The Cure for Chapped Lips

Each autumn, chapped lips make an appearance. Cold weather chapping is caused by environmental conditions that lead to dehydration. When lips are too dry from dehydration, painful cracking and peeling begins.

Posted on | Audrey Kunin, MD | Comments ()

Each autumn, chapped lips make an appearance. Cold weather chapping is caused by environmental conditions that lead to dehydration. When lips are too dry from dehydration, painful cracking and peeling begins.

The first brisk day should act as the perfect reminder that reasonable, consistent use of a protective balm can protect your lips from drying out in the first place. Protective waxes can help protect lips that have not yet broken down. Your solid tube of wax is something you apply before you've got problems.

How much moisture does a tube of wax give your lips? The answer is, very little. If you enter into the winter with healthy lips, then a wax-based balm can be protective. A moisture-rich lipstick or lip balm that's applied several times daily can do the same.

While applying lip balm can be habit-forming, lip balm does not contain any ingredients capable of causing a true physiological addiction. Just as one can develop all sorts of bad habits, satisfying the continuous need to apply lip balm can be a difficult habit to break. Sometimes, the habit develops as a method to de-stress or find comfort. More commonly, the affected individual becomes so accustomed to the feel of a heavy wax upon their lips that the feel of normal, healthy uncoated lips feels oddly unnatural. 

Lip protection is an important part of fall skincare. Cold air, reduced humidity and windy weather quickly leave the thin lip mucosa with deep cracks, so treatment needs to happen from below the surface rather than merely sitting on top like a blanket. Once lips are dry and chapped, heavy emollients are necessary to heal and repair the damage.

Simple emollients in squeeze tubes or pots can work wonders to not only prevent problems but fix them, too. Once lips are chapped, the more often the moisturizer is applied, the faster the healing process can take place.

Look for ointment-based products containing ingredients such as shea butter, lanolin and vitamin E. Agents such as beeswax and dimethicone, a skin protectant, are often also found in ointment bases. They work to create a barrier against dehydration while the moisturizing ingredients work to fix the chapping. Additives commonly found in lip care products may make chapped lips worse. So while you may enjoy the tingly sensation imparted by menthol, camphor, eucalyptus or cinnamon, avoidance is key for rapid healing.

SPF is an ideal ingredient in preventative waxy lip balms. But when lips are chapped and cracked, avoid chemical sunscreen ingredients, which may also sensitize broken skin.

Blog written by Audrey Kunin, MD
Dr. Audrey Kunin is a board-certified dermatologist, author, clinician, educator and President of DERMAdoctor, Inc. Dr. Kunin...