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.
Symptoms of sunburned lips include:
- lips that are redder than normal
- swollen lips
- skin that feels tender to the touch
- blistering on the lips
A mild sunburn usually lasts three to five days.
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 seek emergency medical attention if you experience symptoms that include:
- severely swollen lips
- swollen tongue
These symptoms could mean you’re 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 normal. Your lip may feel “fat” and painful, and you may have difficulty doing the following:
- opening your mouth
Sunburned lips can be treated with healing and cooling ointments. Some of the traditional remedies you might use for sunburns on your body aren’t good to use on your lips. This is because there’s the likelihood you could ingest what you put 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 use 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 and apply it 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. The gel can also be stored in the refrigerator to provide more cooling to the “burn” and take down the temperature.
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. Some experts advise using these masks after the heat from the burn subsides.
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.
Adding moisture back to irritated skin can help soothe and heal. One example is a moisturizer like Aquaphor. Other excellent moisturizers include vitamin E, coconut oil, or almond oil. But you may want to limit their use until after the heat leaves your lips.
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. Other doctors recommend avoiding it because you shouldn’t ingest it. If you do apply it, be careful not to lick your lips.
Treatments to avoid
You should avoid any products that have lidocaine, which numbs the skin. This ingredient shouldn’t be ingested.
Using Vaseline or other products containing petroleum jelly is also not advised. These products can trap heat and worsen the condition. The same is true for any oil based ointments.
If your lip sunburn leads to blistering and swelling, avoid popping the blisters. The open wounds could further limit the topical treatments you’re able to apply.
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 sunscreen to the rest of your skin, due to eating, drinking, and frequently licking your lips. Reapplying every hour is a good rule to follow.
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 experiencing sunburn in the future.