Do you bite your lips? If you do and you're on a mission to stop, then you've come to the right place.
There are in fact two very different reasons as to why people bite their lips. The first is that dry, flaky skin can be annoying, so if your lips aren't pillowy soft you may be inclined to chew the flaky skin. "If your lips are dry, we’re likely to lick them more often and maybe pull at them, but this can make our lips drier and more irritated," says Victoria Schofield, Dermalogica's digital education executive.
So far, so obvious. It's sort of like getting the urge to pick a zit once you know it's there or to go at a stray hair with your tweezers. The second reason is anxiety. Yep, if you're feeling stressed or out of sorts, then you could find your lip biting reaching new heights of regularity. "Many of us will unconsciously chew or pull at our lips when we’re stressed or anxious," says Schofield. "Think about how these emotions relate to that sick feeling or butterflies in your stomach."
Dr. Anita Sturnham, a GP specializing in dermatology and founder of Decree, agrees that lip biting can be linked to stress, anxiety, and even boredom, but goes onto reveal that "it can also be part of a bigger spectrum of conditions called Body-Focussed Repetitive Behaviors [that] typically begins in childhood and can extend into adulthood. It can vary in severity from one-off occurrences [to more consistent lip biting]." New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach, MD, notes that picking at scabs and nail-biting are other examples of Body-Focussed Repetitive Behaviors.
Serious lip biting can have major consequences, says Sturnham. "If done repeatedly, it can cause injury to the lip tissue, with short term issues such as pain, ulcers, infection, and longer-term implications of scarring and an increased risk of oral cancers."
We asked the experts to share their best tips for kicking the habit. If you're determined to stop biting your lips, then keep reading.
Identify Your Triggers
"Lip-biting may be a mindless repetitive behavior or it could be a behavior that reduces stress and anxiety," says Rabach. "Identifying triggers for lip-biting may help focus your attention on why you’re doing the biting and then how to stop."
"If you find [you chew your lips] while you're sitting at your computer and trying to get an important piece of work done, then switch your mindset and find something harmless to chew on," suggests Sturnham. "The most obvious choice could be sugar-free gum. Distraction therapy can work really well."
If Stress Is Your Trigger, Make Some Lifestyle Changes
"If stress is a trigger, look at ways to reduce stress levels," advises Sturnham. "Exercise and meditation can be a huge help. If these measures don't work, you may want to try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, while more severe cases of lip biting may warrant a medical review."
Lifestyle changes are also a crucial step in stress reduction. Rabach recommends getting plenty of exercise, focusing your diet on healthy fruits and vegetables, leaning into meaningful and healthy personal connections, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, and of course, "getting enough sleep! This is often overlooked but is extremely important."
Cleanse Your Lips
"Cleansing the lips is just as important as the rest of the face to ensure thorough removal of lipsticks, glosses, and any build-up of pollutants and grime from the day," says Schofield.
Keeping your lips in tip-top condition could prevent you from absentmindedly chewing at any dry or flaky skin. "Use a nourishing product like Dermalogica PreCleanse Balm or oil gently over the lips, concentrating on the lip line," she says. "This will break down makeup and also help prevent micro congestion (mini blackheads) around the lip line."
Your Lips Needs Exfoliating, Too
Do you exfoliate your lips? If not, maybe you should. "A regular buff and polish of the lips can help with flakiness and rough texture, but gentle formulas are best for this delicate area," says Schofield. "Try cult classic Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant ($59) to gently smooth your pout. This rice-based powder is gentle enough for sensitive skin and daily use. Activate with water and work a little of the creamy paste over your lips and rinse."
We love StackedSkincare's Hydrating Lip Peel for a gentle chemical exfoliation featuring glycolic and lactic acids and Bite's Agave+ Weekly Lip Scrub ($24), which is made with sugar crystals and papaya extract to gently slough away flakiness.
"With our lips supplying very little natural moisture, we need to keep them well hydrated," says Schofield. "This will improve the perception of volume, so be sure to moisturize your lips and apply a lip balm with nourishing emollients, like vitamin E and avocado oil, as well as hydrators like hyaluronic acid."
Rabach recommends "pure lip products that contain cocoa butter or shea butter" as well as the dermatologist-favored Aquaphor ("my staple," she says). We also love Skinceuticals Antioxidant Lip Repair ($40) with vitamin E and hyaluronic acid and Glossier Bubble Wrap Eye + Lip Cream ($26) for keeping our lips soft and hydrated.
Treat Your Lips at Night
Get into the habit of applying an overnight mask or balm to your lips as part of your nighttime skincare routine. Often, they are formulated to bolster your skin's natural repair processes that occur while you sleep, so you'll wake up to a softer, plumper pout.
Rabach recommends the Lip Sleeping Mask from K-beauty brand Laneige, which is made with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to help you wake up with softer, more hydrated lips in the morning.
Wear a Bold Lipstick
"You can also try wearing a tinted lip gloss or bright lipstick," suggests Sturnham. "Knowing that it will get messy if you start biting away can be a good deterrent, but don't use a gloss or balm that tastes nice!"
We like the Audacious Lipstick in Rita by Nars ($34), a bright scarlet red, and Bite Beauty's Power Move Creamy Matte Lip Crayon ($26), a 2021 Eco Award Winners. We suggest the shade Stinger, an electric coral.
Houghton DC, Alexander JR, Bauer CC, Woods DW. Body-focused repetitive behaviors: More prevalent than once thought? Psychiatry Research. 2018;270:389-393.
Walsh R. Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist. 2011;66(7):579-592.