Chapped lips are a common problem that’s often associated with winter. Unlike other skin, the lips don’t contain oil glands that produce sebum, which protects the skin from drying out. How do we deal with this irritating and often painful problem?
Chapped lips have both visual and non-visual symptoms. The lips will often be scaly and cracked, but chapped lips can occur without any visible symptoms. Dryness, irritation, itch, and pain are the main frustrations of the condition. If it becomes more severe, the lips can crack and bleed. Chapped lips typically heal within two weeks without any treatment unless it becomes infected.
What Causes Chapped Lips?
A thin layer of skin protects the lips. Unlike other parts of the body, the lips don’t contain oil glands that protect the skin from drying out. Without the protection of sebum, the skin on the lips is vulnerable to minor environmental changes. The lips are also exposed to acidic foods and drinks, which can irritate the skin further. Some factors that can cause chapped lips to include:
- Saliva, lip licking
- Low humidity/indoor heating
- Low temperature
- Spicy or acidic foods and drinks
- Sun exposure
- Allergies and sensitivities to products that come into contact with the lips
- Certain medications
How to Prevent and Heal Chapped Lips
Prevention is always best, but because several factors can cause chapped lips, it can be challenging to prevent. When the lips become irritated for any reason, they can become vulnerable to even minor irritants like spices or hot foods. As a result, it’s unclear what the direct cause of chapped lips was. Follow these tips throughout the year to help prevent chapped lips:
- Lip balms can help protect the lips; apply as needed throughout the day and before going to sleep.
- Humidifiers can help to restore some moisture indoors
- Exfoliating gently can help get rid of dry flakes on the lips. Use a soft toothbrush, sugar scrub or even a damp towel. Follow with lip balm afterwards.
- Use lip balms that contain sunscreens if possible
Managing Chapped Lips
Despite your best efforts, chapped lips sometimes appear out of nowhere. While chapped lips will heal on their own, good management can help improve healing time and reduce discomfort. Here are 5 tips on how to manage chapped lips:
- Stop licking your lips.
- Avoid overly spicy or acidic foods that will further irritate your lips.
- Use a lip balm that includes occlusive ingredients, such as shea butter, beeswax, petrolatum, mineral oil, dimethicone, and lanolin.
- Distract yourself as much as possible to discourage touching the lips.
- Drink plenty of water, and use straws if the lips are irritated.
Stop Licking Your Lips
Saliva is an irritant as it contains digestive enzymes that help break food down. When the saliva evaporates, it also removes moisture from the lips and leaves the lips drier. While it’s usually not enough to cause too much damage, if the lips are already dry and damaged, saliva can worsen it. The same is true of spicy or sour foods. A good strategy is to keep yourself as busy as possible to distract yourself.
Severely Chapped Lips? It Could be Cheilitis
Cheilitis is a severe case of chapped lips. The lips become inflamed, and cuts on the lips often become visible. The lips become infected or result from an allergic reaction. In some cases, sun damage can cause a condition called actinic cheilitis, which can turn into skin cancer.
If your chapped lips don’t heal within two weeks or the symptoms become more severe, check in with your doctor or dermatologist. The characteristic feature of cheilitis is a crack at the corners of the mouth. While this is relatively common, it’s good to check in with a medical professional if it persists for longer than two weeks. Sometimes you want to rule out other concerns such as vitamin deficiencies, allergies, or even skin cancer in some cases.