Chronic dry lips are a condition I've dealt with for as long as I can remember. Nothing I use, do, or try works for more than a day or two (and I try a lot of products). Name one lip product, and I’ve probably tried it, ran to the store even, bolstered by my hopes it'll cure this persistent, annoying problem. Other people seem to fare just fine, with no excessive dryness or cracking to be seen, and that's not even considering what time of year it is. Bring winter into the mix and yeah, I'm done for.
Is this something you're dealing with, too? It must be, as I'm sure most people dealing with smooth, normal lips don't spend too much time pondering why. It just is the way it is, right? Or so I thought. It didn't make sense to me. I've tried it all. Lip scrubs? Check. Medicated balms? Check. Masks? Check. Serums? Check. Sleeping Masks? Check. Rather than accept defeat, I consulted two experts—Susan Ciminelli and Natarsha Bimson—to get answers once and for all.
Meet the Expert
Scroll through to see what they have to say about curing dry lips for good.
Understand the Problem
The first step to correcting a problem is to understand it. “The skin of your lips, like the skin around your eye area, is different from the rest of your skin because it doesn’t have oil glands,” Bimson says. “Unlike the eye area, which draws the oil from your face in, the lips do not.”
You may find your lips are more dry during certain times of the year, for example during the colder months, or after a beach vacation when you have been spending more time outside in the sun. It's easy to forget about protecting your lips until they get dry and chapped. The fact that lips don’t have oil glands means they dry out 10 times faster than the skin on our face and body. Lips require protection from the wind, sun—and even from your saliva if you tend to lick your lips.
Lips need a little extra TLC and they can be more sensitive than the skin on your face to certain products, such as menthol, which are in some lip balms. This explains why lips get dry, but still, why is it so difficult to tackle the peeling and cracked condition?
Identify Lip Irritants
“Alcoholic beverages and coffee dehydrate the skin,” Ciminelli says, “so don't let artificial ingredients from food or beverages ever touch your lips.” Just like the rest of your skin, your lips may react to the chemicals. But the skin on your lips is more delicate than the skin on your face and body.
It is also important you be aware of what is in the lipsticks and lip balms you are using. Lip products containing camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus can feel good initially on your lips but can dry and irritate your lips.
In addition to the ingredients mentioned above, The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) says to also avoid the following ingredients if you have chapped and dry lips:
- Cinnamon, citrus, mint, and peppermint flavoring
- Octinoxate or oxybenzone
- Phenol or phenyl
- Propyl gallate
- Salicylic acid
In general, if your lips burn or sting after you apply a product, then remove it immediately as it is irritating your lips and can lead to dry and chapped lips.
Take Weather into Consideration
Ciminelli says weather conditions like harsh winds and the sun’s drying rays create a recipe for disaster you might not recognize at first. Isn't that true, and it's not something we think about, is it? When it's cold, like the dead of winter, and winds are harsh, don't your lips get extra sensitive? They burn and peel and bleed, which is why extra heavy-duty ingredients are essential during this time of year.
As for summer, your lips dry out because the sun is hot. Just as your skin burns if not protected properly, your lips can get sunburned too. This means you need to use SPF on your lips, preferable with an SPF of 30 or higher, such as Kiehl's Butterstick Lip Treatment ($24). Look for a lip balm that has Titanium oxide and/or Zinc oxide—and make sure you reapply every two hours when you are outside to keep your lips protected.
Stop Licking Your Lips
Bimson attributes dry lips to a combination of lip licking and mouth-breathing. “Excessive lip licking can cause a form of dermatitis (skin inflammation), which is inflamed, sore, extremely chapped lips.”
You may want to lick your lips when they feel dry, however, when the saliva on your lips dries, it makes your lips more dry and chapped. In fact, the enzymes in your saliva (which are meant to help digest food) can irritate your lips.
Even if you don’t consider your lip-licking “excessive,” it can very well be a subconscious thing. You may not even be aware it is an issue until your lips start feeling dry and cracked. In that case, take measures to curb the habit, and think of ways to remind yourself of the negatives involved with lip-licking, especially when you're doing something monotonous. Instead of licking your lips when they feel dry, apply a moisturizing lip balm.
Use Moisturizing Products
One of the most common ingredients in lip products is petroleum jelly, which is in products such as Vaseline. “Petrochemical lip products are great at preventing moisture loss,” Bimson says, “Castor oil is another ingredient commonly used in lip products (especially lipstick).”
