Chapped lips – Causes and Prevention

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Winters often bring with them the problem or chapped or cracked lips. Find out how you can avoid this unsightly and uncomfortable condition.

chapped lips - causes and prevention

What are chapped lips?

Chapped or cracked lips refers to a condition where a person’s lips become dry, cracked and peeling. Although treatable, it is always better to prevent chapped lips, as the condition can be painful enough for you to lose your smile, literally! That’s because smiling causes the cracks to stretch, thus causing even more pain.

Causes of chapped lips

The main cause of chapped lips is dry, cold weather, which is why the condition becomes more pronounced during the winter season.

Lips produce an oily film to prevent them from drying out. When this layer is lacking or removed, it causes dryness and chapping.

Another common reason of chapped lips is the constant licking of lips, which can be a habit for some people. The saliva evaporates, drying the lips further, making them more prone to cracking.

Symptoms and signs of chapped lips

Chapped lips are a pretty common phenomenon and the signs could be a few or all of the following:

  • Lips are dry to feel, there may be cracks in the skin leading to bleeding (if the cracks are deep) and pain.
  • There may be redness of the skin between the lips and facial skin. This is called erythema.
  • Peeling of the skin on lips may be seen.

Complications due to chapped lips

Not only do chapped lips look unappealing, they are also a health risk. Dry cracked lips make you prone to cold sores (herpes simplex type 1) and bacterial infections, so do not neglect your lips.

Treating and preventing chapped lips

Here are some remedies to prevent and treat chapped lips. Pick from these for luscious tips.

  1. Avoid licking your lips - When the saliva evaporates, it leaves your lips drier than before, so ditch this habit. Stay away from flavoured lip balm as it may tempt you to lick it off.
  2. Stay hydrated - Consume more water in winter so your lips stay hydrated along with your skin.
  3. Use lip balm before going out and reapply several times when outside. It’s a good idea to use a lip balm with a sunscreen for added protection, also cover your lips with a scarf.
  4. If the cracks are deep, prevent a bacterial infection by using an antibiotic ointment available over-the-counter at the pharmacy. In severe cases, use a hydrocortisone ointment for faster healing but remember it will not prevent infection.
  5. Do not use any sprays or cosmetics with fragrance near the lips as it may cause an allergy leading to chapped lips. Sometimes toothpaste or mouthwash is the culprit, so switch brands just to be sure.
  6. Do not breathe through the mouth as it dries out the lips. Always breathe through the nose only.
  7. Use a lip cream or balm with an oil-based lubricant for effective moisturisation. Use often after drinking or eating as it may get wiped off. Petroleum jelly is good and easy on the pocket too.
  8. Nowadays, lipsticks come with sunscreen and moisturisers added so it’s a good idea to use those for luscious lips. The advantage is it seems to offer some protection against lip cancer too.
  9. When you have chapped lips, stay away from acidic foods like orange juice, pepper, mustard, barbecue sauce and alcohol as these foods irritate the fragile skin even further.
  10. If you have a tendency to drool while sleeping apply an ointment containing zinc oxide before you go to bed. It acts as a mechanical barrier for lips.

 Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician

Photograph via

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