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Soothing Dry, Chapped Lips

Survive cold and flu season and New England winter with well-hydrated, healthy lips.

This week, I’ve been battling the cold bug that everyone else has already had, has now, or is coming down with. The stuffy nose, dry heat in my home, and colder temperatures outside are culminating in one unpleasant side effect: chapped lips.

It already feels like everything is getting dry, from my fingers to my toes, so adding chapped lips to the mix is just one more problem I don’t want to have this winter. Still, I live in Massachusetts and am staring winter in the face, so relief isn’t something I’ll find soon. Not unless I take some steps to get my lips repaired and hydrated.

Our Overlooked Lips

Often neglected, the lips can easily become chapped during the dry winter months, leading to peeling dry skin, bleeding, and quite a bit of pain. In fact, that cracked, peeling lip problem is probably a yearly tradition for many of you. With a little special care and attention, chapped lips could be a thing of your past. And mine. Ouch!

What makes the lips so sensitive and painful? As the transition state between the facial skin and the mouth, the lips are a very unique area of the human body. There are no oil or sweat glands, hair follicles, or pigment in the lips. The pink or red color results from blood vessels under thin layers of skin on the lips. Extra nerve endings make the lips sensitive to touch, warmth and cold, which is why they hurt so much when they’re chapped.

How Lips Get Chapped

Lips can't produce their own moisture, nor do they have a barrier to seal moisture in, so environmental changes and habits can lead to dried-out, flaky, chapped lip. Some common habits are big chapped-lip culprits:

  • Mouth breathing. People who breathe through their mouths while sleeping (or while battling a cold, like me) get dry lips as a reward.
  • Licking your lips. Saliva will temporarily soothe the lips, but the digestive enzymes it contains destroys lips' natural protective oils. Licking makes lips drier and hurt more.
  • Environmental exposure. The sun, the wind, dry indoor heating systems, and low humidity evaporate lip moisture.
  • Overuse of exfoliators. It's good to get rid of some of the excess skin on the lips, once in a while, but don't over-strip the moisture.
  • Smoking. Chapped lips are just one of many reasons not to smoke.
  • Allergic reactions. Some cosmetics used on the lips can irritate them. Try switching lipsticks or lip glosses if you notice a reaction.  

How to Soothe Chapped Lips

First of all, if you have any of the above habits, quit it. Next, apply a moisturizer regularly to the lips to soothe chapping. Keep it up, even after lips feel better. The winter is no time to take chances on healthy lips.

If you need more help, try some of these more involved methods:

  • Use a cool saltwater compress followed by a lip balm containing waxes, shea butter or lanolin. Do this daily until lips heal. You can get these products at your local and they’re fairly inexpensive.
  • Gently exfoliate the flaking skin from the lips. Picking at the lips leads to more bleeding, so don't do that! Use a warm wash cloth and rub gently across the mouth. Apply a balm immediately afterward.
  • Try an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone ointment. Only use this until lips heal, and then switch to a regular lip moisturizer to prevent future damage.
  • Changing lipsticks, not smoking, and apply a balm instead of licking can all aid the process as well. Always keep a lip balm handy when you're outdoors for long periods of time to best prevent lip drying. Make sure it also has an SPF of 15 or higher to protect lips from sunburn.

The Natural Cure

If pricey lip balms or chemicals aren't your method of choice, a number of natural, home-made remedies are available to help. Many can be made easily and at low cost, with supplies you pick up at your local Shaw’s Market:

  • Cream of milk with a few drops of rose water and lime juice added.
  • Honey, which draws moisture to the lips and keeps them from drying out.
  • Vegetable glycerin mixed with vitamin E or wheat germ oil.
  • Papaya (mashed into a paste) applied to the lips and surrounding skin for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse off and apply a lip balm. The papaya contains enzymes that will gently exfoliate the dead skin on the lips.

With careful attention and a little helpful treatment, you don't have to suffer from dry, chapped lips this winter. And it won’t be a side effect of that inevitable cold we’re all spreading around Burlington right now. Not only will you feel better, but you'll look it too!

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