You know the shoulders and forehead as two hot spots for sunburns, but other places on your body can get sunburned just as easily. One example is your lips, especially the lower lip.
Your lips are vulnerable to sunburns that can cause pain and increase your chances of developing lip cancer. The lower lip is 12 times more likely to be affected by skin cancer than the top lip.
There are many ways to treat sunburned lips and to prevent burns from happening again.
Symptoms of sunburned lips include:
- lips that are redder than normal
- swollen lips
- skin that feels tender to the touch
- blistering on the lips
Cold sore or sunburn?
The lip blisters caused by a sunburn have very different symptoms from cold sores (oral herpes). Cold sore blisters usually tingle or itch. They also cause ulcer-like lesions that have a gray or red base. But sunburn blisters are small, white, fluid-filled bumps.
When to call a doctor
Most of the time, you can treat sunburned lips with at-home remedies. But if your lips are severely swollen, if your tongue is swollen, or if you’re breaking out in a rash, seek emergency medical attention. You could be having an allergic reaction to the sun.
If you’re unsure if your lips are severely swollen, be on the lookout for one or both of your lips being larger than their normal size. Your lip may feel “fat” and painful and you may have difficulty eating, drinking, talking, or opening your mouth.
Sunburned lips can be treated with healing and cooling ointments. Because there’s a higher likelihood that you will ingest what you put on your lips, some of the traditional remedies you might use on your body aren’t as good of an idea on your lips.
For your lips, try these remedies.
Rinsing a soft washcloth in cold water and resting it on your lips can take away some of the hot feeling on your lips. Another option is to dip the washcloth in milk or ice water. The milk helps reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Avoid icing your burn directly, which could cause more tissue damage.
Compresses from your fridge
Other cool, soothing applications include cold potato slices, lettuce, or chamomile tea bags that have been soaked in chilled water.
People have used the aloe vera plant’s soothing gel to take away sunburn-related pain. If you have a plant at home, you can break off one of the stalks and squeeze the gel out to apply to your lips.
You can also purchase after-sun gels at most drugstores. For your lips, only purchase gels that are made of 100 percent aloe.
Cloth and paper sheet masks are a popular beauty solution that can also soothe sunburned lips. You can purchase them at drugstores and beauty stores. Look for ones with moisturizing ingredients like aloe, grape seed oil, shea butter, or other natural oils.
Taking an anti-inflammatory medication can help ease the pain and redness associated with a sunburn. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can relieve pain from the inside out.
Adding moisture back to irritated skin can help soothe and heal. An example is a moisturizer like Aquaphor, which contains castor seed oil, shea butter, and beeswax. Other excellent moisturizers include vitamin E, coconut oil, or almond oil.
Hydrocortisone 1 percent cream
This ingredient can be slightly controversial for sunburned lips. Some doctors recommend applying it to the outer edges of the lips only, while others recommend avoiding it altogether because you shouldn’t ingest it. If you do apply it, be careful not to lick your lips excessively.
Treatments to avoid
You should avoid any products that have lidocaine, which numbs the skin. This ingredient shouldn’t be ingested.
If your lip sunburn leads to blistering and swelling, avoid popping those blisters whenever possible. The open wounds could limit the topical treatments you’re able to apply.
While you can’t undo the sunburned lips you already have, you can take steps to prevent future lip sunburns. Purchasing a lip balm or lipstick with a sun protection factor of at least 30 is a great start. You need to reapply lip sunscreen more frequently than the sunscreen for the rest of your skin, thanks to eating, drinking, and frequently licking your lips. Reapplying every hour is a good rule of thumb.
Regardless of where you live, your lips are exposed to the sun year-round. Wearing a sun-protective lip balm all the time can offer protection that keeps you from feeling the burn in the future.