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7 Reasons Your Lips Are Chapped—and How to Heal Them

Unless you know why your lips keeps getting dry and cracked, you'll be a slave to lip balm all winter long. We asked two board certified dermatologists about what causes chapped lips and how you can keep your pout soft, smooth, and happy.

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You have a sunburn

As you may have noticed, your lips are extremely sensitive. “Because they are so thin, they are more prone to sun damage, and you can even get skin cancers in this area as well,” says Jill Waibel, MD, owner of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute. Apply lip balm with SPF before you head outside. If dry and chapped lips don’t clear up, make an appointment with your dermatologist. Sun damage can cause an aggressive pre-cancerous condition of the lower lip known as actinic cheilitis, which can become a squamous cell carcinoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. If diagnosed via a biopsy, there are both surgical and topical treatment options . Check out these lip balm hacks you’ll wish you knew all along.

salon shelves and sinksistock/Yuri_Arcurs

You have an undiagnosed allergy

If your lips are always dry but you can’t quite nail down the cause, take a look at the products on your vanity. According to Dr. Waibel, an allergy could be the root cause of chapped lips. “Contact dermatitis is a very common diagnosis for dryness in your lips,” she explained. “This may be an allergy to toothpaste, mouthwash, or something in your lipstick, such as the coloring,” says Dr. Waibel. Take breaks from products for two weeks at a time to see if lips begin to heal. If they don’t, she suggests checking in with your dermatologist to talk about treatment. Your doctor may suggest a patch test to help you figure out exactly what you are allergic to so you can avoid that ingredient in other products. Steroid creams might be recommended to help with the dryness, redness, and inflammation.

closeup of a woman's puffy, dry lipsistock/gacooksey

You have chronic dry lips

In some cases, if your lips are always dry, it’s because you have chronic dry lips. “This can be very common in patients with a history of dry skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema,” says Dr. Waibel. Protecting lips with a good balm to hydrate and avoiding habits that exacerbate dryness, like licking lips and mouth breathing can help preserve their moisture, says the Mayo Clinic. Avoid these common mistakes that cause you to have dry lips.

man in a yellow long-sleeve shirt drinking from a water bottleistock/GregorBister

You are dehydrated

If your lips are dry, a few glasses of water may be all you need to get them back to normal, according to Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist in Santa Monica, CA. Dr. Shainhouse says that dry lips are one of earliest signs of dehydration because lip skin is very thin and has no oil or sweat glands. “Water loss through the lips is actually 3 to 10 times greater than through the skin on the face or other skin on the body,” Dr. Shainhouse says. “When you notice that your lips are dry, down a few glasses of water to help replenish some of your body’s stores,” she adds.

woman on her back, asleep in bed, snoring with mouth openistock/monkeybusinessimages

You’re a mouth breather

Mouth-breathers, as the name suggests, breathe in and out through their mouth instead of their nose. “Not a big deal, except that it can leave your lips feeling dry and tight due to the evaporation of moisture when your mouth is open all night,” Dr. Shainhouse says. Mouth-breathing can be caused by medical conditions like chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps, which prevents you from breathing through your nose. To assess if there’s an underlying problem causing mouth breathing, you make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an allergist to tackle the problem behind your chapped lips. Try these helpful tricks to fight dry skin.

close up of woman's lipsistock/millann

You lick your lips

Licking your lips may feel good, but it won’t help in the long run. In fact, once the saliva evaporates, your lips can actually become drier, warns Dr. Shainhouse. “Chronic or habitual lip-licking can actually create a vicious cycle of dry, irritated lips that just won’t heal. When lips get dry, they can feel tight and might even crack and sting. Be conscious of this habit, and ask others to point out when you are doing it so that you can actively work on quitting,” Dr. Shainhouse says. “Keep your lips moist with emollient balms and occlusive ointments, which will reduce the tight, dry sensation.” A couple of our favorite lip emollients are Avene Cold Cream Nourishing Lip Balm and Junetics Pure Energy Lip Balm E24 Complex.

wintry New York skylineistock/Luke-Abrahams

The weather is dry

Just as low moisture in the body can dry lips, so can low moisture in the environment. Dry air is a common culprits behind chapped lips. “Dry weather literally sucks the moisture out of your lips to ‘help add moisture’ to the environment,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “Winds just add to the problem by increasing the evaporative water loss.” If dry weather is leaving your pout parched, Dr. Shainhouse suggests using a moisturizing lip balm to hydrate and a waxy chapstick to lock in moisture before you head out into the winter weather. Don’t miss these homemade remedies for dry, chapped lips.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD, on November 11, 2019