The skin on the lips is much thinner and more delicate than that on other parts of the body. The lips are also exposed to the elements, including the sun and cold, dry air, making them prone to dryness, cracking, flaking, and peeling.
The lips lack oil glands and so cannot produce their own moisture, but natural moisturizers can help.
This article describes how to soothe chapped lips with nourishing ingredients that can provide quick relief from any pain or discomfort. It also looks at the causes and prevention of chapped lips.
1. Use a good lip balm
Drying lip balm ingredients can include menthol and camphor.
Some lip balms are better than others, and popular brands may contain ingredients that dry the lips out.
For example, many lip balms contain menthol or another mint flavoring. This can provide a cooling sensation, but mint is very drying and can leave the lips more chapped than before.
Common drying ingredients in lip balms include:
Avoid scented and flavored lip products, as these ingredients can also dry out the lips.
Look instead for lip balms that contain soothing and moisturizing ingredients, such as:
- Petroleum. These are available to buy in pharmacies, health stores, or online.
- Lanolin. These are available to buy in pharmacies, health stores, or online.
- Beeswax. These are available to buy in pharmacies, health stores, or online.
- Ceramides. These are available to buy in pharmacies, health stores, or online.
2. Try natural lip remedies
There are several effective natural remedies for chapped lips. A person may even have some in their kitchen.
To soothe and moisturize chapped lips, apply the following directly to the lips:
- Aloe vera: This gel forms inside the leaves of aloe vera plants. It contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories that soothe and rehydrate damaged skin.
- Coconut oil: Made from the flesh of coconuts, this oil combats inflammation and is an emollient, which means that it can soothe and soften the skin.
- Honey: It is highly moisturizing, which makes it a good treatment for dry lips. Honey also contains antioxidants and antibacterial properties, which help prevent infections from developing in extremely dry or cracked lips.
- Cucumber: It can gently moisturize the lips and may contain vitamins and minerals that could improve the lips' appearance.
- Green tea: Rich in antioxidants and minerals, green tea also contains polyphenols, which reduce inflammation. Soak a bag of green tea in warm water and gently rub it over the lips to soften and remove excess dry skin. This technique is more gentle than traditional exfoliation.
Aloe vera, coconut oil, and honey all have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help prevent infection while moisturizing and soothing the skin on the lips.
3. Exfoliate the lips
Chapped lips are covered in a layer of dry skin that can prevent healing ingredients in lip balms from reaching the right area.
People can use lip scrubs that contain sugar or baking soda to gently exfoliate away this dry skin.
When shopping for a lip scrub, look for products that contain ingredients that will soothe and moisten the lips. People can buy these lip scrubs in drug stores or find a range of natural options online.
4. Drink water
Dehydration can cause chapped lips.
Dehydration is a major culprit when it comes to chapped lips.
People may not notice when they are slightly dehydrated, so it is a good idea to make a habit of drinking water throughout the day.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. When the body is dehydrated, it pulls water from certain areas to ensure that the cells stay hydrated. This can cause dryness in the skin, including that of the lips.
Other symptoms of dehydration include:
The recommended daily water intake varies, depending on many factors, including a person's age, sex, and level of physical activity.
5. Use a humidifier
Spending too much time in dry air can remove moisture from the skin. This is a particularly common issue in winter.
Drinking plenty of water is a good way to keep the body well-hydrated all year round. However, people may want to consider using a humidifier during the winter to add some much-needed moisture back into the air.
6. Avoid smoking
Tobacco smoke can irritate the sensitive skin around the lips, causing them to dry out and become more likely to crack.
Smoking can also cause other problems in the mouth, such as mouth ulcers and gum pain.
People may notice that chapped lips clear up shortly after they stop smoking, as the skin begins to heal.
Preventing chapped lips
A person can prevent chapped lips by using sunscreen and avoiding scented lip products.
People often do not notice how much they touch or play with their lips — they tend to lick, chew, and even pull on their lips without even thinking about it.
These habits can worsen if the skin on the lips is unusually dry.
While it may be hard to resist peeling dry, flaky skin from the lips, people run the risk of removing healthy skin in the process. This can prolong healing times and even cause bleeding.
An individual can prevent chapped lips by:
- using products that contain sunscreen
- avoiding scented or flavored lip products
- avoiding lip products that contain known allergens
- exfoliating regularly
- staying hydrated
- quitting smoking
What causes chapped lips?
The skin on the lips is different from that on the rest of the face. While the underlying structures are similar, the skin on the lips is much thinner and more delicate.
Unlike the skin that covers the rest of the body, the skin on the lips does not have oil glands and so cannot produce moisture.
A range of external factors can cause the lips to become chapped. Controlling these factors can help treat and prevent chapped lips or stop them from getting worse:
Humidity levels tend to decline as the temperature cools in the fall and the winter months. Dry air draws moisture from the skin, which is why people often experience chapped lips during colder periods of the year.
Avoiding cold temperatures can help manage chapped lips and dry skin.
Licking the lips
When a person's lips are dry, they instinctually lick them to add moisture.
While licking may temporarily moisten the lips, this habit can make matters worse. As the saliva evaporates, it pulls moisture from the surface of the lips.
Drying ingredients in lip products
Some lip balms, lipsticks, and similar products contain ingredients that can make dry lips worse.
A few of these ingredients include:
- humectants, such as glycerin
Humectants are substances that prevent water loss.
People may have allergies to some common ingredients in lip products, especially pigments or fragrances. Using a lip product that contains an allergen can cause the lips to become dry, red, and chapped.
Prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can cause significant damage to the lips and lead to dryness and cracking.
Sun damage can also result in a condition called actinic keratoses, which causes crusty bumps to form on the lips. These bumps are not life-threatening, but they can become cancerous, so people should get them removed as soon as possible.
Certain medications, such as antihistamines, chemotherapies, and diuretics, can cause dehydration as a side effect.
Topical acne medications may contain ingredients, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, that can dry out the lips. If these ingredients come in contact with the lips, it can lead to chapping.
Having chapped lips is a common and sometimes uncomfortable issue. Some people only experience it in the winter, while others may experience it all year round.
Using caution when purchasing lip products. A few lifestyle adjustments may be enough to heal chapped lips and prevent the issue from returning.
People with chronically chapped lips may want to consult a healthcare professional. Certain medications and conditions can cause dehydration and chapped lips. If this is the case, they may recommend switching to a different medication.
People who have tried multiple remedies for their chapped lips without success may want to contact their healthcare provider to discuss potential underlying causes and treatment options.