Chapped Lips: Remedies and Prevention Tips
Like the skin on your face, lips requires moisturizing and sun protection. However, lip care is an often-overlooked subset of general skincare practices. Unlike other skincare, where we might be more likely to do our research and find the best products to nourish our skin, many people pick up the first lip products that they find and use it without thinking. However, there are many ingredients manufactured in common lip care products that might be harming your lips.
Chapped lips make you look a little rough around the edges, especially to the discerning eye. This probably isn’t a big deal among your friends and family who will accept you one way or another. Yet when it comes to giving a presentation, going to an interview, or negotiating an important matter in-person, details matter. For example, when you’re socializing with nutrition experts, well-maintained lips can be an indicator of how well you take care of yourself.
The number one reason, though, is that hydrated lips feel better. When your lips are chapped, they are dry and flakey, and they might even crack. This is extremely uncomfortable and can also indicate issues such as dehydration that may be occurring in other parts of your body.
Additionally, hydrated lips might not make you a better kisser, but they can make your lips more sensitive to being kissed.
Healthy lips make it easy for you to feel more comfortable in your skin so that you aren’t dealing with painful irritations. There are many lip balms on the market that can cause or exacerbate dry lip skin while seeming to give your lips temporary relief. Even balms with all natural ingredients can dry the lips of people with sensitive skin. However, a well-formulated lip balm will moisturize while rejuvenating and protecting your skin.
What Causes Dry/Chapped Lips?
Our lips are thin-skinned and easily aggravated by exposure to the elements. Cold, windy, and dry climates are the frequent culprits of chapped lips. And at the other seasonal extreme, hot summer sun can cause sunburn and irritation. About 70 percent of our skin is water. Many climates experience higher humidity levels in the summer and lower humidity levels during the winter. Our skin prefers a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent.
Lip skin doesn’t have the oil glands that keep the rest of our skin moist, and they also don’t hair (thankfully), which protects the rest of our body from the sun.
When your lips become dry, they are no longer able to hold as much water in the skin cells as healthy lips do. This decreases the ability for the surface skin of our lips to protect lower levels of tissue from infection. It also makes the skin less permeable to water passing. Meaning that once our skin is dry, it is harder introduce moisture into it.
Weather, however, is most likely not our only problem. Our indoor conditions can also play a part in drying out our lips, especially when we use extensive climate control. Heating and cooling systems usually dry out the air in our houses and lower the humidity level. While this can sometimes be a good thing, it can certainly go too far.
There are many things that we can do in our daily lives to sabotage our lip health, from our consumer habits to eating our choices and nervous ticks. If you were to consult a dermatologist about your dry lips, they’ll probably bypass asking you about the weather and instead skip to determining how your lifestyle might be drying out your lips.
Usually, this boils down to something you might put on your lips that’s irritating them:
“When I treat a patient for dry lips, the first thing I try to determine is what this patient might be doing or not doing that could be contributing to the problem,” explains Dr. Margaret E. Parsons, a Sacramento dermatologist. “In some cases, it might be a new lipstick that contains an ingredient irritating to the skin or an anti-aging facial product that inadvertently comes in contact with the lips that could be the culprit.”
Or whether your dry lips could be coming from exposure to the elements, such as dry weather and sunburn:
“Someone might be working outdoors or participating in sports and not protecting their lips from wind and sun damage with a lip balm, especially one with sunscreen. Once we determine the cause, there are some simple, tried-and-true treatments that work well for most patients.”
Why Are My Lips So Dry?
Quick Troubleshoot for Dry Lips
Lipsticks and similar lip products can contain skin irritants. Watch out for minty lip balms and chapsticks that contain too much wax. Waxy chapsticks make lips feel lubricated, but they do not allow moisture to soak into and repair the skin.
Facial products such as moisturizers and anti-aging creams can irritate our lips when they come into contact with the skin on your lips. Be sure when applying your face products to steer clear of the lip area.
Not wearing SPF and wind protection when spending extended amounts of time outdoors is a sure way to dry out your lips. Unscented SPF lip balms, such as Badger’s SPF 15 lip balm, keep us protected from damaging our lips, even when participating in rugged sports or when we’re out in inclement environments.
Ingredients To Know
Aloe Vera Gel: Aloe vera can be the holy grail for people experiencing sunburn or seeking to introduce intensive moisture into their skin. However, for those with sensitive skin, aloe vera can also cause dryness and irritation.
