For many, dry, itchy, flaking, sometimes even cracking and bleeding lips are a winterlong struggle. Our lips don’t have the same concentration of oil glands as other areas of our skin, which makes them more vulnerable to environmental factors. Unfortunately, our lips are also the most exposed part of our body to the environment. Inevitably, the cold weather, coupled with lip licking, will dry out the lips’ skin barrier. And that could lead to irritation, inflammation, flaking, and cracking.
But chapped lips aren’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. Even if you usually suffer from the more severe variety, there are steps you can take to ease your pain this winter.
What causes chapped lips?
The first step is understanding what’s causing your chapped lips. This time of year, freezing temperatures, wind, and dry indoor heating are obvious culprits. But they can also be triggered for a number of other reasons, including:
- compulsive licking and picking (which you might do without even recognizing)
- an allergy
- a vitamin or mineral deficiency
- inadvertent exposure to a topical acne product
- a reaction to certain medications, including Accutane
- sun damage (yes, even during the winter)
Chapped lips that stem from sun damage can be an indication of a precancerous change called actinic cheilitis, so it’s something that needs to be checked out by a board-certified dermatologist.
How can you treat chapped lips?
Once you’ve homed in on an underlying cause – with or without the help of a dermatologist – turn your focus to keeping your lips moist throughout the day. In mild cases, regularly applying a lip balm (especially before heading outside) containing occlusive agents like lanolin and beeswax should be enough to restore and maintain the lips’ skin barrier.
Running a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep is also a good idea. It’s particularly beneficial to those who tend to breathe through their mouths at night because they’re more prone to chapped lips.
If your chapped lips are on the more severe end of the spectrum, moisturizing your lips throughout the day with a balm that contains thick occlusives is still priority No. 1. If there are still flakes after you moisturize, try a gentle sugar scrub, but be very careful not to overdo it. Afterward, reapply your balm because raw skin needs protection in order for it to heal.
If after a week or so you’re not seeing any signs of improvement, see a dermatologist. Depending on their assessment, they may want to explore a prescription to help facilitate your lips’ recovery.