Winter can be challenging even for people who love cold weather. After all, nobody likes shoveling out their driveway at 5 a.m. or wearing three layers of clothing just to make a quick trip to the store.
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But winter can be an especially brutal time of the year for your lips, which often get chapped, dry and cracked.
“The cold weather has a significant effect on our body, and that includes our lips,” says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD.
Why do my lips get chapped or dry?
It’s no surprise that winter weather might cause chapped lips. The combination of cold air and chilling wind outside — and dry, heated air inside — all conspire to make your lips dry and tight.
When you go outside, you also might not think about lip protection right away.
“Keep in mind that when you go out into the cold you may take steps to cover the rest of your body,” says Dr. Piliang. “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.”
Plus, believe it or not, 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,” says Dr. Piliang. “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.”
Remedies for chapped lips
Luckily, there are multiple things you can do to fix chapped lips, as well as healthy habits you can adopt to keep your lips smooth and healthy all winter long. Here are six tips to follow:
Use a lip balm that’s ointment-based
This remedy will lock in the moisture and help heal cracks and splits in the skin. Look for a healing ointment that contains petrolatum, essential oils or glycerin.
Stay away from 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.
Make sure your lip balm contains sunscreen
Another important ingredient in lip balm 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, as the skin is thinner and more delicate.
Drinking plenty of water is known to be good for your skin — and this includes your sensitive lips.
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.”
Don’t bite, brush or rub your lips when they’re flaking or peeling
You may also feel the need to get rid of that pesky, irritating feeling that flaking and peeling causes — after all, it feels so much better when your lips are smooth! However, try to resist that urge.
“It’s much better not to scrub your lips or pick the peeling skin off with your teeth or your fingers,” Dr. Piliang says. “That just creates cracks and sores on your lips and can make things worse. Instead, apply a very heavy ointment-based balm that will be soothing and will help to heal your lips.”
Be vigilant about treating chapped lips
Treat severe peeling and cracks right away. If you let chapped lips go, they can become worse, possibly infected or may even lead to a cold sore. For example, 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.
How to prevent chapped lips
Getting into the habit of adding lip protection to your morning, bedtime and outdoor routine is the way to go. “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,” says Dr. Piliang. Also, consider using a humidifier at night if the air in your house is dry from your heater.
Be sure to apply lip balm before you go to bed every night. Many people sleep with their mouths open. Eight hours of breathing in and out through your mouth can seriously dry out your lips — and Dr. Piliang says lip balm can help a great deal.