Dietary supplements may work and the right lip balm is useful – but avoid licking
Emine Saner – The Guardian
Licking is a recipe for dry lips. Photograph: Tara Moore/Getty Images
Don’t lick your lips
Chapped lips are common in winter, says Daniel Glass, a consultant dermatologist at the Dermatology Clinic, because of exposure to cold air outside and dry, centrally heated air inside. “Keratin, which forms the top layer of your skin, loses its flexibility and the lips become sore, cracked and scaly,” he says. “Many patients who have chapped lips are lip-lickers. Repeated licking can remove the oily surface film that protects the lips from losing moisture, leading to lips cracking. The digestive enzymes in saliva can also irritate the lips.”
Use lip balm
“You want a lip balm that has emollient properties, smoothing the surface of the skin and acting as an occlusive agent, locking in moisture,” says the cosmetic dermatologist Sam Bunting. “I like lanolin and petroleum, which do both. If you are skiing or hitting the beach this winter, you’ll want the addition of SPF, as lips burn easily.” Reapply lip balm every few hours and before bed, “as many of us with colds will mouth-breathe during sleep, which is very drying”.
Some medication, such as isotretinoin – better known under the brand name Roaccutane and used for the treatment of acne – can cause dry lips. “A recent paper showed that gamma linoleic acid [an oil found in plants] and evening primrose oil supplements may improve the quality of the skin on the lips while taking isotretinoin,” says Glass, but he adds that it is not clear if these supplements would help people not taking the drug. It may be worth a try.
Watch what else you’re using
“Lip balms can sometimes contain ingredients such as camphor and menthol, which create a pleasant, tingly ‘active’ sensation when applied,” says Bunting. “But they can irritate, leading to lips, paradoxically, getting drier with use, so I don’t recommend them. And if you use actives-based skincare, such as retinol, be sure to barrier off the lips with lip balm before applying it at night to avoid flaky, irritated lips.” Some lipsticks can also be drying.
Exfoliate and moisturise
“Don’t confuse a recurring cold sore with chapped lips. And don’t ignore a non-healing scab – lips are a common site for skin cancer so get your GP to refer you to a dermatologist for further assessment,” recommends Bunting. If your lips do become dry and chapped, Glass explains they “can be effectively treated by gentle exfoliation to ensure you are removing any dry, flaky skin from the surface and regularly moisturising with a good quality lip balm or moisturiser”.