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Everyone wants soft, smooth lips, but many products that are designed to soothe your mouth might actually be the cause of your discomfort. If your lips have been painfully chapped for what feels like an eternity—or you've suddenly developed a minor rash seemingly out of nowhere—your favorite balms and lipsticks might be to blame. The reason? Some products contain harsh ingredients that zap lips of their moisture and irritate the surrounding skin. Continued use of these formulas can cause lips to swell or even crack and bleed. Since skin irritation can be caused by any number of factors, we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein, who shared three obvious signs that your lip products are responsible for any issues.

woman applying lip balm to lips
Credit: Prostock-Studio / getty images

Chapped Lips

We all have a trusty lip balm that we reach for as soon as our lips start to feel tight, but certain ingredients in these "nourishing" products can actually contribute to chapping. "Chapped lips are characterized by peeling, fissuring, and cracking of the lip skin, which can often be painful; bleeding can occur," explains Dr. Marchbein. Surprisingly, she doesn't recommend using chapsticks to treat this ailment and notes that certain formulas can even make things worse: "Although they can temporarily soothe the lips, chapsticks often have chemicals like beeswax, mint, and cinnamon that can further irritate the skin, and in severe cases, lead to eczema or allergic contact dermatitis."

And if you find yourself picking at the skin on your lips, you're likely using formulas that aren't hydrating enough; matte lipsticks or harsh chapsticks often cause this and chronic lip licking, too. "Licking your lips may result in temporary relief, but as the moisture evaporates from your lips, it actually causes more dryness and chapping," adds Dr. Marchbein, who suggests products with ingredients like petroleum and glycerin, such as Vaseline ($4.99,, to seal in hydration for good.

Red and Inflamed Lips

Swollen and inflamed lips might indicate a mild allergic reaction or sensitivity to a lip or skin care product. If this is the case, look into your makeup bag for the culprit. "Lip plumpers traditionally use various ingredients like peppermint and cinnamon that irritate the delicate skin of the lips to produce a noticeable increase in volume," explains Dr. Marchbein. Many formulas also contain capsicum—an ingredient found in chili peppers!—which can leave your lips tingling and irritated. She recommends tossing the product and applying fragrance-free and glycerin-based formulas to bring down the swelling; seek care from a board-certified dermatologist if the swelling and heat doesn't improve.

Drying and Peeling Lips

If you're noticing redness, drying, and scaling on your lips and the skin surrounding them, you could have a skin condition called lip eczema. Also also known as lip dermatitis or eczematous cheilitis, this is a common skin issue usually linked to genetics or environmental factors. While lip products containing harsh ingredients, like menthol and capsicum, can definitely irritate eczema-prone skin, your general skin care routine can also contribute to flare-ups (certain sunscreens and face washes might be to blame). To better understand which ingredients trigger this condition, it's important to visit your dermatologist to determine the best course of prevention and treatment.

And if you don't suffer from this type of eczema? It's likely that both your lip and skincare products are irritating your mouth. Certain harsh treatments and products—think retinoids, peels, and exfoliating face washes—can cause significant irritation when they come in contact with delicate lip skin. When applying anything to your facial skin, always make sure to to avoid sensitive areas, like under your eyes or around your mouth.


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