PSA: You Should Be Paying Way More Attention To Your Lips

Photographed by Tom Corbett.
Because you're well-versed in the importance of taking care of your skin, your medicine cabinet is likely stocked with cleansers, serums, creams, sunscreens, and masks. But what if we told you there's one glaring feature on your face that you're probably not giving enough love to?

We're talking about your lips. They're there for you through all the eating, drinking, kissing, and Lip Kit-testing — and you can do better by them. We chatted with Annet King, senior director of global education and innovation for Dermalogica, about why the skin on your lips is different than the skin on, say, your cheeks, and how you can make your pout look its best.

"The skin on the lips is extra thin and sensitive," King says. "[Lips] don't have any hair or sebaceous glands, which assist in keeping the skin lubricated and protected. Their only source of moisturizer is your saliva; that's why they can easily become dry and chapped." What's more, they don't have any melanin, which is your body's natural way of protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays. "That's why [your lips] are at a higher risk of sunburn and skin cancer," King adds.

The marks of healthy lips are volume and hydration. "Think of your lips as a sponge: When exposed to moisture, they absorb water and plump up," King explains. "When dehydrated, they dry out and shrink."

But as you age, your lips will begin to show fine lines and wrinkles — usually at a faster rate than the rest of your face, since the skin is so thin. King stresses that smoking is a major culprit of early aging of the lips. "Beside the damage caused by the toxins in the smoke itself, smokers are more likely to develop lines around the mouth, because of the repeated use of the perioral muscles to hold the cigarette," she says. (Not only will quitting smoking make your pout prettier, it'll probably get a lot more action once your breath doesn't smell like an ashtray.)

But cigarettes aren't the only aging culprit. "The cumulative damage to the lips and the skin results from years of overexposure to the sun, cold air, drying lip products, and harsh weather," King says. "The negative effects of the environment frequently result in the drying, chapping, and cracking of the mouth." Improper care of lips can also lead to increased risk of inflammation, infection, and burning sensations.

The good news is that once you start taking care of your pout, you can reverse the signs of aging and trauma relatively quickly. King recommends applying a protective balm with nut butter or avocado oil before leaving the house — these two ingredients are extremely nourishing. Also, don't forget to apply an SPF to guard against sun damage (we love this Fresh one). But it goes further than that: "Exfoliate lips with a gentle exfoliant and follow with a hydrating mask to combat roughness and cracking," King advises. But keep the exfoliation to once a week and make sure to avoid scrubs with salicylic aid. "It can erode through the lips' outer stratum corneum and damage living skin layers beneath."

If the damage is severe — for instance, if you're suffering from extreme dryness or sores — make sure to check in with a professional. They have a host of prescription products that can soothe your lips better than regular balm can.

"And stop licking your lips!" King says. "Licking your lips can contribute significantly to dry, cracked skin. The saliva evaporates quickly, taking with it any moisture that was already on them, leaving them even drier." (This is especially true in the winter.)

Now, go treat yourself to a lipstick. You deserve it.
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