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How to Treat Dry, Chapped Lips During the Winter

Step one: Stop licking your lips.

Contributing Writer
how to soothe dry chapped lips
Photography by: Getty Images

It's no secret that wintertime brings on dry skin. But one area of the body seems to be particularly pesky in cold temperatures: Your lips. By the end of the season, you've likely gone through four or five different lip balms (and definitely lost a few). Maybe you've upped your water intake so much that you basically live in the bathroom now. Still, your lips remain dry, cracked, and irritated. To get to the bottom of this dilemma, we turned to board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Hadley King MD. Here, she gives us concrete steps to keep our lips smooth, supple, and moisturized all winter long.

 

Related: How to Prevent Eczema Flares in Winter

 

First, understand why your lips get so dry in the winter.

"The skin of the lips is thin and delicate and does not contain oil glands like the rest of your skin, so this makes it particularly prone to drying out," Dr. King explains. Another reason your lips get irritated during colder months is because the humidity in the air decreases, "so more moisture evaporates from the skin into the air," she says. "And exposure to wind makes this worse as well." Keeping the air in your home moist, particularly in your bedroom, is a great way to make sure your skin stays hydrated during the winter months, so Dr. King suggests investing in a good humidifier

 

Use lip balms with emollients.

The ingredients in lip products are crucial when it comes to retaining moisture. According to Dr. King, your go-to winter lip balm should contain emollients such as beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter. "Lip balms that contain only humectant ingredients (moisturizers) such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin can actually make lips more dry," she says. Humectant ingredients attract water, but in order to be effective they must be paired with occlusive emollients, otherwise known as ingredients that prevent water and moisture from evaporating. Without these emollients, any moisture on the lips will disappear, leaving your skin even drier than it was before.

 

Avoid drying and irritating ingredients.

Drugstore lip balms may be easy to purchase, but they're not doing our lips any favors. Ingredients such as menthol, camphor, and phenol can dry lips out even more, says Dr. King. "They are initially cooling and soothing but they evaporate quickly and you will need to reapply if you aren't using a good emollient." Alcohol, salicylic acid, or ingredients intended to plump the lips (such as cinnamon or peppermint oils) can also irritate our skin, she says. Another cosmetic to watch out for: Matte lipsticks. Dr. King says stick with lipsticks that contain moisturizing ingredients—but be beware of those pesky humectants.

 

Related: Winter Health: Fight the Cold and Feel Great

 

Don't lick your lips.

While this is an incredibly tempting option until you can reach your lip balm, Dr. King warns that licking your lips will only do more damage. "This may temporarily feel soothing but it will only dry them out more," she explains. "The saliva evaporates quickly and leaves your lips drier than they were before."

 

Protect your mouth when outside.

Your scarf should be pulling double duty in the winter months, covering both your neck and the bottom half of your face. "Cold air and wind will be particularly drying for the lips so it is helpful to cover them," says Dr. King.

 

Always use SPF.

Sun protection is important for any exposed skin and lip balms with SPF should be reapplied frequently when outdoors. Dr. King also warns that the upper lip gets significant UV exposure, so pay extra attention there.

 

Choose the right products.

Dr. King shared some of her ultra-nourishing favorites: First, she suggests classic Aquaphor. "I love Aquaphor healing ointment to help combat winter chapped lips.  With petrolatum and lanolin, its emollients lock in moisture and help protect the skin from the elements," the pro explains. Another great options is EpiCeram-L Lip Care. "It contains three essential lipids: ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol, to lock in moisture," Dr. King says. "And it contains aloe vera, which has anti-inflammatory properties." Last but not least, our expert suggests stocking up on Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm, saying, "It contains beeswax, coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, lanolin, soybean oil and canola oil; all to help lock in moisture."