Alpha-hydroxy acids: Found in anti-aging products, alpha-hydroxy acids can cause considerable dryness when they come in contact with the lip area.
Beeswax (cera alba): Beeswax is an ingredient in many natural lip care products because it protects the lips with SPF and offers a coating against wind damage. Beeswax also contains oils that make it highly moisturizing to most people. However, even high-quality beeswax, which is often used to waterproof leather and canvas materials, can cause intense dryness to some individuals with sensitive skin.
This ingredient is best used as a protective measure by those with already healthy lips and should be balanced in recipes including it with moisturizing ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and almond oil. Note that there are many other bee products that have anti-inflammatory effects and are amazing for your skin’s regeneration, including honey, royal jelly, and propolis.
Fragrances: Everyone reacts differently when it comes to fragrances in cosmetics. Some individuals have skin that does not suffer from the use of fragrances, and others find that fragrances always cause them irritation no matter what. In general, fragrances that come from essential oils are better for your skin than alcohol-based fragrances. Alcohol evaporates quickly, drying out your skin and taking your much-needed moisture with it.
Guaiazulene or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: These ingredients are found in toothpaste and they can be very drying to your skin and lips. If you frequently experience cracking at the corners of your mouth, toothpaste-caused irritation could be the problem.
Isotretinoin (Accutane): Isotretinoin is the generic name of Accutane, a retinoid found in orally taken acne medications that can cause lip dryness.
Petrolatum: Petrolatum is a form of petroleum jelly used in a wide variety of skincare products from lip balms to face products like foundation.
High-grade petrolatum that is produced without impurities will have no adverse effects on our health. However, while the E.U requires certifications that all cosmetic products made with petrolatum are carcinogen-free, the U.S. does not require these certifications.
Petrolatum can give us the feeling of deep moisture absorption while actually just coating and suffocating our pores. While this ingredient will function well for skin protection purposes, it is not formulated for moisturizing.
Phenol: You can find phenol in many traditional lip balms and other lip products. Phenol is the chemical frequently used in facial peels to remove the top layer of skin. Even the low concentrations of phenol that are present in many chapsticks could cause your lips to dry out.
Phenyl Salicylate (salol): Salol is a chemical used in lip products which may cause dry lips.
Retinoids: Retinoids are related to the chemical composition of Vitamin A, and they are frequently used in acne treatment and anti-aging products. Retinoids force the top layer of skin cells to die quickly so that new cell growth can come up underneath. They may cause skin irritation and dryness associated with peeling effects.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is included in a number of high-quality lip balms for its antioxidant properties, which help to protect and nourish the skin. However, people with sensitive skin may find that even small amounts of vitamin E are irritating to the skin because of these antioxidant properties.
The Most Common Reasons for Dry Lips
Bad Dental Hygiene
Gum disease (periodontal disease) can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth makes you feel like you are parched all the time and can spread to your lips, so that they are constantly chapped, no matter how much lip balm you use. A deep cleansing of your mouth and teeth by a dental professional may help to clear out the gum disease and allow your mouth and skin to retain moisture.
Check the Medicine Cabinet
Topical products, including acne medicines and anti-aging creams, have been known to irritate the lips and leave them dry when they contact with that skin. Individuals with existing eczema or other skin conditions could be more sensitive to irritants in lip and other topical products. This does not mean that you need to stop using thee products. Instead, take care to apply them around the mouth, avoiding the lip area.
The blood pressure medicine propranolol and vertigo medication Prochlorperazine are both known to cause dry lips.
Overuse of supplements that we rely on for healthy bodies may result in lip dryness, including a Vitamin A intake that is over 10,000 units per day. This is well over the daily dosage of most multi-vitamins but can be reached by those taking Vitamin A for its antioxidant properties or those taking retinoids as an acne treatment.
Foods That May Dry Lips
Some of the natural chemicals that we eat can be skin irritants that dry out our lips. These frequently include spicy foods, such as hot peppers and chili mixes. The acids in citrus foods are also known to cause dry skin and, in the case of lemons, can cause peeling. Spices such as cinnamon (as well as the cinnamon flavoring used in candy and toothpaste) may also irritate sensitive skin.
Mango skin, when it has been cut, contains small amounts of Toxicodendron, the extremely irritating chemical found in poison ivy. While mango skins are harmless to many people, they can cause dry and puffy lips.
For those with nut allergies, highly-rated balms and lip protectant that contain nut oils, such as shea butter and almond oil, may cause irritation.