Check the ingredients list before you apply anything to your lips, and look for products that are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. In addition to castor oil and petroleum jelly products, the ADA says the following ingredients are recommended as they help chapped lips heal:
- Shea butter
- Hemp seed oil
- Mineral oil
- White petroleum jelly
Generously apply a moisturizing ointment at night, such as the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask ($22), to wake up with smooth and supple lips. The bestselling Sugar Advanced Therapy Lip Balm ($26) is another great choice for day or night as it plumps your lips with hyaluronic acid and an antioxidant-rich orange extract.
For those who love to DIY, check out this step-by-step guide in which you can make your own moisturizing lip balm with ingredients like coconut oil and sunflower oil.
Hydrate with Essential Oils
Ciminelli recommends finding products that are loaded with skin-nourishing vitamins, minerals, and essential oils. The reason essential oils work so well in lip care is because they're made to nourish and protect. Super-soothing vitamin E is not only meant to smooth out cracked lips but also to protect them from environmental aggressors.
Look for products that have the following five essential oils that will help repair and nourish chapped lips:
- Rose Geranium Oil
- Carrot Seed Oil
- Camellia Oil
- Lavender Oil
- Sweet Almond Oil
Many of these essential oils are combined with coconut oil or olive oil to provide a nourishing and natural way to heal and prevent chapped lips. Many of these essential oils do more than nourish lips. For example, lavender oil has anti-inflammatory properties and also helps with pain relief.
It is important to know that you shouldn’t apply straight essential oils directly to your lips. They need to be diluted with an oil, such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, to avoid irritating the fragile skin on your lips. It may be better to stick with products that contain these essential oils instead of making them yourself.
We always make sure we have this Jo Malone London lip balm (or one similar) in our bags before we face the cold weather. Vitamin E soothes dry lips and the addition of honey is a welcome emollient.
Treat Cracked Lips with Skin Care
You know the idea behind treating your neck like the rest of your face? It essentially means we should treat our neck like we do our face, and bring everyday skincare down to our neck, an oft-forgotten area that needs love, too. We spend so much time focused on skincare on our faces that it's easy to forget a majority of the creams and serums can also work double duty for other problem spots.
Use this same idea when it comes to lip care as well. Tap into the same skincare products you use on your face and neck to moisturize your lips (Just make sure they contain soothing ingredients before applying). Also, the skin under your eyes is just as fragile as your lips, so you can also use your eye cream, as it makes a great non-drying moisturizer for chapped lips.
When to See a Doctor
For most people, chapped lips are nothing to be concerned about and can be successfully treated at home following the tips above. If your lips don’t improve in two to three weeks, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) says you should see a board-certified dermatologist to help pinpoint the cause.
An allergic reaction can cause dry, chapped lips and your doctor can help figure out what is causing this response, says the AAD. Oral thrush, caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans, can also cause cracked, dry lips, along with white lesions in the mouth and tongue. This condition is often seen in babies or older adults, however, anyone can get this condition. An anti-fungal medication will clear up this condition.
Actinic cheilitis is a condition that results in dry, scaly lips, along with scaly papules or lesions. This condition is precancerous and is the result of chronic sun exposure. See your doctor right away if you suspect this.
Lastly, if you are dehydrated or malnourished, this can also cause chronic dry lips. If you are on a restricted diet, this can cause vitamin deficiencies that need to be addressed with your doctor.
Can lip plumper glosses cause dry, chapped lips?
Many lip-plumping glosses contain ingredients such as cinnamon, wintergreen, and even capsicum from hot peppers that irritate the lips to increase blood flow, causing the plumping effect. This is why these products can cause tingling or burning when applied. They are fine to use occasionally, but frequent use could cause dry, irritated lips.
What deficiency causes dry lips?
Research has shown that if you are deficient in B vitamins or iron it can result in cracked and irritated lips. Talk to your doctor about making changes to your diet and if taking vitamins or supplements is recommended for you.
How can I get rid of flaky lips?
Cleveland Clinic. Tips to Protect Your Lips From Cold, Dry Winter Weather. December, 2020.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. 7 Dermatologists' Tips for Healing Dry, Chapped Lips. (n.d.)
Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias. Antioxidant, Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lavender Essential Oil. August, 2015.
Mayo Clinic. Oral Thrush. April, 2021.
Derm Net NZ. Actinic Cheilitis. December, 2015.
WebMd. Lip Plumpers: Do They Work? (n.d.)
Journal of the Academy of General Dentistry. Nutrition for Oral Health and Oral Manifestations of Poor Nutrition and Unhealthy Habits. January, 2013.