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Ever wondered why your lips tend to chap and crack — even if your skin is oily?
Lips are likely to become chapped and cracked during the winter when it’s dry and cold outside. Extreme heat or wind can also trigger chapping.
Fortunately, a few simple steps can help keep your lips soft and smooth. This lip care routine will help your lips stay in tip-top shape — no matter the season.
Unlike the skin on the rest of your body, lips don’t have sebaceous glands. These microscopic glands open into hair follicles. They’re responsible for producing the oil that keeps skin soft and moisturized, explains Nina Desai, MD, a board certified dermatologist in California.
While you might instinctively lick your lips to keep them moisturized, doing so actually leads to more dryness, Desai explains.
Licking can also cause yeast to build up on the lips. This may lead to a condition known as angular cheilitis, or painful inflammation at the corners of the lips.
The key to healthy lips is using a moisturizing product every day. If your lips are very dry, you may also want to exfoliate your lips 1–2 times per week.
“If you have healthy lips, exfoliation isn’t necessary,” says Suzanne Friedler, MD, a board certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York. “However, if your lips tend to be dry and flaky, gentle exfoliation can smooth out rough spots, so that lip cosmetics apply more uniformly.”
There are two parts to a lip care routine: hydration and exfoliation. You’ll only need to exfoliate if your lips are prone to chapping and cracking.
“Any time your lips feel dry is an appropriate time to use a lip balm,” Friedler says. Here’s how:
- Use an applicator or your fingers to apply moisturizing balm liberally over lips, including at the corners.
- If you’re spending time outside and your lip moisturizer doesn’t contain sunscreen, follow up with an SPF 30+ lip balm.
- Reapply as necessary at regular intervals throughout the day. Desai recommends using a hydrating lip product 2–4 times per day. You may need to use more if you have very dry lips or eczema.
“Exfoliating your lips can help eliminate some dry, flaking skin that builds up and restore the [shininess], softness, and smoothness that we all want,” Desai says.
She recommends exfoliating 1–2 times per week as a part of your nighttime routine:
- Apply a small amount of exfoliating scrub to your fingertips.
- Gently rub over the lips in small circular motions for no more than 30 seconds.
- Leave mixture on lips for 10 minutes, allowing the nourishing oils to soak in.
- Rinse with warm water.
- Pat skin dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a protective balm to lock in moisture and soothe lips.
To boost your lip health, stay hydrated and avoid picking or biting your lips, Desai adds.
It’s also important to apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 anytime you’re in the sun. This can be either in your lip product or in addition to it.
“The lips are a common spot of precancerous lesions and need to be protected from the sun,” Desai explains.
These DIY recipes can support your lip care routine.
To make a simple lip scrub at home, Desai recommends combining 2 teaspoons of a naturally abrasive ingredient, like salt or sugar, with 1 tablespoon of a nourishing ingredient.
Nourishing ingredients can include:
Add more oil if you want a looser mixture.
You can use the same nourishing ingredients without the sugar or salt to make a lip balm at home.
- 2 tbsp. shea butter
- 4 tbsp. liquid oil, such as coconut, almond, or olive oil
- 3 tbsp. beeswax pellets
- Melt all ingredients in the microwave for 30 seconds.
- Stir together.
- Keep microwaving and mixing until the ingredients are well-blended.
- Pour mixture into pots or tubes, and let it cool.
“Just be sure to avoid the facial skin, where oils can cause acne breakouts,” Friedler notes.
It doesn’t matter what your gender is. If you have lips, they need care. You can follow the same steps and expert tips to care for your pout no matter how you identify.
According to Desai, ointments are more effective at sealing in moisture than balms. She likes the following ingredients:
Desai recommends the following lip balms:
- Aquaphor Lip Repair with shea butter and soothing chamomile essence
- CeraVe Healing Ointment with petrolatum, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid for cracked skin anywhere on your body
- Vaseline Pure Petroleum Jelly to lock in moisture anywhere your skin is super dry
- Glo Skin Beauty Barrier Balm with petrolatum, glycerin, and various plant-based oils for chapped lips, cuticles, and skin
- EltaMD UV Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 with petrolatum and castor oil plus sun protection
- Supergoop PLAY Lip Balm SPF 30 with shea butter, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and sun protection
- Colorscience Sunforgettable Lip Shine SPF 35 with a touch of gloss in a natural pink tint, plus hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and sun protection
Friedler recommends the following lip balm:
- Dr Dan’s Cortibalm with hydrocortisone, beeswax, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil for people with severely dry lips
For exfoliation, Desai suggests the following sugar scrubs:
Desai says you may want to avoid potentially irritating ingredients, like:
“These ingredients can not only cause more dryness to the lips, but they may also cause an irritant or allergic reaction — which could make your lips itch, burn, or sting,” she explains.
The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends skipping the following ingredients if your lips are already chapped:
When exfoliating, don’t overdo it.
“Harsh exfoliation will make it harder for your lips to maintain their barrier function and hold in moisture,” Friedler says.
Your lips don’t have the sebaceous oil glands found elsewhere on your skin. This sets them up for dryness and chapping, especially in cold, extremely hot, or windy weather.
A regular lip care routine can help keep your lips soft and smooth.
Look for a lip balm with ingredients like shea butter or petrolatum. Apply anytime your lips feel dry.
Exfoliate very dry lips once or twice per week, using sugar or salt mixed with nourishing oil, then follow up with a balm. And don’t forget to apply SPF 30+ to your lips any time you’ll be heading outside.
Colleen de Bellefonds is a Paris-based health and wellness journalist with over a decade of experience regularly writing and editing for publications including WhatToExpect.com, Women’s Health, WebMD, Healthgrades.com, and CleanPlates.com. Find her on Twitter.