as well, so it’s best to avoid them at least while you’re trying to heal your lips.

When to contact your doctor

While you might not think chapped lips warrants a chat with your doctor, if you use lip balms frequently, are staying hydrated and protecting your lips from the elements and still have problems with painful cracking, open sores or sores that won’t heal, that’s when it is time to check with your doctor and see what your next steps should be.

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About The Author


UW Health is the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison serving more than 600,000 patients each year in the Upper Midwest and beyond with 1,400 physicians and 16,500 staff at six hospitals and 80 outpatient sites. UW Health is governed by the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority and partners with UW School of Medicine and Public Health to fulfill their patient care, research, education and community service missions.

Photo credit(s): Photo thanks to Adina Voicu

Original publication date: 02/22/2016

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