Feel that chill in the air? It’s time to pucker up – and protect your lips from winter’s wrath.
The dry air that comes with cold weather can be hard on any exposed skin. But the delicate skin on our lips is particularly susceptible. That means if we aren’t careful, we feel the brunt of winter right on the kisser.
Our lips, it turns out, have more in common with the fragile skin inside our mouths than the rest of the skin on our faces, says Shelly Rottner, a nurse practitioner at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Prince Creek.
“Lips, being part of our mucous membranes, don’t contain oil glands like skin,” Rottner says. “That means they need special attention and protection, especially during the colder, drier months.”
The Dos (and Don'ts)
Here are a few do’s and don’ts for happy, chap-free lips this winter.
Do hydrate. “One way to prevent chapped lips is to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water,” Rottner says.
We may not sweat as much in winter, but wind and cold air still dry out our bodies.
Don’t lick your lips. “Saliva from your tongue can actually starve the lips of moisture, causing them to be more cracked,” Rottner says.
Don’t chew your lips. Those little flakes of dry skin are annoying and easy to bite, but it’s important to resist the temptation. By doing so, you can aggravate your condition.
Do moisturize. When your lips start to burn, reach for the balm. You’re looking for something with mineral oil, glycerin, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), shea butter, hemp seed oil or zinc oxide to lock in the moisture already in your skin. An SPF of 30 adds protection from the sun (yes, that’s important even in the winter).
Don’t use menthol. If your lip balm is stingy or zingy, it probably contains menthol, eucalyptus oil, peppermint or cinnamon. Those feel nice when applied, but they dry out your lips and can make chapping worse, Rottner says.
Do reapply regularly. Stay on top of things by reapplying lip balm during the day. Follow up with one more dose at bedtime to keep your lips moist as you breathe in your sleep. Adding a humidifier to your bedroom can also help by fending off the effects of dry indoor air.
Stay alert for problems
Keeping your lips well protected during winter can avoid cold sores as well, which can be triggered by chapping in some people, Rottner says.
Be sure to watch out for persistent chapping, however. That could be a sign of something more serious.
“Chronic chapped lips could be a sign of serious medical condition or infection such as cheilitis that may indicate an early form of skin cancer and requires immediate treatment,” Rottner says. “As always, if you have any concerns, speak with your primary care provider or another qualified health care professional.”