Lips are especially vulnerable to dehydration
By Dr. Marie-Louise Daly, Consultant Dermatologist
Dry, cracked lips are a sure-fire sign that winter is in full swing, and sometimes it can seem that no amount of chapstick can help. Well-hydrated lips look pink and full – a reflection of the fact that there is sufficient moisture within the covering layer of skin to keep the cells plumped up and avoid the appearance of surface cracks and fissures.
Compared to skin, our lips have a much thinner layer of cells called keratinocytes, making our lips especially vulnerable to dehydration. They also lack a layer of cells called the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is present in skin and contains fatty molecules such as ceramides which help to protect against water loss. It is estimated that the rate of water loss occurs THREE times faster from the lips than from other areas of the skin.
One of the best ways of avoiding dry lips is to help ensure that any lost moisture is replaced. Moisture loss is reduced by applying an emollient. Application of emollients will also help to protect the lips from drying environmental irritants, such as extremes of temperature and wind.
How do harsh environments dry the lips?
Harsh environments (cold weather!) provoke a local inflammatory response in the lips. This inflammation promotes moisture loss and leads to cell damage in the lips. In turn this makes the lips look scaly and fissured. Scaling and redness may also extend to the skin above and below the lips. One of the best ways to prevent this is to create an artificial barrier with an emollient preparation. This helps to protect our lips and well-hydrated lips are less vulnerable to harsh environments.
What role does lip hydration play in preventing cold sores?
Cold sores erupt when the normally dormant herpes virus is reawakened. Harsh environmental conditions such as extremes of temperature or wind can dehydrate/damage the lips and UV light has been demonstrated to lead to reactivation of the virus from its dormant state. Well-hydrated lips are less likely to have fissures and cracks and therefore are more resilient to environmental factors that can exacerbate cold sores.
Why is it especially important to maintain lip moisture during winter?
During winter time we are exposed to extremes of temperature and windy conditions. Such conditions have the potential to cause inflammation and loss of moisture from lips. For cold sore sufferers, this can also make them less troublesome and encourage faster healing.
How do seasonal changes affect the appearance and health of lips?
Our lips have an increased propensity to become inflamed, dry and chapped in extremes of temperature or high light intensity. This can lead to reactivation of a dormant cold sore virus. Seasonal variation in weather can bring about lip inflammation, dehydration and sun damage. It is important to counteract these changes with regular application of a lip therapy, such as Prevasore, and careful use of SPF products.