No matter how you slice it, chapped lips are just very unpleasant. Unfortunately, they are also a regular — or seasonal — occurrence for many as dry skin is a common issue during the colder months, bringing with it said cracked, peeling pouts. “As the seasons shift and the temperatures drop, dry air can rob the skin of moisture,” says Dr. Neil Sadick M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Sadick Dermatology in New York City. This, along with a few other pressing factors, like adverse product ingredients and even pesky lip licking can cause the skin to flake and become sore and painful. A lineup of lip formulas can be beneficial for dryness, but learning how to get rid of chapped lips often involves more than slathering on your favorite balm.
That’s not to downplay the efficacy of chapsticks and other lip care essentials. Like the skin found on the rest of your body, certain ingredients are important for soothing and restoring moisture. However, there's more to this common seasonal skin concern than meets the eye, and arming yourself with expert knowledge (and the right products) is the best way to combat it this fall and winter.
Ahead, TZR tapped four skin experts to find out everything you need to know about getting rid of chapped lips once and for all. From the root of the problem to prevention, and even the items to stock up on before the weather turns chilly.
Why Do Lips Get Chapped?
According to Dr. Kseniya Kobets MD, MHS, FAAD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore-Einstein Advanced Care in Westchester County, New York, chapped lips occur when the skin has lost its hydration. “The top layer of skin, or stratum corneum, of the lips, is much thinner than what covers the rest of the body and is thus more susceptible to dryness, irritation, and disruption of the skin barrier,” she says.
As the first line of defense, keeping the skin surface (which includes the moisture barrier) intact is crucial to protecting the body from external threats and environmental stressors. “When the barrier is broken, hydration escapes or evaporates too fast through the epidermis, making it easier for allergens and irritants to penetrate the skin,” says Dr. Kobets. Along with being delicate in composition, Dr. Rishi Chopra MD, MS, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm Hamptons and UnionDerm Central Park, notes that lip skin doesn’t possess sebaceous glands to secrete protective oils. “Consequently, this means that they’re prone to drying out much faster,” he says.
What Causes Chapped Lips?
Dry lips can arise for a number of reasons, including side effects of medication and general dehydration. But as the experts note, the change in weather and sudden exposure to wind or unfavorable climates are at the top of the list. Both extremely cold and hot air tend to lack humidity and cause water to evaporate from the lips.
The second leading cause of chapped lips comes from another type of liquid prevalent in the body: saliva. “When people have chapped lips, they tend to lick them more which causes a nasty cycle of dryness,” says Merry Thornton, PA-C, board-certified physician assistant, and founder of Element Medical Aesthetics. Lip licking causes the skin to become even more dehydrated because saliva vaporizes very quickly and is packed with enzymes that can degrade the skin.
What Are The Symptoms Of Chapped Lips?
The most common symptoms of chapped lips include peeling, redness, and itchy or flaking of the lips, though these issues can often extend to the skin around the edges of the mouth. “Many people may experience soreness and redness above or below their lips, or cracked skin which can be painful and even bleed,” says Thornton. She notes this can become problematic as bacteria, viruses, and fungus can enter the cracks and cause a secondary infection as well.
While at-home methods (more on this below) can help, Dr. Sadick tells TZR that if your symptoms are severe you may want to see a doctor for further treatment options — especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as swollen glands or mouth sores.
How To Treat Chapped Lips
Thornton tells TZR that the best way to treat chapped lips is to drink lots of water, utilize SPF balms and lip products, and incorporate occlusive treatment products like Aquaphor’s Lip Repair or Vaseline. However, going overboard with products and essentially ‘slugging’ your lips isn’t ideal. Instead, she recommends looking for hydrating ingredients such as ceramides and zinc oxide to help restore your moisture barrier. “Humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid are also great for treating soreness and chapped lips,” says Dr. Kobets. For those with sensitive skin, she recommends CeraVe Healing Ointment to soothe and heal the affected area.
It’s important to note that, given how fragile the skin on your lips is, some ingredients, such as Accutane, isotretinoin, salicylic acid, menthol, and eucalyptus will be too harsh and cause further irritation. “People make the mistake of thinking that things that are tingling are helping but this is often not the case,” says Thornton. On a similar note, Dr. Kobets tells TZR that certain ingredients like fragrances, dyes, and chemical SPF ingredients should also be avoided as they can worsen the symptoms.
How To Prevent Chapped Lips
If you’ve suffered from cracked skin before, you may be tempted to reach for a lip scrub and complementing mask to slough off and smooth peeling layers. “These kinds of products remove dead skin but work best at preventing dryness beforehand,” says Thornton. That said, she notes that they should be used sparingly (no more than once a week) to avoid over-exfoliating the skin. Similarly, Dr. Sadick notes that while a lip mask can help improve the appearance of chapped lips they can also be a beneficial preventative product as they seal in moisture.
“Lip masks containing emollient-rich ingredients like Grace & Stella’s lip mask, which is made from castor oil and cocoa seed butter, or AVYA’s Lip Treatment which has marula seed oil and mango butter, are great options to moisturize and hydrate the lips,” says Thornton.
Installing a humidifier in your bedroom can also be advantageous and go a long way, according to Dr. Chopra. The primary function of the appliance is to put moisture back into the air, therefore making it less dry and stressing on your skin. “Hyaluronic acid serums before bed are another trick to help draw moisture to your lips as you sleep,” he says. For the best results he recommends applying a liberal coating to the skin and then layering with a balm just before bed. “Not only will this keep your lips moisturized but the serum will prevent your lips from drying out overnight.”