Salty foods, especially salt that comes into direct contact with the lips, like a salt-rimmed margarita glass, can cause dryness throughout your whole mouth, lips included. Known culprits include salty processed snacks and very dry foods such as freeze-dried vegetables or cured meats.
Caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate your system, causing both your skin and your body to dry up. Additionally, alcohol has astringent qualities that can close and dry the pores on the skin that it touches thus making it less permeable. While enjoying dehydrating beverages, it’s a good idea to balance your coffee and cocktail intake with generous glasses of water to keep yourself from drying out.
If your mouth is cracking at the corners, you might have angular cheilitis, normally onset by nutritional deficiencies. Nutrient Deficiencies, such as a lack of iron, zinc, or B-vitamins in our diet, can cause cracked lips and broken skin. Deficiencies make it so that your skin cells are unable to regenerate as quickly as they need to. A lot of these deficiencies can be alleviated by the addition of leafy greens like spinach and high-quality animal products into your diet.
In many cases, having very dry skin lets you know that your body is not getting enough healthy fats. These include fats found in fish, olive oil, and coconut oil, which can help you spur your body into producing more sebum.
You may recognize sebum as the culprit that mixes with dirt on your faces and causes your pores to clog, but it’s actually on our bodies for a reason. Sebum is our body’s answer to the need for lubrication and a natural moisturizer. Lips areas that aren’t producing enough sebum will lose moisture more easily. So eat those healthy fats and make sure keep your face clean to avoid breakouts.
Lipsticks are full of unknown ingredients and formulas that can cause our lips irritation. One common ingredient in commercial lipstick is Propyl gallate. Propyl gallate is an ingredient in lipstick that can cause an allergic reaction in some wearers.
If you have sensitive skin and frequently dry lips, avoid matte lipstick formulas and lip plumpers. Lip plumpers may contain chemicals, natural or otherwise, which are meant to purposefully irritate your lips so that they swell and appear to be more full. Some of these irritants include capsaicin, which is known for giving hot peppers their spice factor, and mint oils. Each individual’s skin will react differently to these ingredients. For some, it is a minor irritation, but others might find it to be downright painful and find redness as well as swelling.
Those who use lip plumpers or drying liquid-based matte lipsticks in their daily routine should moisturize your lips at the beginning and end of the day to recondition them and allow them to heal overnight. Products like overnight lips masks, which are thick on the lips but provide intensive healing and moisturizing benefits could help keep your lips healthy in spite of irritations.
“Lip-Smacking,” Biting, or Licking Your Lips
Our saliva is perfectly designed for what it does. It contains enzymes that help to break down our food and kickstart the digestion process. This is a good thing, as it means that our bodies are really working to break open the food we eat and haul out as many nutrients as it can. This also means that out saliva is not a moisturizer but a digestive-aid.
One of the biggest steps toward healthy lips is avoiding licking them when they’re dry. It’s good to start early because the more damaged the lips become, the harder it is to break this habit.
It’s a known fact that the more hydrated our bodies are, the happier we are. For many people, our bad days are days when we forget to drink enough water for our system. This rule goes for your lips as well.
When your dry lips correlate with being parched in your mouth or having dry skin elsewhere, as well as a low mood or energy level, you might need to drink more water.
There are a number of diseases and illnesses that can affect the dryness of your lips. Most often, this is a symptom connected with other medical issues, and your doctor will be able to identify it. If you suspect that your chapped lips are disease-related, you should see a dermatologist or general practitioner before you begin a lip treatment.
Men and Shaving
Unfortunately, shaving with a manual razor can lead to dry skin and lips. The daily application of shaving cream and the movement of the blade across the skin can leave it dry and irritated. Many men have found that switching to a high-quality electric shaver, or if your lifestyle and job allows simply switching to a stubble trimmer, has saved their skin from this daily trauma.
Remedies for Chapped Lips
How to Prevent Dry Lips
Protecting Your Lips From the Elements
It’s often easier to remember to apply SPF and balms when we’re about to do something that’s more of a chore like yardwork or routine sports. But when it comes to things that we associate with fun and leisure, we are more relaxed and therefore less likely to use sun protection.
You can save yourself a lot of trouble and damage by preventing chapped lips in the first place. If you’re going to be outside, whether you’re playing, commuting, or taking a leisurely walk, it’s a good precaution to carry some protective balm with you.
