Skin always bears the brunt of the climate, attacked by sun, wind, cold and dry air. Lips, made of mucous membranes, have thin surface layers and are vulnerable to all of the above much more than the skin, which we usually protect with creams and lotions. Research shows that we lose 10 times more moisture through the lips than anywhere else in the body.
Lips are very easily dehydrated and dried by the winter air, wind and low humidity. When the lips are drained of the moisture, they become fragile leading to the formation of tiny splits and cracks on the surface. This causes pain whenever it is exposed to heat, acidic food and even toothpaste.
“Chapping of lips is made worse by licking the lips," says Jennifer Linder, MD, clinical instructor at the University of California San Francisco. The reason for this is the fact that evaporation of saliva leaves the skin dehydrated. Further, saliva contains acids that can breakdown and irritate the thin layers of skin on the lips. People also try to bite off the dried skin or skin flakes when the lips are chapped, which adds to the woes, suggests Linder. It slows down the healing process and irritates the skin.
Dirt and bacteria entering the cracks may result in infection. One of the complications associated with chapped lips is the yeast infection in the corners of the mouth. This can be treated with topical antifungal cream. Stress and irritation may also activate the herpes virus by exposing the nerve endings leading to the formation of cold sores.
Always carry a lip balm with you. “Lip balms provide a shield to the sensitive skin from the brutal weather," says Linder. Healing is better when the skin is kept moist. An emollient balm or ointment is a better option for keeping the lips protected. Emollient balms seal the moisture inside the lips and also provide additional hydration along with essential oils. They also prevent the infection of the deep cracks and splits. Opt for balms with castor oil, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, or squalane apart from the normal component, petroleum. These ingredients may provide extra nourishment to the lips. Ensure that the balm have hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, and glycerine to keep the lips moist. Another thing to look out for in the balm is the SPF. Sun’s rays can be dangerous even in sub Arctic temperatures. Sun rays can lead to dry lips.
Avoid balms with eucalyptus, menthol and camphor as they can cause more irritation and dryness, says Steven K. Grekin, DO, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Iowa. If a person is prone to acne, it would be better to opt for products without petroleum. Petroleum may clog the pores and result in acne or blackheads. It is always better to get a tube applicator rather than a jar or pot to avoid dipping the finger inside the pot for applying.
Applying balm early and often is the best way to prevent chapping. It is better to wear a layer of ointment while sleeping. Lips dry out if one keeps the mouth open while sleeping. Keeping a humidifier at home will help to replenish the moisture levels in the skin. One can also prevent drying of skin by drinking plenty of water.