It’s winter. It’s cold. We’re already battling drier than usual skin…and then our lips dry out. But, are those dry lips just a fact of life during the winter? Or could they be a sign of something more?
More than likely, they’re just your typical dry lips caused by exposure or dehydration. But, they can be a sign of larger health problems.
This is probably obvious, but you might be dehydrated. And just like the rest of your skin, if you are low on water, your lips will suffer. They can also be dehydrated from mouth breathing when you have a cold with a stuffy nose or the dry air from heaters in the winter. Drinking plenty of water will help keep your lips from suffering.
- Vitamin Deficiency
Vitamin B6 and folate deficiencies can cause cracked, chapped lips that don’t heal. You’ll particularly notice cracks at the side of your mouth if this is the case. Check with your doctor if you notice persistent cracks that don’t heal, and if it is a deficiency, adding a supplement should help heal your lips.
- Vitamin Toxicity
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might have excess Vitamin A in your system. This is much more likely if you take a variety of supplements that are blends of vitamins. Check all of your supplements to make sure you aren’t getting too much of any one vitamin and if you are, choose the best supplements for your needs and see what happens when your intake decreases. The healing may surprise you.
- Weather Damage
If it’s summer, it could be the sun. If it’s the winter, it could be the wind. The weather can wreak havoc on our bodies, and our lips are definitely not immune. Protective balms are best once you heal your lips to prevent the damage from happening again. This is the kind of damage that regular chapstick can prevent (but not heal).
Some medications cause dry mouth and dry skin which in turn can make your lips dry and cracked. You probably shouldn’t stop taking a medication just because of dry lips (and definitely not without a chat with your doctor), so following the tips below to take the best care of them is your best option.
Yeast infections can cause those cracks in the corners of your mouth that don’t seem to want to heal. The best way to treat this is to drink lots of water and cut your sugar intake to inhibit yeast growth. Dry lips combined with a fever and other symptoms in children can be a symptom of Kawasaki disease. If you suspect this, call your doctor ASAP as it can be serious.
You might be allergic to an ingredient in a skincare or cosmetic ingredient. Pay attention to when it gets worse and see if you can tie it to the usage of a certain product. If you have known allergies, double check all your balms to make sure there isn’t a hidden allergen in one of them. Common ones might be lanolin or royal jelly (that one I learned the hard way with a trip to an emergency room…). Discontinuing the offending product should allow your lips to start healing.
Now, while you treat the cause of your discomfort, you can also treat the symptoms. But a run of the mill lip balm isn’t going to solve much of anything. In fact, some inexpensive balms may make your problems even worse. Popular drugstore brands use petroleum to seal out the elements, but that means they can seal out moisture. Sure, they feel good. Especially if they have menthol or hydrocortisone in them. Those ingredients aren’t helping your lips heal and might be making it worse in the moment. They can even create a vicious addictive cycle.
No matter the cause of your chapped lips, these steps will turn them around (and get you ready for wearing matte lipstick ASAP).
Four steps to heal chapped lips
The first step to moisturizing skin and lips is to start from the inside. Make sure you are getting enough water, especially in the winter when you may be congested, air is drier and the wind is brutal.
- Use a healing balm
Regular chapsticks don’t add moisture, they simply add a barrier between the elements and your lips which can mean moisture is locked out. Look for a balm without petroleum or parabens and that has a mix of emollients and humectants. My favorites are Red Apple Lipstick’s Rallye Balm ($15), Sol De Janiero Brazilian Kiss Lip Butter ($18) and Bite Beauty’s Agave Lip Balm ($18).
Never pick at peeling skin. It will make a bad situation worse. But, removing the flakes and the dry top layer will reveal smoother, healthier skin below. Use a lip scrub – you want something gentle enough for your lips. You can mix sugar (brown, coconut, white – whatever you have on hand) with enough olive or argan oil to make it spreadable and gently buff it into your lips. Or you can buy a pre-made one like the Tarte Lip Facial Lip Scrub ($16)
- Treat your lips
You also want to prevent further damage, so once or twice a week you should treat your lips to a lip treatment or mask to keep your lips on the path to smooth health. An overnight mask like the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask ($20) will keep your lips healthy and help keep your lip balm usage to a healthy level.
- See a dermatologist
If these steps don’t seem like they are helping to heal dry lips, you should see your doctor or dermatologist to see if one of the causes above (or even something else) could be the culprit.
If you pay attention to your body, it might just be telling you something about your health. And clearly, your lips are no different. Look out for these issues next time your lips start giving you problems and follow the steps above to keep your dry lips healthy and protected all year long.
NB: I am not a medical professional and this is not medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your body or health. Especially if you think dry lips could be more than just weather-related. Always read the ingredients on products you use on your body and do a small patch test before using them over your whole lips.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, founded the organization hope.dance and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.