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We all get chapped lips from time to time. Who hasn’t found themselves reaching for lip balm now and then? Or maybe you realize you have a million Chap Sticks all of a sudden.

There are a variety of reasons you might experience dry lips. Environmental factors like wind and sun and temperature extremes to behaviors like smoking can all dry them out.

Given that lips have poor barrier function and are pretty inefficient when it comes to retaining moisture, the likelihood of experiencing dryness at some point is pretty high.

This is where lip exfoliating can come into play.

Exfoliating your lips can help eliminate some of the dry, flaking skin that builds up and immediately restore some shine, softness, and smoothness.

Quick how-to:

  • Choose an exfoliating ingredient (sugar, cinnamon, toothbrush, etc.) and an emollient (honey, oil, shea butter, etc.).
  • Mix paste for your lips and apply in small circles.
  • Wipe or wash off and apply lip moisturizer or balm.

Before you start, though, there are a few things to consider.

It’s important not to overexfoliate. Don’t exfoliate more than twice a week. Start with once a week so you avoid irritating your lips.

Also, be careful not to scrub too hard or use harsh ingredients to prevent irritating wounds on your lips.

Exfoliation relies on a simple technique of an abrasive ingredient as well as an oil or moisturizer to help the material run smoothly over your lips without being drying.

You can choose from a variety of different ingredients — it just depends on your personal preference. Simply mix your favorite exfoliating ingredient with an emollient and you’re good to go.

Here’s a sample of ingredients you can mix and match, with DIY instructions below.

Exfoliating ingredientEmollient
sugarhoney
cinnamonoils (olive, coconut, jojoba)
toothbrush or towelpetroleum jelly (Vaseline)
cotton swabfavorite lip balm
coffee groundsshea butter

How to exfoliate your lips at home

  1. Pour a small amount of your exfoliating ingredient into a small dish. A tablespoon or so should be adequate.
  2. Use a cotton swab to dab into your emollient. How much you’ll need will vary depending on your chosen ingredient, but the swab should be fully coated.
  3. Note that if you’re using a toothbrush or towel in lieu of a cotton swab, directly dip it into your emollient so you have an ample amount to apply to your lips. However, be careful not to brush or wipe too harshly. Doing so may overly strip your lips rather than providing the desired exfoliation.
  4. Dip your coated cotton swab into your dish of exfoliating ingredient so it’s covered.
  5. Wet your lip with water to soften and then gently rub the swab ingredients over your lips in small circles.
  6. Wipe off any excess exfoliator with a clean tissue or soft cloth, then follow up with a moisturizing lip balm or lipstick.

If making your own lip exfoliator isn’t your thing, there are plenty of products on the market that have done the work for you. Not all of these products are created equal, though.

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Research has shown that products containing ceramide and hyaluronic and fatty acids aid in moisture retention and restoration. These ingredients also help improve lip texture as well as fullness, giving you healthier lips.

Finding an exfoliant that not only removes dry, flaky skin but also helps repair the damage done should be the goal here.

What we recommend

Dermatologists recommend avoiding potentially irritating ingredients. You’ll know a lip product is irritating if your lips are having a burning, stinging, or tingling sensation.

Ingredients to avoid include:

  • camphor
  • cinnamon
  • eucalyptus
  • menthol
  • mint
  • peppermint fragrances
  • octinoxate
  • oxybenzone

Instead, look for lip products that offer moisturizing ingredients like:

  • shea butter
  • hempseed oil
  • castor seed oil
  • petrolatum

Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic products are also a safe bet.

The work’s not done once you’ve exfoliated your lips. While you may be successful in removing dry and flaky skin, it’s important to continually care for your lips to ensure they remain soft, supple, and as moist as possible.

Here are some quick lip care tips:

  • Apply a nonirritating lip balm or moisturizer before bed.
  • When going outdoors, be sure to apply a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips from sun damage. Your lips are an oft-forgotten spot for sun protection.
  • Stay adequately hydrated to help alleviate dry lips.
  • Avoid picking or biting your lips as well as licking them. Licking them often can actually make them drier. These habits can often be subconscious but try to be mindful and stop when you can.

With just a little self-care, you’ll have smooth, supple lips in no time.


Jennifer Still is an editor and writer with bylines in Vanity Fair, Glamour, Bon Appetit, Business Insider, and more. She writes about food and culture. Follow her on Twitter.