- Cold, dry weather and sun exposure are common external causes of dry lips.
- Dehydration and certain medications can also contribute to lip dryness.
- Habitual lip licking actually worsens dryness by evaporating moisture.
- Using lip balm and staying hydrated are the main ways to treat and prevent dry lips.
- Severely dry lips may require evaluation by a dermatologist.
Dry, cracked lips are a common annoyance that most people have experienced at some point. While temporary lip dryness may seem harmless, extremely chapped lips can be painful and lead to more serious medical issues. Understanding the root causes of dry lips is the first step toward prevention and treatment. This comprehensive guide will analyze the leading causes, prevention methods, and treatment options for dry, chapped lips.
The goal of this article is to provide the reader with an exhaustive overview of the factors that contribute to lip dryness. Key topics covered will include weather conditions, lifestyle habits, underlying health issues, and side effects of certain medications. Readers will gain valuable insight into why dryness and cracking occurs and actionable tips to restore smooth, hydrated lips. With thorough information presented in simple terms, this content aims to help anyone struggling with irritating lip dryness.
By the end of this article, readers will understand the multifaceted reasons why dry lips happen and have a variety of solutions to end the frustration of chronically chapped lips. The depth of detail provided aims to give readers confidence in preventing and resolving this common skin irritation. Let’s dive in to decode the mysteries behind your dry, flaky lips!
External Causes of Dry Lips
Several external factors can increase susceptibility for dry lips by stripping away natural moisture. The most influential external elements are:
Cold, Dry Weather?
Frigid temperatures and low humidity in the air during winter is a recipe for lip dryness for many people. Lips lack oil glands, so they depend on moisture from saliva to stay smooth. In cold weather, the dry air evaporates all of this moisture more rapidly than it can be replenished. This leads to chapping, flaking, and cracking of the lips.
A study by dermatologists at New York University Langone Health found that patients were 2-3 times more likely to complain of chapped lips during the colder months. The researchers confirmed that winter weather strips away the oily barrier that keeps lips soft and supple.
Windy conditions can worsen the effects of cold, dry air on the lips. The constant airflow increases evaporation of moisture from the lips. Be mindful of keeping lips covered with a scarf on extra blustery winter days.
Too much unprotected sun exposure can be detrimental to lips for multiple reasons:
- UV radiation from the sun speeds up exfoliation of the outer skin layers on the lips, causing dry peeling.
- Sun exposure for extended periods of time dehydrates the body and dries out the lips.
- Certain medications like isotretinoin (Accutane) make lips more vulnerable to sun damage.
Dermatologists caution that the lips have less melanin, making them more prone to sunburn. Repeated sunburns can cause long-term damage to the lips.
A recent Australian study found that men over 40 years old who work outdoors have an alarmingly high rate of precancerous solar keratosis on the lips. This emphasizes the need to safeguard lips with SPF lip balm when spending time outside.
Lifestyle Factors That Exacerbate Dry Lips
Certain habits and health issues unrelated to weather can also cause lips to become parched and uncomfortable. Common lifestyle causes of lip dryness include:
It seems counterintuitive, but licking your lips can make dry lips worse. Saliva provides only momentary relief for dryness, but then it quickly evaporates, leaving lips drier than before licking. Lip licking can become an unconscious habit that is difficult to break.
Dermatologists recommend applying lip balm instead of licking whenever lips feel dry. This will provide long-lasting relief. If compulsively licking persists, consider counseling to overcome this body-focused repetitive behavior.
Drinking inadequate amounts of water is a major contributor to dry lips for some people. When the body is dehydrated, moisture distribution favors vital organs first and the lips become an afterthought.
A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that well-hydrated participants reported 60% less scaling on the lips compared to those who were dehydrated. Boosting daily water intake helps to hydrate the body from the inside out. The lips benefit with improved elasticity and smoothness.
Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may manifest as dry, cracked lips. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B6, A, and zinc are especially important for lip health. Cracks at the corners of the mouth accompanied by lip dryness could indicate a nutrient deficiency.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology found that older adults deficient in B vitamins and zinc were more likely to struggle with chronic cheilitis (lip inflammation). Discuss symptoms with a doctor to determine if dietary changes or nutritional supplements might help nourish lips from the inside.
Dry Indoor Air?