Sometimes, though, frequent use of lip balm is not enough to protect us. The next step for protecting your lips against extreme elements, such as heavy snows, bright and reflective dessert sunshine, and dusty or extremely salty climates, is to cover your lips with a scarf or some kind of face mask.
You should always use a balm if you’re playing a sport, especially those where you are exposed to the wind, like biking, skiing, hiking, running, and rafting. Be aware that some of your favorite outdoor activities can wreak havoc on your lips, including outdoor grilling or even just sitting around a campfire.
Indoor Chapped Lips Can Happen Any Season
Indoor climate control, including forms of heating and cooling, works to dehumidify our indoor zones, leaving us drier on the inside, which can be bad for our skin. This could also be the case for anyone who uses their oven throughout the day. If you find that your home might be the cause of your chapped lips, you can help your lips stay moist with the regular use of a humidifier. Also, remember that indoor plants help your home hold moisture in the air.
Picking a Lip Balm
You can find the cure for chapped and dry lips in a number of self-care practices. Perhaps the easiest among these is finding a good healing lip balm or ointment that works well with your skin.
Watch out for overly waxy products which coat the lips without moisturizing benefits or products that contain a heavy amount of vaseline. Lip products that cause dryness are associated with chapstick addiction, or in other words, the impulse to continuously apply chapstick throughout the day without feeling relief.
The best balms will have natural ingredients that you can easily recognize, such as coconut or almond oil. You may also see vitamin E included, as well as other antioxidants which protect and nourish your skin.
How to Get Rid of Chapped Lips
The desire to simply get rid of chapped lips sometimes leads us to pick at them, either with our fingers or by biting them. This is a very bad practice that can lead to increased damage and even infection.
Instead of picking at your lips, you can get rid of some of the irritating dead skin by using a sugar scrub gently formulated for the lips. The scrubs are available from many beauty and cosmetic companies, but they are also extremely easy to make with inexpensive ingredients around your home. Scroll down for our simple sugar lip scrub recipe and homemade lip balm recipes.
To use a lip scrub rub it gently over the lip area. Rather than rubbing vigorously as soon as the scrub touches your lips, let it sit for half a minute so that the oils can hydrate and soften the skin, then gently rub it off and rinse. Allowing the process a few extra minutes keeps it from resulting in more damage such as ripping or scratching.
How to Stop Licking Your Lips
The best thing for chapped lips is to break any habit that you might have of licking, smacking them together, or biting them. We tend to lick our lips because they’re dry and irritating. To break the habit, every time you have the urge to lick your lips or find yourself already licking them, apply a quality lip balm instead.
SPF and Sun Protection
Whether it’s yard work or sports, everyone should use a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or more to protect their lips year round. Just as with normal skin-care, it’s not just the summer sun that can burn you, you also have to watch out for sun rays that are reflected off water, sand, and snow in the winter.
Dr. Parsons explains that in the recent years, women have protected their lips better than men by wearing SPF protective lipsticks and tinted balms. This has allowed men to contract significantly more skin cancer on their lips than women. To protect themselves, men can find lip balms that are untinted and fragranceless with at least SPF 15.
Homemade Lip Balm
Homemade lip balms have the added benefits over other natural skin care balms and ointments in that you can know exactly what goes (and doesn’t go) into your products. This means you have some idea of the vitamins and nutrients that you are putting on your skin and into your body, so you can feel secure that you aren’t covering your lips in something that you’re allergic to or that irritates them.
Homemade lip balms come in all shapes and sizes, meaning perfect personalization. No fragrances unless you want them, and no tints unless you’re looking for something with a little color. We recommend beginning with a base recipe that you like, and altering it with tint, flavor, and scent the way you want.
All Natural Beeswax and Shea Lip Balm (Base Recipe)
With Coconut Oil
You will need:
- 2 Tbsp Beeswax
- 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 2 Tbsp Shea Butter
With Almond Oil
You Will Need:
- 3 Tbsp Beeswax
- 2 Tbsp Shea Butter
- 4 Tbsp. Almond Oil
With Olive Oil
You will need:
- 2 Tbsp Beeswax
- 2 Tbsp Shea Butter
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Chapstick tubes, salve tins, or other containers
- A plastic pipette or small ladle for pouring liquid
- A double boiler or a glass/steel bowl positioned on top of a pot of water
- Stir Beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter in the double boiler until it melts.
- Remove the pan from heat, but keep double boiler assembled so that steam continues to melt the ingredients together.
