For some people, winter means a daily battle against cracking, scaling or peeling lips. But what actually causes chapped lips? How can you prevent it?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you’ve probably had chapped lips at some point.
Here’s what’s happening. Your lips are pretty delicate things – this one at the top is your Labium superius oris, and the one at the bottom is your Labium inferius oris. Collectively they form an enormously sensitive, incredibly flexible part of your body.
However, they also have some vulnerabilities. For instance, the skin of your lips is different from the rest of your face – let’s take a closer look.
Here we go – this is your skin!
The outer layer is called the epidermis, and it has a protective covering called the stratum corneum. Underneath your epidermis is another layer of skin, the dermis.
Like the rest of your skin, your lips have all three of these layers — the difference is that the stratum corneum on your lips is way thinner than it is anywhere else on your body. In fact, it’s part of the reason people’s lips have that alluring red or pink pigment. It comes from underlying blood vessels — red-colored, blood-filled capillaries close to the thin skin on your lips.
Next, your lips also don’t have the oil and sweat glands that protect other parts of your skin. Their only source of moisture is your saliva, and that’s why they can easily become dry and chapped.
And that’s usually the culprit here: hydration. We often experience chapped lips in cold weather – not because our lips are allergic to winter or anything, but instead because the outside air tends to be drier, and this also dries out the lips.
And this drying out is the leading cause of chapped lips, also known as common cheilitis. Luckily, there are some pretty simple ways to prevent this.
First, and no matter what the cause of your chapped lips might be… stop licking them! I know, I know it can be a difficult habit to break. But licking your lips can contribute significantly to dry, cracked skin. The saliva evaporates quickly, taking with it any moisture that was already on your lips and leaving them even drier, especially in winter air.
And speaking of amazing segueways, let’s tackle weather-related chapping. If you have very dry air in your house, consider investing in a humidifier.
If you’re outside, then protect your lips with a product that contains beeswax or petrolatum, which will help maintain your lips’ hydration. If you plan to be out in the sun for awhile, help prevent dryness by using a sunscreen on your lips as well. A lip balm with SPF in it could help address both of these issues at once — and, as always, drinking plenty of fluids is a great move for your entire body, not just your lips.
And that’s it. Well, almost. We didn’t talk about the multiple other causes of chapped lips, or lip balm addiction, or whether some of the ingredients in those things actually cause chapped lips – an interesting little conspiracy theory.