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Lip service

Live Better / November 2015

How to save your pout from chapping

Winter is coming and with it, the arrival of dry-lips season. “Chapped lips are typically caused by environmental dryness, which makes them a common issue during the colder months,” says Dr. Sonya Cook, a dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto. Below-zero temperatures, high winds and bright sun can all suck moisture from lips. Your natural response may be to lick them for relief, but this actually makes things worse. “Digestive enzymes in your saliva can be very irritating, which make the lips more dry, causing peeling, cracking and bleeding,” Dr. Cook says. Ouch! Here’s how to deal.

“Take steps to prevent chapped lips from happening in the first place,” says Dr. Gordon Searles, a dermatologist in Edmonton. We tend to spend a lot of time in drying environments—low-humidity spots like the office and even your home—so add missing moisture by placing a humidifier in your bedroom at night. “Getting eight hours of moisture while you sleep can really help heal your skin,” says Dr. Cook. When it comes to lip balms, look for oil-based products, which will stay put and act as an environmental barrier. “Products are typically made up of waxes that stick to the lips’ surface to keep them from drying out,” he says.

Most of us don’t think about slathering SPF on our lips, but it’s important to choose a treatment with sunscreen to protect your pucker from damage. If you’re extra dry, look for a balm with moisturizer. “Petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, is an excellent barrier
to hold surface moisture in and keep environmental damage out,” says Dr. Searles. Be wary of anything with lots of perfumes or fragrances, which can irritate skin, and choose a product that feels good on your lips. “If your balm feels like glue, you’re not going to use it,” he says.

The good news is that even badly chapped lips (the kind where dry skin and cracks stretch beyond your lip line) usually heal within a few days. Keep applying lip balm, pop some acetaminophen for pain if necessary and resist the urge to touch. “If your lips are flaking and it’s bothering you, try gently exfoliating with a soft washcloth,” says Dr. Cook. “But no picking because it will only cause more damage.” Now’s also a good time to avoid citrus, garlic or anything spicy, which can cause further irritation.

Children always seem to have chapped lips. “Kids are often outside and they’re always licking their lips,” says Dr. Searles. To save tots from that dreaded sore outline around their mouths, try this trusted recipe: “Mix one part cold milk with one part water and an ice cube,” suggests Dr. Searles. “Soak a washcloth in the mix and apply it to lips for five to 10 minutes.” The milk protein is soothing on sore or oozing skin, which should resolve in 48 hours. If lips are cracked and bleeding for more than a few days, consider seeing a dermatologist.