Winter can really be a brutal time of the year for your lips.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
It’s no surprise when you think about why. The cold air, the chilling wind and dry, heated air inside all conspire to make your lips dry and tight.
“The cold weather has a significant effect on our body, and that includes our lips,” dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, says. “Plus, keep in mind that when you go out into the cold you may take steps to cover the rest of your body. But too often, your mouth is one of the last things you cover. Sometimes you might not even do it at all, leaving your lips exposed to those harsher winter conditions.”
Add to that the fact that your lips aren’t the same skin type as the rest of your face and body.
“Lips are a special type of skin that is very thin and delicate — which means they really do require some extra TLC,” Dr. Piliang says. “Our lips dry out 10 times faster than the rest of the skin on our face, so it’s really important to use extra protection,” Dr. Piliang says.
So, here are six tips to keep your lips smooth and healthy all winter long:
- Don’t lick your lips! When your lips are dry, it’s natural to want to lick them to make them moist. But licking your lips actually has the opposite effect. “Once you put saliva on your lips it actually makes them dry out faster, making your lips even more dry overall,” Dr. Piliang says. “Plus, the enzymes that are in saliva that are meant to digest food are irritating to the lips.”
- Use a lip balm that’s ointment-based. This will lock in the moisture and help to heal cracks and splits in the skin. Look for a healing ointment that contains petrolatum, essential oils or glycerin. Another important ingredient is sunscreen. Despite the colder temperatures, the sun still shines in the winter. Your lips can still get burned and are more susceptible to burning than the rest of your face since the skin is thinner and more delicate.
- Avoid lip balms containing camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. These ingredients initially feel soothing, but actually dry out your lips and make the problem worse. When your lips become more dry and irritated, you apply more of this kind of lip balm, and the cycle continues.
- Don’t bite, brush or rub your lips when they’re flaky or peeling. You may feel the need to get rid of the pesky bumpy feeling that flaking and peeling causes — because it feels uncomfortable when you’re used to your lips feeling smooth. “It’s much better not to scrub your lips or pick the peeling skin off with your teeth or your fingers. That just creates cracks and sores on your lips and can make things worse,” Dr. Piliang says. “Instead, apply a very heavy ointment-based balm that will be soothing and will help to heal your lips.”
- Treat severe peeling and cracks right away. If you let them go, they can become worse, possibly infected or may even lead to a cold sore. The herpes simplex virus has a tendency to attack when your immune system is down, which can happen more frequently in the winter. And when your lips are peeling, cracking and dry it doesn’t help the situation, creating an environment more ideal for that annoying invader as your defenses are down.
- Apply lip balm before you go to bed. Many people sleep with their mouths open. Eight hours of breathing in and out through your mouth can seriously dry out your lips — and lip balm can help a great deal, Dr. Piliang says. Also consider using a humidifier at night if the air in your house is dry from your heater.
“Try to add lip protection as a part of your morning, bedtime and being outdoors routine. Buy a couple of balm or ointment sticks and place one by your bed, and carry one in your bag or car so you’ll always have it on hand,” Dr. Piliang recommends.