Lips are more susceptible to drying out than other body surfaces, because they don’t contain oil glands or the protection of a tough outer layer. Chapped lips can be caused by dehydration, cold weather and wind, low humidity, dry air and sun exposure, particularly as you get older. If you lick your lips a lot, you could be causing or worsening the problem, since saliva contains enzymes that can weaken the tissue. (Don’t lick your lips before applying lip balm, which will seal in those enzymes.) Taking certain medications including Inderal for high blood pressure, retinoids used to treat skin conditions, lithium (for bipolar disorder) and some chemotherapy drugs can also lead to chapped lips.
You can become dehydrated simply because you don’t drink enough fluids, as a result of sweating a lot during exercise or because of hot and humid weather. Increased urination, which is a side effect of some medications and possibly a sign of undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, can also lead to dehydration.
Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women’s health suggests the following strategy for dealing with chapped lips:
- Make sure your lipstick doesn’t contain propyl gallate and that your toothpaste doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Both are known lip irritants.
- If your lips are more chapped in the morning upon awakening, it may because you are breathing through your mouth. If so, try putting a protective barrier of lip balm on before bed.
- If you have cracking at the angles of your mouth, take a multivitamin that provides at least 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of B vitamins.
Dr. Low Dog adds that if you have tried everything else, you might consider applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream three to four times per day for up to one week and then apply a lip balm. (I recommend one with beeswax or turmeric, or a calendula ointment.)
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns that some lip balms contain harmful parabens and phthalates. Also avoid those with plumping ingredients, such as phenol and carmol, which can be irritating, as well as any with menthol, which can inflame lips.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a humidifier at home to keep the air moist and covering your mouth with a scarf in cold, windy weather.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
American Academy of Dermatology, “Dry Skin: Signs and Symptoms.” aad.org/public/diseases/dry-sweaty-skin/dry-skin#symptoms