5 Things That Can Make Chapped Lips Worse, According To Dermatologists

You may not like what dermatologists have to say about your flavored lip balm.
Although it may seem a good idea at the time, “as the saliva dries and evaporates, it draws moisture away from the skin."
Although it may seem a good idea at the time, “as the saliva dries and evaporates, it draws moisture away from the skin."

It’s officially chapped lips season. And let us tell you, we feel your pain.

One of the worst side effects of dealing with cold weather is dealing with dry, cracked, painful lips. Sometimes, it feels like no amount of lip balm can help.

Some people have even questioned whether lip balm is the problem. According to the pros, however, that’s a myth, as long as your lip balm contains the right mix of ingredients. But more on that later.

There are, however, a few things that actually can make your chapped lips worse. If you’re one of the many people who struggle to keep your pout sufficiently moisturized, take note:

1. Licking your lips all the time

You’ve probably heard this one before, but just to enforce it one more time: Licking your lips when they’re already chapped isn’t doing you any favors.

Although it may seem like a good idea at the time, “as the saliva dries and evaporates, it draws moisture away from the skin,” Dr. Y Claire Chang, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, told HuffPost.

Excessively licking your already-dried out lips, as Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a Toronto-based dermatologist and medical director of Toronto Dermatology Centre, put it, leads to “short-term gain, long-term pain.”

Dr. Rachel Nazarian, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, elaborated: “Our saliva contains enzymes that make it effective for digesting our food when we eat. By licking your lips you apply the same digestive enzymes to your skin, and it can break down lips and make them dry and chapped.”

Licking your lips repeatedly can also get you caught in a cycle of wetting and drying the lips, and can even lead to something called “lip licker’s dermatitis,” which Chang described as “an irritant contact dermatitis around the lips characterized by redness and dryness around the lips.”

“The best way to treat dry lips is to avoid licking and, instead, apply bland emollients frequently to provide external hydration,” Chang added.

2. Cleansing with hot water

We’ve been told that super hot water isn’t great for keeping your skin moisturized, so it only makes sense that it won’t help dry lips. In fact, it can actually make dry lips worse, Chang said.

“Although hot water feels nice in the short-term, it can actually draw out moisture from the lips as it evaporates,” she added.

Barankin also noted that hot water strips away the natural oils that keep lips moisturized. To keep your lips from drying out, Nazarian recommended using lukewarm water and gentle cleansers when washing your face “to prevent your skin from drying out, especially in arid and cold weather months.” And that applies to your time in the shower, too, when hot water will come in contact with your lips.

3. Exposure to the sun

“Sun exposure can worsen chapped lips, so it is important to wear lip balm with SPF to keep your lips protected, especially when out in the sun,” Chang advised.

4. Flavored lip balms

All three dermatologists we spoke to agreed that fragrances, which are commonly found in lip balms, can irritate the skin and increase the potential for chapping.

It’s best to avoid using any products with fragrance, Nazarian said. She suggested applying a lip balm with lanolin or beeswax with no added colors or perfumes to prevent evaporation of moisture from the lips. Vaseline, which contains white petrolatum, is also effective, she said.

5. Irritating ingredients

Not all lip balms are created equal.

“I recommend avoiding excessive use of lip balms with salicylic acid, which is an exfoliant that removes dead skin cells,” Chang said. “Too frequent use of salicylic acid can cause irritation and further dry out the lips.”

Other ingredients to avoid are menthol or peppermint ― commonly added to lip balms for that cooling, soothing sensation ― Nazarian said. She also recommended steering clear of cinnamic aldehyde, the chemical compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, which can cause irritation in sensitive skin.

So what’s the best way to keep lips hydrated?

We’ll start by saying this: all three dermatologists said there’s really no such thing as applying too much lip balm, so long as you’re using something with the right ingredients.

Nazarian suggested using a product that contains hydrating ingredients (like ceramides and hyaluronic acid) along with ingredients that seal in moisture (like lanolin, petrolatum or beeswax) for “the perfect combo for soft, hydrated lips.”

Barankin recommended using a bland chapstick twice a day and urged not to lick or pick at your lips. If you need to put some moisture back into your lips, he also said you can put a damp cloth with warm water over the area followed by a proper lip balm to lock it all in.

In Chang’s opinion, if you’re using a lip balm to hydrate and lock in moisture, free from irritating ingredients, it’s “the more, the better.” It’s also wise to drink more water and use a humidifier at home to keep moisture in the air during the cold, dry winter months, she added.

You should also note:

If you’ve been treating your lips with care but continue to experience irritation and dryness, it might be a sign of an underlying issue, Chang said.

“Dry, chapped lips can sometimes be a sign of vitamin deficiencies, inflammatory bowel disease, fungal infections, contact dermatitis, excessive sun-damage, ill-fitting dentures or medication side effects,” she added, noting that it’s “important to address any underlying issues and medical conditions that may be causing dry lips.”

If you’re worried, your best bet is to consult with a dermatologist.

Below, check out a couple lip products that fit the bill for treating dry, chapped lips:

Vaseline Lip Therapy Original
Vaseline is great for preventing moisture from evaporating away from the lips.

Get Vaseline Lip Therapy original for $1.89.
Glossier Balm Dotcom
Glossier's unscented original Balm Dotcom has all the essentials -- lanolin, petrolatum and beeswax -- to keep lips moisturized.

Get Glossier Balm Dotcom for $12.
Aquaphor Lip Repair
Aquaphor's Lip Repair contains beeswax and shea butter.

Get Aquaphor's Lip Repair for $3.97.
Lanolips 101 Ointment is a multipurpose balm made of 100 percent lanolin.

Get Lanolips 101 Ointment for $16.95.
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