By Deanna Pai
“The skin on your lips is more thin, sensitive, and susceptible to dryness than other parts of the body,” says dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D.
Healing chapped lips may feel hopeless — but we’re here to help. Here’s what might be causing the hydration holdup.
Chapped lips can be tough to avoid.
While it might feel good for a few moments, “saliva can strip the lips of moisture,” says Dr. Palm. You’re better off doing nothing until you can apply a rich, velvety lip balm, as frustrating as it may be if you don't have one immediately handy.
“Avoid putting retinol, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, and other exfoliant actives on or around the lip area,” says Dr. Palm. Even if you’re not slathering them onto your lips, the ingredients may migrate and “can dry out the skin on your lips,” she says.
While lip balms shouldn’t cause any issues, other lip products can — namely, anything that bills “plumping” as a benefit. “Certain ingredients like menthol and camphor, which are sometimes found in lip plumpers or other skincare products, can further irritate and dry out your lips,” Dr. Palm says.
“Tartar-control and whitening formulations, as well as cinnamon-flavored toothpaste and gum, can be a common cause of contact dermatitis,” ultimately leading to dry lips, says Dr. Palm. If you just started using something different in your oral hygiene routine, consider this your cue to switch back.
“In patients who have had significant sun exposure, precancerous skin spots can look like dry areas of skin,” says Dr. Palm, adding that a trip to a derm might be in order. “The lips are an often forgotten area for sunscreen application, and it’s really important to protect them.”
“Exfoliating skin that is already dry can lead to additional inflammation and worsen dryness overall,” says Dr. Palm. Instead, she recommends focusing on keeping the lips moisturized and properly hydrated, which will help repair their barrier.