5 Tips to Prevent Chapped, Irritated Lips
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Dry lips are par for the course during winter, thanks to lower humidity outside and Sahara-level pumped-in heat inside. Certain habits and products can take lips from merely parched to cracked—or cause some women to have allergic or irritant dermatitis, which may look like chapped lips but won't be cleared up by lip balm alone. Here's how to avoid making a dry situation worse.
What to do at Night
Let facial products thoroughly sink into skin before bed.
The lip connection: Unless you sleep on your back with nary a movement side-to-side, unabsorbed products can end up on your pillowcase. And as you move around throughout the night, ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (both of which you find in acne products) or retinoids (found in both acne fighters and anti-wrinkle products) can end up on your lips and lead to irritation, says Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York.
Keep your toothpaste in your mouth.
The lip connection: Toothpaste can be a source of lip irritation and, eventually, dryness for some people, says Sejal Shah, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York, thanks to preservatives, flavoring, coloring and other ingredients. Sensitivity varies, but messy teeth brushers are more likely to get toothpaste on their lips, making them more likely to notice chapping. You might consider switching to a natural toothpaste, which, Shah says, tend to have fewer potentially irritating ingredients. Another tip: try applying a barrier like Vaseline to lips before brushing to keep stray paste off.
Exfoliate—but not with your face scrub
The lip connection: Getting rid of dead skin allows moisturizing lip products to do their job more effectively. Your lips are more sensitive than the skin on your face, though, and don't require the same intensity of exfoliation (they don't have oil glands or hair follicles, so there's less buildup to clear away), so face scrubs with large particles are generally too rough. Instead, Shah recommends using a clean toothbrush to gently brush over lips before bed once a week.
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images
What to do During the Day
Pick the right lip balm and apply liberally.
The lip connection: Your choice of product can be the solution or the problem. Some contain could-be irritants like salicylic acid (often added as an exfoliant), menthol and camphor, says Shah. Fragrances and artificial colors may also be problematic in a small subset of people, as are hydrators like lanolin and beeswax, which can trigger an allergic reaction. A few safer hydrating ingredients to look for: petrolatum, glycerin and dimethicone. If your daily look involves lipstick, put the balm on over your go-to shade to prevent excessive drying due to ingredients in the formula (long-wear varieties can be particularly problematic, says Day).
The lip connection: You've heard it before, and you're about to hear it again: Do not lick your lips. Saliva won't cause allergic or irritant dermatitis, but it does leave lips drier as it evaporates. Apply a moisturizing product instead.
For When Your Lips Are Already Chapped
First, figure out exactly what type of dryness you're dealing with. If applying hydrating, non-irritating moisturizing products and being aware of how often you lick your lips does the trick, it's likely a normal case of chapped lips and you should keep your application (and no licking) regimen rolling.
If the dryness persists, try to identify the cause by running through the tips above. Does it improve once you become a little more careful with your toothpaste or leave ample time between nighttime product application and lights out? Then it's likely a dermatitis reaction to something in the paste or the product—keeping it off your lips and using a good moisturizer should help. If it still doesn't clear up or you can't pinpoint a cause, ask your dermatologist about it; they may suggest an anti-inflammatory topical cortisone cream for a few days or a short course of a prescription-strength topical steroid once they've made a diagnosis.