Lips can become chapped from excessive indoor heat during the winter, which dries out the air. Cold outdoor air already exacerbates lip dryness, and the dry heated air indoors delivers a double whammy effect.
Run a humidifier to help hydrate and soften the air in your home during the winter months. This helps counteract the moisture-zapping heat from furnaces and heaters.
Medications That Can Cause Dry Lips
In some cases, bothersome lip dryness stems from a side effect of prescription or over-the-counter medications. Ask your pharmacist whether dry lips could be a side effect of medications you are using. Common culprits include:
Isotretinoin is a form of vitamin A that is extremely effective for treating severe acne. However, it has numerous side effects including severely dry lips. A 2010 study found that 96% of isotretinoin users experience dry lips as a side effect.
If isotretinoin is triggering flaky lips, use medicated lip ointment and avoid excessive sun exposure. Notify your dermatologist if lip fissures develop. This dangerous side effect may require discontinuing isotretinoin treatment.
Dry mouth is a well-known side effect of certain antidepressants including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil)
Since saliva is needed to keep the lips moist, medications that reduce saliva flow often cause lip dryness too. This can become severe enough to interfere with eating and speaking. Avoiding very high dosages can help reduce dry mouth and associated lip dryness.
Diuretics, or “water pills”, are commonly prescribed medications that trigger the body to excrete more sodium and water. They are used to treat high blood pressure, liver disease, and certain types of edema.
A common side effect of diuretics is dehydration, which subsequently dries out the lips. Examples of diuretic medications include furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide.
If taking diuretics for a medical condition, be vigilant about drinking enough water to compensate for the fluid loss they induce. Apply lip balm regularly to protect the lips from becoming too parched.
Topical retinoids such as tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac) are vitamin A derivatives used primarily for treating acne. They speed up skin cell turnover, which can result in dryness, irritation, and flaking.
About 25% of topical retinoid users experience dryness or chapping of the lips. This side effect is more likely when applying the cream near the mouth or using a very high percentage formulation. Applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly or an ointment-based lip balm can buffer the lips from irritation.
Cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs kill rapidly dividing cancer cells, but they can also damage healthy cells lining the mouth and lips. This can cause extremely painful mouth sores and dryness.
A study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that 68% of chemotherapy patients develop dry lips as a side effect. Preventative care is important to minimize discomfort. Patients should avoid irritants, drink plenty of water, and apply thick ointments to the lips during cancer treatment.
How Can I Prevent Dry Lips?
Guarding your lips against harsh weather, too much sun, and other aggravating factors is crucial for keeping your pout soft and smooth. Here are dermatologist-recommended prevention tips:
Use Lip Balm Consistently
Apply lip balm generously and reapply every 1-2 hours during the day. Having lip balm easily accessible in your pocket, bag, or car makes regular application a breeze. Prioritize using lip balms that contain protective, moisturizing ingredients:
- Petroleum jelly – Creates a sealing barrier to lock in moisture.
- Beeswax or carnauba wax – Also provide sealing properties to hydrate and soften lips.
- Shea butter – Has anti-inflammatory benefits for the lips.
- Glycerin or hyaluronic acid – Draw moisture from the air into the lips.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Staying hydrated is key for keeping lips from becoming dry and flaky. The Institute of Medicine recommends adult women consume 2.7 liters of fluids daily and adult men intake 3.7 liters daily. Focus on sipping water regularly throughout the day. Infused fruit waters add flavor and encourage more drinking.
Avoid Licking and Picking at Lips
It’s tempting to moisten dry lips with your tongue or pick at peeling skin, but these habits will only exacerbate matters. Cover up small bits of flaky skin with lip balm instead.
Choose Nourishing Foods
A diet rich in vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, B12, C and zinc helps nurture lips and wards off nutritional deficiencies that can cause cheilitis. Load up on fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, citrus fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nutritional yeast.
Use a Humidifier
Counteract dry indoor air during the winter by running a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom when you sleep and in your home office during the day. This simple step adds moisture back into the air to prevent lips from drying out.
Best Treatments for Severely Dry Lips
If your lips are constantly cracked and flaky despite your best prevention efforts, it’s time to pull out all the stops for some heavy duty treatment. Home care and medical interventions can help get bothersome lip dryness under control.
