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With the cold winter weather gripping much of the country, many people are experiencing dry, cracked and painful lips. Why? First, the skin of the lips is very thin (some of the thinnest on our body) and lips have very few oil glands to help keep them lubricated and moisturized.
Furthermore, dry lips can be a sign of disorders that you would never expect, like an allergic reaction to your toothpaste or lipstick. The skin care products or medications that you apply to your facial skin may also be a culprit. Here, dermatologist Dr. Susan Taylor shares helpful tips to protect your face from the cold:
1. Break the lip-licking cycle
Many people think licking the lips helps the dryness, but it can actually cause dry, cracked lips. Digestive enzymes and bacteria in saliva can damage the lips, leaving them in worse shape than before. Also, when the moisture evaporates after you have licked your lips, they become even drier as they lose the moisture into the dry, cold air. Instead, break yourself of the lip-licking habit and apply a moisturizer or lip balm throughout the day.
2. Eliminate the cause of the condition
Chapping from an allergic reaction to a skin care product will go away when you stop using the product. Products that cause these reactions include toothpaste, mouthwash, lip balm and lipstick. It is the flavoring agent, cinnamate, in toothpaste and mouthwash that causes the chapping reaction. Some people are allergic to the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone, found in lip balms that contain sunscreen (so check that one off of your list).
Finally, dyes contained in brightly colored lipstick can cause a chapping reaction in susceptible women. If you suspect that you are having an allergic reaction, stop the product for 10 to 14 days and you should see an improvement.
To prevent and repair chapping, use a lip balm or petrolatum-based ointment (Vaseline, Aquaphor) to seal in moisture and form a protective barrier. Use it frequently throughout the day. Use a balm at bedtime, which can help repair damage while you sleep (there are balms especially made for overnight use that contain vitamins and aloe vera). Don't forget your children's dry lips (they can be encouraged to use lip balm by selecting the fruit-flavored varieties). Finally, a lip balm containing sunscreen is important especially while skiing or engaging in outdoor winter activities.
Here are the lip balms that celebity makeup artists swear by.
Keep the body well hydrated by drinking ample amounts of water each day. Women forget that they can become dehydrated in the winter as well as in the summer. Also, humidify your home and office with a cool mist humidifier and plants so less moisture evaporates from your lips.
5. Use your lipstick
Opaque lipsticks offer great protection against cold, sun and wind and they help to prevent chapping. These lipsticks are fun to wear during the dreary months of winter. The key is reapplying lipstick when it wears off (Note: The chemical that confers the properties of long-lasting or all-day lipstick can paradoxically dry the lips.)
Watch out for topical medications that can dry the lips. Several medications may cause dry, chapped lips especially during the winter months. Some examples would include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and Retin-A used for acne, or Renova used for repairing the wrinkling of the skin. Consider discontinuing these products until the lips improve.
A version of this story was originally published in January 2008.