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It is a truth universally acknowledged that chapped lips aren't attractive, to say the least.
But before you reach for that lip balm, take note: While you won't get addicted to the actual ingredients in Chapstick, it is possible to get addicted, or at least accustomed to, the feeling of soft, smooth lips — meaning you'll find yourself reaching for that product more and more. That's why some beauty pros and doctors believe that certain balms actually make things worse, leading to a vicious cycle of skin that's dependent on faux moisture to keep itself supple.
And if anything's less attractive than cracked lips, it's cracked lips for the rest of your life. Dun dun DUN.
What, then, are we to do with our sad, sorry, chapped lips if not smother them in Chapstick every hour on the hour? Vicious cycles be damned: Our lips need a solution — and stat.
Luckily, Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California's School of Medicine, as well as Dr. Cybele Fishman, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, agreed to help us make sense of all the confusion surrounding one of our favorite handbag staples.
Without further ado, we give you the unofficial do's and don'ts of chapped lips.
If you have chapped lips, do ...
1) Drink water
"Staying hydrated is key," Wu told TODAY Style. It may seem obvious, but it's important to remember that the moisture (or lack thereof) on your lips is just an extension of the effectiveness of your general beauty routine. Keep the rest of your skin supple, and you'll be surprised at the benefits you reap at the lip level.
2) Use a lip balm with SPF
" Lips can age, burn and get skin cancer just like the rest of the skin," said Fishman, adding that not all SPF products are created equal. "I prefer zinc or titanium to the chemical oxybenzone."
3) Eat fish
"It sounds silly, but omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to keep your skin hydrated," Wu explained. They also help to restore the skin's natural oils. Don't like fish? You can take fish oil pills instead and get the same result.
4) Use sugar to exfoliate dry lips
Why? Sugar's a humectant, meaning it'll attract moisture. You can add honey for a homemade remedy with anti-inflammatory properties and a store-bought feel.
5) Try a humidifier
This is especially useful at night. "If you sleep with the heat on, as many of us do in the wintertime, this is particularly important," said Wu. "Many of us sleep with our mouths open, which dries out our lips. A humidifier can make the air a little healthier."
6) Apply the proper balm before bed
On that note, if you're going to apply lip balm, don't just go for it in the daytime; apply it before bed, too. "Look for ingredients like shea butter, glycerin or natural oils," advised Fishman. Speaking of natural oils, "I often recommend that my clients try coconut oil," said Wu. "You can also opt for a sweet almond oil."
7) Put balm outside of your lip line
The peripheral area of the lips deserves some love, too! "Oftentimes, it's the border of the lips that gets most chapped, so you don't want to ignore that area," Wu said. "It may not be the cleanest look, but a dab just outside the natural line of your lips will work wonders."
If you have chapped lips, don't ...
8) Lick your lips
Sure, it's tempting, because your saliva will immediately moisten your lips. But as soon as it dries, according to Wu, "things get even worse. It'll dry them out even more." The instant gratification just isn't worth it. And, as Fishman reminded us, "Your saliva was meant to digest food. That's why it's so drying to the lips."
9) Use long-wear lipstick and steer clear of all "sticks"
Fishman told us that both matte and long-wear lipstick tend to dry out your lips. "Instead, use a creamy lip conditioner," she said. "It's much less drying."
But the truth is, all balms or lipsticks that come in tubes contain waxes that tend to dry out your lips. You'll be better off opting for an emollient ointment, which can be applied with the tips of your fingers with greater care and gentleness. "Dragging a stick across your dry lips, especially one that's not brand new, can only irritate the skin further," said Wu.
10) Pick at your lips if they're flaky
Picking at them can trigger a cold sore or lead to bleeding. And all of that's not just unsightly, it can be unhealthy, too, leading to serious infections.
11) Chew mint gum or use balms with mint, menthol or cinnamon
Cinnamon in particular is known to irritate lips. "While that cooling feeling may seem like a good thing, these ingredients are often just initially masking what may become worse problems," said Fishman.
12) Use old or expired lip products
"We tend to keep around lip gloss for a long time," said Wu. "But it can expire or dry out." Or worse, she warned, old glosses and lipsticks can grow bacteria.
This article was originally published on Jan. 26, 2016 on TODAY.com.