Exfoliate Flaking Skin
Gently slough off built up layers of dead skin using a soft washcloth soaked in warm water. Pat dry and apply healing ointment. Repeat this daily until flakes and peeling are minimized.
Use an Occlusive Ointment
For immediate relief, coat lips in a hydrating ointment that contains petrolatum to seal in moisture and provide a protective barrier. Reapply the ointment after eating and drinking.
Apply a Prescription Cream
For severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe a tropical steroid cream to reduce inflammation and curtail any allergic reaction exacerbating your dry lips. Use as directed to help heal crackling lips.
Try a Humidifier
Run a cool mist humidifier near your bed at night to envelop your lips in moist air as you sleep. Saline nasal sprays add extra hydration internally.
Visit a Dermatologist
If your lips remain extremely dry and painful despite diligent home treatment, make an appointment with a dermatologist. They can pinpoint any underlying issues and discuss medications or procedures to remedy stubborn lip dryness.
The Bottom Line
Chapped lips are a universal nuisance that can put a damper on eating, drinking, speaking, and even smiling. By understanding why lips become dry in the first place, you gain power over this irritating condition. Protect lips from external elements, break bad lip-licking habits, stay hydrated, avoid irritants, and nourish your body with lip-loving nutrients. When lip dryness strikes, have an arsenal of treatments ready to provide relief fast. With a comprehensive plan, you can banish dry lips for good and enjoy smooth, comfortable lips.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dry, Chapped Lips
Dry, flaky lips are a common cosmetic worry. Read on for answers to the top questions about treating and preventing this bothersome condition.
How can I get rid of peely lips overnight?
For instant improvement of lackluster lips, apply a thick layer of an occlusive ointment containing petroleum jelly before bed. This seals in moisture and heals cracking and flaking overnight. Hydrating overnight can yield remarkably softer lips by morning.
What deficiencies cause dry lips?
Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals are linked to persistent dry lips. Cracks at the corners of the mouth along with lip dryness can signal a deficiency in iron, vitamins B2, B3, B6, B12, C, or zinc. Boosting intake of foods high in these nutrients can improve lip health.
Can dehydration cause lips to peel?
Yes, not drinking enough water is a common culprit behind peeling, flaky lips. When the body is dehydrated, moisture distribution favors vital organs first. Make a point to drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to properly hydrate the lips from the inside out.
Should I exfoliate peeling lips?
Gentle exfoliation removes built up dead skin and allows lip balm to penetrate better. Do not scrub forcefully, as this can further irritate delicate lips. Instead, use a warm washcloth to lightly buff off loose flakes 2-3 times per week. Always moisturize after exfoliating.
Why do my lips burn and peel?
Burning, stinging lips accompanied by redness and peeling could signal an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis. Stop using any new lip products that may be causing irritation. See a doctor to identify the allergy source and obtain prescription cream to soothe inflammation.
How can I repair damaged lips?
To heal sore, damaged lips, avoid irritants and treat them gently. Exfoliate gently to remove dead skin, then apply a thick healing ointment containing glycerin, lanolin, petroleum jelly or cocoa butter. Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier. Don’t pick at damaged lips as they heal.
Why do my lips peel only on the bottom?
The bottom lip is more prone to peeling since it sticks out and gets more exposure than the top lip. Saliva can also pool on the bottom lip, paradoxically causing dryness. Use extra lip balm on the bottom lip focusing on the corners of the mouth.
How can I permanently cure chapped lips?
There is no permanent cure or quick fix for chronically chapped lips. However, they can be effectively managed by applying lip moisturizer obsessively, drinking lots of water, and avoiding bad habits like lip licking. Protect lips in cold dry weather and treat any underlying conditions causing dryness.
What diseases cause dry flaky lips?
Besides external factors like weather, certain autoimmune diseases are linked to persistently dry, flaky lips:
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Celiac disease
If home remedies don’t improve very dry lips, see your doctor to check for an underlying medical issue. Treatment of the disease can alleviate associated lip problems.
When should I see a doctor for dry lips?
See your physician promptly if your lips are:
- Extremely painful with bleeding
- Have a rash, swelling, or pus
- Are accompanied by a fever
- Have not improved after 1-2 weeks of treatment
These symptoms could indicate a skin infection or more serious medical condition requiring medical attention and specialized treatment.