7 Ways to Deal With Dry, Chapped Lips—According to Dermatologists

pink lips with glittery gloss

ohlamour studio / Stocksy

Chronically dry, chapped lips are incredibly common and equally as frustrating. And while they can certainly worsen in the winter, cold weather isn't the only cause for lip dryness. Everything from licking your lips, to your diet, to the types of lip balm you use can suck the moisture from your lips, leaving you with uncomfortable dryness and flaky patches.

So to figure out exactly how to get rid of chapped lips for good, we consulted board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian.

Meet the Expert

Rachel Nazarian, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.

First, Understand the Causes of Chapped Lips

"The lips are a very sensitive area of the face, often exposed to harsher conditions than other areas," says Dr. Nazarain. "The lip is considered a 'mucosal membrane' region and has a different balance of moisture than the rest of the face. The lips also absorb topical ingredients more effectively than normal skin and can experience water loss greatly too." That, and the fact that lips don’t have oil glands means they dry out 10 times faster than the skin on our face and body. All of these characteristics make the lips more susceptible to dryness in the following conditions:

  • Spending too much time in the sun: Sunburn is never, ever good for you—your lips included. Skipping lip SPF can result in sunburning your lips, which causes swelling, dryness, and flaky patches.
  • Spending too much time in the cold: Just as cold air can draw moisture from your skin, the same is true for your lips.
  • Windburn: Windburn on the lips is quite common and occurs when the wind whips against your lips during activities like running in the cold or skiing.
  • Licking your lips: Saliva contains digestive enzymes that help break down your food; but it can break down your skin, too.
01 of 07

Don't Use Lip Products With Alcohol or Fragrance

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. "When lips are drying, or cracked, discontinue any products (including facial products—these can often inadvertently dry lips out!) that contain alcohol, chemical exfoliants, or retinoids," advises Nazarian. "Many ingredients that are somewhat tolerable, and are slightly drying to facial skin can have an enhanced drying or irritating effect on the lips. Retinoids, or other acne medications, are a prime example. They often cause drying and chapping of lips—especially in the corners—even though they're often not the intended target of those products and are often not even directly treated by those products. Retinoids can cause satellite drying of lips even if they're not being applied directly on them." 

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.

02 of 07

Use a Barrier-Protecting Product in Cold Weather

Nazarian says weather conditions like harsh winds and the sun’s drying rays create a recipe for disaster you might not recognize at first. "When the weather is colder, and there's less moisture in the environment, the air pulls hydration out of your skin, and off of your lips," she explains "Your lips are exceptionally sensitive to dry, cold, air and wind, and can become chapped, cracking very easily."

To protect your lips from the elements, be sure to use an occlusive barrier protectant, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor.

03 of 07

Stop Licking Your 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. "The lips are subject to irritation from saliva. People who lick or roll in their lips can cause saliva to irritate or degrade the tissue, a common problem for many people," she explains. 

Michela Buttignol/Byrdie

04 of 07

Use Moisturizing Products With Ingredients Like Shea Butter

So often, the lips get skipped in our morning and evening skincare routines. Simply adding a moisturizing lip balm to your routine morning and night can make a big difference in the look and feel of your lips. Dr. Nazarian recommends looking for the following ingredients in your lip balm and avoid heavy fragrance and/or alcohol:

  • Shea butter
  • Ceramides
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Mineral oil
  • Dimethicone
  • Petroleum jelly

And if you use any drying skincare products as part of an acne regimen, Nazarian recommends applying your lip balm before you apply your skincare in order to provide a protective barrier and prevent the drying ingredients from coming into contact with your lips.

05 of 07

Try to Breathe Through Your Nose

"Mouth breathing is also a very common source of irritated lips. Typically, when people have stuffy noses they become mouth breathers; a small amount of saliva moves out onto the surrounding skin, and can cause irritation, especially at night while we sleep." Whenever possible, do your best to breathe in and out through your nose.

06 of 07

Use a Lip Product With SPF Every Day

Sunburn is never, ever a good thing (neither is tanning, while we're at it), and your lips are just as susceptible to sunburn as the rest of your skin. And yet, they're often overlooked. Find a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher that you love and take it with you everywhere. Be sure to apply at least every two hours or immediately after drying off from sweating or swimming.

07 of 07

Drink Through a Straw

The more your lips come into contact with drinks like ice cold water and hot coffee, the more your natural protective barrier (and protective lip balm) get washed away. To keep your barrier in tact, drink from a straw whenever possible.

When to See a Dermatologist

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, make sure you visit a board-certified dermatologist to help pinpoint the cause.

  • Can lip plumping 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?

    Gentle lip exfoliation will help get rid of flaky skin for smooth lips. Make sure you are only exfoliating once a week as doing it too much can increase dryness.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Tips to Protect Your Lips From Cold, Dry Winter Weather. December, 2020.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 7 Dermatologists' Tips for Healing Dry, Chapped Lips. (n.d.)

  3. WebMd. Lip Plumpers: Do They Work? (n.d.)

  4. Journal of the Academy of General Dentistry. Nutrition for Oral Health and Oral Manifestations of Poor Nutrition and Unhealthy Habits. January, 2013.

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