For many of us, having dry lips means reaching for the nearest lip balm. The soothing moisture it brings just hits the spot, especially during cold nights and winter months. But why then, do you sometimes find yourself needing the product more as you use it more?
Unfortunately lip balm can have the opposite of the intended effect at times. Here, a dermatologist shares all you need to know about what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to lip balm, and why it sometimes makes sense to look into home remedies for chapped lips. If you’re curious about how to cure chapped lips fast, read on.
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When is it helpful (and unhelpful) to apply lip balm?
First, the burning question: Why are lips so prone to getting chapped? “The skin on your lips is thin, has more direct exposure to outside elements than other skin, and is particularly sensitive to moisture loss,” explains Morgana Colombo, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and advisor for HYAESTIC. Are there’s multitude of things that dry them out, including drinking hot beverages too often, frequently licking your lips, forgoing hydration, cold or hot weather, medical conditions, and vitamin deficiency, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Lip balm can help to counteract the drying effects of these triggers. “It is a great product for keeping your lips hydrated and an important part of your skincare routine,” says Dr. Colombo, noting that balm can help you avoid chapped lips in the first place.
However, when and how often you apply it matters. “Right when you wake up and before you go to bed, absolutely,” Dr. Colombo says. She explains that when your mouth opens as you sleep, the air can dry out your lips. “I also recommend after eating and drinking because you have more items touching the surface of your lips, which could cause irritation.” That includes everything from utensils, glasses, and cups, to foods and liquid, and even your tongue when you lick your lips, she says.
At the same time, you can overdo lip balm use. “If you are applying over and over again throughout the day, it can impact your skin’s natural ability to adjust to its environment,” Dr. Colombo explains. In other words, your body starts to need the lip balm to get the job done, rather than being able to handle dry lips on its own, to some degree. That can lead to worse chapped lips and even cracked lip corners.
Her short and simple advice: Use lip balm only before and after sleep and following meals, at least for the most part.
The ingredients in the lip balm matter, too
Know that not all lip balms are created equal. One ingredient you may be familiar with is menthol, which Dr. Colombo says has a minty flavor and cools your lips. While it sounds nice and relaxing, it could actually be the culprit behind your dehydrated, itchy lips. “At the end of the day, this ingredient ends up doing the opposite effect and can dry your lips out,” she says. She also suggests avoiding lip balms with any fragrances, dyes, or alcohols, which can irritate sensitive skin. If anything stings or burns when you apply it, that likely means it’s bothering your skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA).
As far as helpful ingredients, Dr. Colombo suggests the hydrating ones: shea butter, beeswax, and petroleum jelly. Other dermatologists agree these ingredients are gold. “Shea butter is great because it seals in that much-desired hydration,” she says. “Beeswax can hydrate, nourish, and protect. Petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, can retain and lock in moisture.”
Two of those—petroleum jelly and shea butter—may be especially helpful to incorporate into your regular routine, even before your lips dry out. According to Dr. Colombo, these ingredients can help prevent chapped lips because they keep the skin on your lips protected and moisturized. Unlike some other store-bought balms or home remedies, they can both treat and prevent chapped lips.
Rather stick with a home remedy?
You don’t need to rely on your cherry ChapStick to keep your lips healthy—there are also plenty of home remedies for chapped lips. And there’s good reason to reach for these options rather than buy another lip balm at the drug store. As Dr. Colombo points out, “some lip balms actually contain ingredients that can cause more harm than good, which is why your lips can get more and more irritated the more you use them.” Yet, she says, home remedies like honey and Vaseline don’t have these harmful ingredients, “so there are not the same concerns.” Here are five ways how to fix chapped lips without falling into the neverending lip balm cycle.
Focus on hydration
If your lips are already dry, Dr. Colombo encourages sleeping with a humidifier every night and drinking lots of water to keep your skin hydrated from the inside out. Also, try to not lick your lips, which will only dry them out more since saliva breaks down the skin.
Use coconut oil or honey
By themselves, coconut oil and honey can also moisturize the skin, to help both prevent and treat chapped lips. Both of these are also anti-inflammatory, which could help reduce painful swelling in the lips when they’re chapped.
Coconut oil also has some pain-relieving properties, which can be particularly appealing when your lips are aching and cracked, says Dr. Colombo. “Honey also may provide relief for cracked lips that have an increased risk of infection,” she adds. “It also can moisturize the lips and exfoliate the lips by removing dead skin from the surface.”
Applying both of these is straightforward, too—just take them straight from the container, or put in a bowl and swab with your fingertips then onto your lips when you wake up, after meals, and before going to sleep.
Exfoliating your lips can “aid in removing dry and dead skin flakes from your lips,” according to Dr. Colombo. (Don’t pick your lips, though, as that will only irritate the skin and prolong healing, according to the AADA.)
Fortunately, exfoliants can easily be made at home. Dr. Colombo recommends mixing coconut oil or honey with sugar in a bowl, then covering the surface of your lips with it. However, you don’t need the sugar. “Honey can actually be a mild exfoliator itself,” Dr. Colombo adds.
She encourages exfoliating as needed, but especially when you first notice chapped lips and dry skin. “Once a week is a good rule of thumb,” she says. “In general, exfoliating your lips is the first step, then you can follow up with a moisturizer.”
Try petroleum jelly
A petroleum jelly like Vaseline can keep your lips moisturized without irritating the skin. It’s easy to keep a jar next to your bed or in your purse for after meals. Plus, it’s pretty inexpensive.
Apply some aloe vera
Yep, it’s not just for sunburn! “It locks in moisture in your skin, which helps with soothing and healing,” Dr. Colombo says. It’s also anti-inflammatory, she adds, so it’s great for sensitive skin, like chapped lips.
The bottom line
Typically, using an appropriate lip balm or home remedies for chapped lips should help you heal in two or three weeks, per the AADA. If you’re still struggling with a dry kisser, something else might be going on, so book an appointment with a dermatologist.
TL;DR: While lip balm isn’t always the cure-all a lot of us thought it was, it has its place, and home remedies for chapped lips can be applied just as easily to ensure your lips stay moist and looking their best.
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