“The reason your lips are so prone to dryness is because they are very thin,” explains Mona Gohara, M.D. and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. “They are the thinnest skin on our bodies — they don’t have the protective layer that say your back has.” And since they are often exposed to dry, cold winter air, they’ll need a little TLC. Here’s how:
1. Avoid lip balms with fragrances, menthol, or added vitamin E.
Ingredients that are meant to be tasty or fragrant can also be drying. And although vitamin E is usually a soothing — it can actually be an irritant, too. Instead, look for ingredients like Shea butter and sunflower natural oil. And the less ingredients, the better, says Gohara. Ultimately, you want a lip balm made with natural oils and hyaluronic acid, which is a natural water absorber.
And contrary to recent headlines, unless you’re putting irritants on your lips to make them drier, there’s no way you can overuse lip balm to the point where it would irritate skin, according to Gohara. For example, “there’s no way you could use too much Vaseline,” she says.
2. Exfoliate once a week.
Yes, even your lips need a good scrub every now and then. And you don’t have to buy a specialty scrub, either. Simply combine plain Vaseline with a bit of baking soda (or sugar) and about a teaspoon of water. Gohara then says to carefully scrub this mixture onto your lips in a circular motion with a soft bristle toothbrush. This gets rid of excess skin for smooth lips ready to be hydrated. Gohara warns against using your fingers though, because they’re full of gross bacteria.
And don’t go overboard. It can dry your lips out even worse. Stick to a weekly regimen.
3. Humidify your house and turn down the heat.
We’ve already explained the skin-saving benefits of a humidifier, and that includes keeping your lips hydrated. But it’s also important to turn down the heat. The winter air is already drying enough, but a too-hot house can suck the moisture right out of the air, making your lips (and skin!) feel dryer.
4. Drink water!
It seems obvious, but healthy, smooth skin and lips need lots of water. So drink up this winter.
5. Don’t lick or pick.
“If you have dry lips, do anything but lick and pick them,” warns Gohara. If you do, you run the risk of making the situation worse and causing something called Lip Licker’s Dermatitis. It starts out as red, irritated skin on the lips, but could then turn into a painful, unsightly ring around your entire mouth.
Note: It’s most common among children, but adults can easily get it too. So keep that Vaseline handy.
6. Use over-the-counter medications with care.
If you have severely cracked lips that require special treatment, a 1% hydrocortisone cream can help, says Gohara. However, you never want to use it for more than two weeks at a time, and you want to be careful to use it only on your lips and not the surrounding area. And visit your dermatologist if your lips become severely dehydrated.