Solutions for Dry, Cracked Lips

Solutions for Dry, Cracked Lips

Chapped lips happen, but you don’t have to suffer through it or keep trying product after product to find soothing relief. Knowing what to do when your lips become dry and uncomfortable will quickly make a beautiful difference. It begins by understanding why lips get dry in the first place…

Why Lips Get Dry

In comparison to skin on other parts of the face, the lips have it rough, literally. Physiologically unique, the lips are predisposed to being the driest spot on your face or body. Your face has a nice, relatively thick, protective layer of skin, while your lips are virtually naked in comparison. Most of us need lots of help to keep our lips smooth, moist, and young—and there are products that do that brilliantly.

A major cause of dry lips is sun damage, which can occur even when you’re not in bright sunlight, and even when it’s cloudy. That means that during the day, applying and reapplying a well-formulated emollient lip balm, lip gloss, or lipstick with SPF 30 or greater is vital.

How to Dramatically Improve the Appearance of Dry Lips

The best thing you can do if you have dry lips, even if you have very chapped lips, is to keep your lips covered with a rich, long-lasting, non-waxy, emollient lip balm or gloss! At night, it can just be a thick layer of a luscious balm; during the day, the lip balm must include a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. Sun protection is just as vital to prevent signs of premature aging of the skin on your lips as it is to prevent premature signs of aging of the skin on your face.

There are several well-formulated options, and we’re very proud of our Paula’s Choice Skincare LIP & BODY Treatment Balm. It meets all the criteria of what you should be using to take the best care of your lips at night. During the day, our RESIST Anti-Aging Lip Gloss SPF 40 or LIPSCREEN SPF 50 are uniquely softening, convenient to use away from home, and protecting.

If you’re diligent about treating your lips like this, especially at night (Paula keeps hers on her nightstand), you can renew and soften dry lips—even chapped lips—and keep them that way.

Surprising Causes of Dry Lips

A surprising cause of dry, chapped lips is using lip products that contain ingredients such as peppery capsicum, menthol, menthoxypropanediol (an especially potent form of menthol), camphor, peppermint, ginger, mint oil, cinnamon, and fragrance (natural or synthetic), all of which cause skin-damaging irritation. These ingredients are shockingly common in lip products, particularly those that claim to plump lips or even to care for chapped lips!

When lips become dry (especially for men, who typically don’t wear lip gloss or lipstick), we tend to automatically and repetitively lick them to restore moisture, but that’s futile. Licking your lips makes them feel better for a few seconds, but it’s actually a bad thing to do. Your tongue transfers saliva from your mouth to your lips, which eats away and destroys the thin layer of skin covering the lips. This can easily become a vicious cycle, leading to painful, cracked, and even severely chapped lips.

Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that cold or arid weather conditions lead to chapped lips, but did you know that playing musical instruments can also cause your lips to feel dry and raw? We don’t want you to stop playing your instrument, and we know you can’t avoid annoying weather conditions, but keeping your lips covered as we discussed above will help you maintain beautiful lips all year long, through any activity.

Are Lip Scrubs Worth Using?

Some people ask about using a lip scrub or even a toothbrush to exfoliate the flaking skin that often accompanies dry lips. While a gentle lip scrub prior to applying lip balm is an option, we recommend extreme caution if you do. Any amount of abrasion damages and tears the delicate, ultra-thin skin on the lips, quickly making matters worse. For certain, do not use a toothbrush if it still has toothpaste or toothpaste residue on it—toothpaste allergies that affect the lips are more common than you think.

Can You Become Addicted to Lip Balm?

You may have heard the rumor that lips can adapt to or become addicted to lip balm—it isn’t possible. However, if the lip balm you’re using contains irritating ingredients (and many of them do), it can make chapping a constant issue.

Another factor: Many lip balms, including some popular brand names, are poorly formulated, containing mostly waxes without any beneficial oils, emollients, or hydrating ingredients. These put a coating on your lips, but they don’t moisturize well, so your lips remain dry beneath despite feeling protected on top.

Even if a lip balm is otherwise beautifully formulated, if it contains irritating, drying ingredients, there is no way the beneficial ingredients can be of significant help. That’s why finding and using a brilliantly formulated lip balm can be such a game-changer for perpetually dry lips!

Learn more about dry skin.

Learn more about lip balms and treatments.

References for this information:
International Journal of Dermatology, July 2016, pages 386–391
European Journal of Dermatology, May-June 2013, pages 303–307
The Australasian Journal of Dermatology, November 2010, pages 248–253
Dermatologic Surgery, February 2005, pages 173–176
British Journal of Dermatology, March 2004, pages 563–567

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!