While we make a list of things that we're leaving behind in 2020 — our failed dalgona coffee attempts, presidential debates without the mute button, maskne — can we also add dry, ashy, cracked, and crusty lips to the mix? Chapped lips can happen to anyone, but with the right prep, they don't have to be a winter inevitability.
The first step in fighting off a dry mouth is understanding why it happens in the first place. "The skin of the lips is thin and delicate," says Hadley King, MD, a New York City dermatologist. "It does not contain oil glands like the rest of the skin, so this makes it particularly prone to drying out."
This makes your lips a breeding ground for cracks and discomfort when it's cold out. "Dryness is exacerbated during the winter because the humidity in the air decreases, so more moisture evaporates from the skin into the air," Dr. King says. "Exposure to wind makes this worse."
Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Zeichner Dermatology in NYC says that other common causes of chapped lips include excessive lip licking, irritating lip products, and even spicy foods. "Chapped lips occur when the outer layer of the lips is disrupted, which leads to loss of hydration and inflammation," he says. But even if you live in Chicago or put Sriracha on everything, it doesn't mean you're doomed to chapped lips forever. According to experts, there are easy ways to hydrate and protect your lips, especially in colder climates. We're breaking down their tips, ahead.
Don't lick your lips.
It might feel like an instinctual thing to do, but your saliva will only make things worse. "Licking your lips may temporarily feel soothing, but it will only dry them out more," Dr. King explains. "The saliva evaporates quickly and leaves your lips drier than they were before." Instead of using your saliva for temporary relief, pick up a hydrating lip balm.
Avoid drying ingredients.
Not all lip balms are created equal, and some may do more harm than good. That's why Dr. King says to pay close attention to the ingredients list on your favorite lip products. "Make sure you are using a lip balm that contains emollients and occlusives," she says. "Emollients, like ceramides, support the skin barrier. Occlusive ingredients, such as petrolatum, beeswax, and coconut oil, create a physical barrier to prevent moisture loss."
Dr. King recommends steering clear of balms with only humectants, which will ultimately make your lips more dry. "Lip balms that contain only humectants, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, can make lips drier," she explains. "They attract moisture, and if the air is low in humidity, then they can pull moisture out of the skin, and then the moisture evaporates away, therefore leaving your lips drier." Dr. Zeichner says irritating ingredients like menthol, alcohol, and hydroxy acids are also a no-no.
Use hydrating lip balms.
Instead, your lips will find greater relief when you layer on thick, nourishing balms with natural oils and clinical ingredients. Dr. King recommends Vaseline Lip Therapy Sticks and Aquaphor Healing Ointment as no-fail methods for soft lips. "Aquaphor has petrolatum and lanolin, which lock in moisture and help protect the skin from the elements," she explains. She also swears by Eos Lip Repair Extra Dry Lip Treatment, which has shea butter, cocoa seed butter, avocado oil, and olive oil, that'll make your lips feel pillow-soft for hours. You can even leave a lip mask on for a few minutes if your skin needs some extra love.
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Dr. Zeichner recommends the Alpha-H Liquid Gold Perfect & Plump Lip Balm, which has zinc oxide to protect your skin from UV rays. If you want an option that hydrates and provides a flush of color, he says Innbeauty Project's Lip Oil Glaze is full of emollients and botanicals that deliver hydration and tint.
To kick things up a notch, Dr. King says to add a humidifier to your home or bedroom to keep the air moist. And, if you must brave cold weather, keep your lips safe by keeping them covered with your face mask or a scarf. In severe cases where your lips are cracking or begin to bleed, Dr. Zeichner says that you can mix over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment into your favorite balm to nurse back your skin's barrier.
"If the lips are not improving in up to two weeks, you should visit your dermatologist for evaluation," he says. "A professional may be able to prescribe a prescription-strength lip treatment and even suggest getting tested for allergies." However, the most important thing to remember is not picking or panicking if you're struggling with dry, chapped lips. We promise — your lips will thank you.
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