Dry Lips? Blame These 10 Mistakes You Didn’t Realize You Were Making

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021

Dry, chapped lips can drive us to distraction, but some of the things that we rely on to keep them hydrated may actually be doing more harm than good.

woman finger on lips dry
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Dry lips are more than a cosmetic problem

Dry, chapped lips do more than mar an otherwise picturesque smile. Dry lips can be painful, especially when they crack and bleed. They tend to occur more often during the cold winter months, but sun exposure can also dry out a pout. “Lips are unbelievably thin, and unlike other areas of the skin, the lips have no oil glands so they tend to dry out easily,” says Sam Rizk, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in New York, NY. “The lip borders may become cracked and peel from excessive dryness caused by the weather, cold air, dry air, indoor heating, or exposure to chemicals and from certain medications.” Some of your habits and choices, even those you think are good for lip health, may be making matters worse. Read on to find out what causes chapped lips.

woman licking lips
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Lip-drying mistake: Licking your lips

It may seem counterintuitive, but licking your lips dries them out. “Saliva contains enzymes that dry out and irritate the skin of the lips,” says Neil Sadick, MD, founder and director of Sadick Dermatology and clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, NY. Break the habit by choosing and using a moisturizing lip balm whenever you feel the urge to lick. (Don’t miss how to get fuller lips without breaking the bank.)

man looking out airplane window
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Lip-drying mistake: Your frequent flyer miles

The air on planes is known to be seriously dehydrating. The low humidity and the high altitude saps moisture from the skin, including the lips, says Dr. Rizk, resulting in chapped lips upon arrival. Make sure you pack a lip balm and drink ample amounts of water throughout the flight to hydrate your lips from the inside and the outside. Here are 17 more ways to stay healthy while flying.


Lip-drying mistake: Your love affair with lipstick

Don’t worry, you can still wear your signature lipstick for long stretches of time, says Dr. Sadick. “As long as you first apply a coat of moisturizing lip balm, such as Carmex Original Lip Balm Stick, before applying your first layer.” Get 13 tips to make your makeup last all day long.

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Lip-drying mistake: Your toothpaste

Yes, brushing your teeth regularly will keep cavities at bay and is essential for oral hygiene, but the wrong toothpaste choice can mess with your lips, says Gervaise Gerstner, MD, a dermatologist in New York, NY. “Sometimes tartar control versions can be irritating.” If you suspect your choice of toothpaste is the culprit, try another brand with an ingredient list that looks as different as possible. Find out 8 common tooth brushing mistakes you may be making.


Lip-drying mistake: Your choice of lip balm

Unlike lip plumper, lip balm shouldn’t make your lips sting, tingle, or swell, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Instead, choose a lip balm that feels good. Dr. Sadick agrees: “Avoid lip balms that contain drying ingredients, like artificial fragrances, and make sure they contain moisturizing ingredients including cocoa butter or colloidal oatmeal.” Dr. Gerstner is a fan of Korres Lip Butter and RMS Lip Skin Balm.

Shower head with refreshing water droplets spraying down in bathroom

Lip-drying mistake: Your fondness for hot showers

“Hot water washes away the skin’s protective oils, leaving it dry, tight, and itchy,” says Dr. Sadick. Instead, “opt for lukewarm water when taking a shower to avoid drying out your skin.” Find out the other showering mistakes you’re probably making.


Lip-drying mistake: Not using sun protection

“One of the biggest mistakes is not protecting your delicate lip skin from UV rays,” says Dr. Rizk. “To maintain healthy lip skin, use emollients while indoors and outdoors, and apply SPF 30 during the day.” The risk goes far beyond dry lips: “People who have exposed their unprotected lips to cumulative sun damage are at a higher risk for skin cancer of the lips, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.” Lip pre-skin cancers are common, Dr. Gerstner adds. She recommends any of the Coola lip products, including Firecracker. “Spots on lips that keep flaking must be seen by a dermatologist,” Dr. Gerstner says. “I biopsy [precancerous] actinic keratosis on lips all the time.” For help choosing a sunscreen, learn how to decode the label.

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Lip-drying mistake: Your mouth-breathing habit

Dry lips are caused by a lack of hydration, which can also be caused by breathing through your mouth instead of your nose, Dr. Rizk says. Use a nasal saline spray or a neti pot to keep your nasal passages clear, and sleep with a humidifier to reduce dryness in the air,” he recommends. “Nose breathing may be impaired when your nasal passages don’t provide enough space for adequate air to pass through,” he explains, adding that, in rarer cases, surgery may be necessary if the situation worsens.

hand turning on thermostat climate control

Lip-drying mistake: Your cozy, warm bedroom

Indoor heating systems suck the moisture out of the air and can contribute to dry skin and chapped lips, Dr. Sadick says. “Make sure you apply a thick layer of lip balm as part of your nightly routine.” Another smart idea: using a humidifier in your bedroom. Find out 6 ways to set up your bedroom for the best night’s sleep.

Different colored medications and tablets on a wooden texture table

Lip-drying mistake: Medication

If a medication can cause dry mouth, it can cause dry, chapped lips, experts warn. The list of drugs associated with this side effect is long and includes many over-the-counter and prescription anti-depressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and pain medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your meds may be causing your dry, chapped lips. He or she will likely recommend coping strategies, including the use of a moisturizing lip balm. Stay informed by reading about these 10 odd medication side effects.