- Add in any essential oils or tints.
- Use the pipette or ladle to transfer the liquid mixture into your mold.
- Let sit or pop into the fridge until cooled and hardened.
DIY Gel Lip Balm (Base Recipe)
Vaseline-style lip balms are a favorite for many. They provide a glossy consistency that seems to moisturize and protect the lips. The gel style is popular in balms like Carmex, Aquaphor, and Smith’s Rosebud Salve. All of these balms contain positive ingredients such as cotton-seed oil, which is known to have good effects for skin and hair, among others.
However, they are also mainly formed from a petrolatum or petroleum jelly base. This is a problem when it comes to giving your lips the best care because petroleum jelly is a filler that only gives the appearance of hydrating your skin while actually suffocating your pores.
Enter cera bellina, an ingredient derived from beeswax that can form oil gels. This ingredient makes creating a gel lip balm easier than ever.
You can make an ounce of gel lip balm with the following formula:
- 1 Tsp Cera Bellina
- 1 Tbsp Sweet Almond Oil
- 1 Tsp Avocado Oil
- 1 Tsp Coconut or Olive Oil
According to Tash, an essential oil guru, this is a great dupe for Smith’s Rosebud Salve, with the addition of Rose Absolute.
DIY Vegan Chapstick (Base Recipe)
Don’t want beeswax on or around your lips? No problem. Homemade vegan lip balms use ingredients like candelilla wax, soy, or carnauba wax.
All of these recipes can be produced over a double boiler. Since your candelilla wax, carnauba wax, and cocoa Butter will take much longer to melt than your coconut oil and shea butter, it’s best to melt them completely over your double boiler before melting in the other ingredients.
Homemade vegan lip products can be tinted and flavored just as well as beeswax products, so look below for tips on tinting, scenting, and flavor variations.
Candelilla Wax Vegan Chapstick
- 2 Tablespoons Candelilla Wax
- 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
- 2 Tablespoons Shea Butter
Cocoa Butter Vegan Lip Balm
- 1 1/2 Tsp Candelilla Wax
- 3 tsp Cocoa Butter
- 3 Tsp Coconut Oil
Coconut and Olive Vegan Lip Polish
- 1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1 Tbsp Carnauba Wax
- 1 Tsp Olive Oil
Scent and Flavor Ideas to Personalize Your Homemade Lip Balm
Essential oils are a common way of scenting a lip balm. In general, you can find an oil that you like and use 10-20 drops.
Flavoring can come from baking oils or extracts. Be aware that extracts often contain small amounts of alcohol, so adding in an extract like Vanilla might cause your lip balm to have some drying aspect. For most people this is negligible when compared with the amount of soothing oils in each formula, but it still may irritate those with sensitive skin.
To make a Burt’s Bees lip chap substitute, use 20-30 drops of Peppermint Oil.
Other popular scents and flavors are:
- Orange Oil
- Lime Oil
- Vanilla extract
- Cocoa Powder
Tint Ideas for a Pop of Color
Tinted lip balms don’t have to use drying ingredients or chemicals, instead try one of these natural tints, to give your lip gloss a light pink, brown, or even gold color.
- Freeze-Dried Berries or Berry Powder: You can create this by food processing freeze-dried berries into a fine powder. Make sure that powder is mixed throughout so that it doesn’t settle to the bottom while the lip balm is cooling.
- Mica Powder: Natural mica powders can come in many colors, especially glittery golds and reds. This will give your lips a glossy shine and sparkle when you use your balm. Just be sure to get powders that are comprised of pure mica and contain no additives.
- Powdered Makeup: All natural makeup, such as shimmery eyeshadows and rosy blushes, can easily be broken up and used to add color to your lip balm.
Homemade Sugar Lip Scrub (Vegan)
Lip scrubs remove dead skin and reintroduce oils onto your skin to protect it. Additionally, sugar scrubs don’t have to be just for your lips. These scrubs work great on your legs and arms for pre-shave skin-care and gentle exfoliation.
- 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- 2 Tsp Honey (or just enough to make the mixture into a paste)
- 2 Tsp Olive Oil
Chapsticks and lip balms can go a long way to helping us hydrate our lips, but remember that putting ointments on our bodies alone is not enough for good skin care. Our bodies are always reacting to what we put in them, and that includes the delicate skin of our lips. Drinking plenty of water and taking care of our bodies mark important first steps toward keeping our lips soft, moisturized, and healthy.