Think of your lips as a sponge. "When exposed to moisture, they absorb water and plump up. When dehydrated, they dry out and shrink," explains Bruce Bart, M.D., a dermatologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. And, because they're always exposed, they're prone to dehydration, particularly during the cold, windy winter months. The skin on the lips is also unlike skin anywhere else on the body: It's thinner (allowing the blood vessels to be visible, making the lips look red) and has no oil glands (oil acts as a barrier for skin, helping to protect it from the elements). The result can be red, rough (and sometimes painful), chapped lips that couldn't hold lipstick color if you spray-painted it on.
Get Better-Looking Lips -- Fast
With a little loving care, your lips can be perfect in no time. Just follow these seven steps -- and then pucker up!
Take a water bottle with you wherever you go. Drinking enough water (the equivalent of at least 9 cups of fluids daily) will keep the body, skin and lips hydrated.
Lick the smacking habit. Licking your lips damages the protective barrier, which can dry out the lips, says Robert Brodell, M.D., a dermatologist in Warren, Ohio. (Saliva contains digestive enzymes that can break down this barrier.) Instead, regularly apply lip balm like La Mer The Lip Balm ($40; at Saks Fifth Avenue Stores).
Know thy balms. Look for hydrating ingredients like beeswax, shea butter, vitamin E and almond, jojoba or coconut oils. Good old petroleum jelly (think: Vaseline) works well too. If you have sensitive skin, use camphor-based medicated lip balms sparingly. (They can be irritating.) Instead, opt for the camphor-free Aésop Rosehip Seed Lip Treatment with shea butter ($15; 888-223-2750). But if you have hearty skin, try ChapStick Medicated lip balm ($1.69; at drugstores) with camphor and menthol.
Plug in a humidifer. It can replace moisture in dry indoor air, keeping your lips (and your skin) hydrated. Editor's favorite: Bionaire Digital Cool Moisture Humidifier ($80; bionaire.com).
Exfoliate when necessary. Lip exfoliators (products that contain fruit-acid-based alpha or beta hydroxy acids) slough off dead skin -- much like the ones you'd use on your face, says New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D. "But if you have sensitive skin or your lips are severely chapped or cracked, use these products cautiously [no more than once weekly] as they do contain acids that can irritate skin," says Gross. (Signs of irritation: intense stinging and/or persistent redness.) Try Blistex Lip Revitalizer with AHA and vitamin E ($1.89; at drugstores) and Lancôme Primordiale Lip Revitalizing Treatment with Gatuline, an AHA alternative ($29; lancome.com).
Protect, protect, protect. Lips are susceptible to sunburn since they lack melanin, the pigment that helps shield skin from the sun. Apply a layer of a sun-protective product daily like Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer SPF 15 ($3; at drugstores) or look for a lipstick with SPF like Estée Lauder Futurist SPF 15 ($17.50; esteelauder.com), which comes in 22 shades.
Don't make matte forever. Matte lipsticks can be extremely drying (which helps these lipsticks stay put for so long). That's why you should use them sparingly when your lips are extremely chapped. Instead, alternate use of them with hydrating lipsticks (as indicated by ingredients like vitamin E and/or glycerin) or add a layer of moisturizing lip balm underneath. Opt for the nonmatte, hydrating Ultima II Ultimate Edition Lipstick with primrose oil and vitamin E ($15; at drugstores) or layer Prescriptives Lip Specialist ($15; gloss.com) underneath a matte.
How to plump up your pout
* "Using lip liner in a shade slightly darker than your lipstick, overdraw the line (so the line is right outside your lips)," says Joanna Schlip, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist with Cloutier.
* "Apply the lipstick, and then in the center of your lips, blend in a drop of foundation and top it off with a gloss." (Try Tarte Double Ended Lip Gloss, $19; beauty.com.)
Treat your lips right Follow this guide to treating common lip problems.
Cut in the corner of the mouth Keep your lips hydrated with a balm and apply a small dab of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
Peeling lips This could be an allergic reaction to a lipstick, toothpaste, food, beverage or medication you're taking (Accutane is one drug that can severely dry out lips). Related symptoms include itching and a persistent rash. Your dermatologist can prescribe a mild topical hydrocortisone cream to help decrease the irritation.
Wrinkles around the lips Caused by sun exposure, age and smoking, these wrinkles should be treated like wrinkles on the rest of the face -- with chemical peels and creams that contain anti-aging ingredients like retinol. One to apply: Avon Anew Retinol Lip Treatment with vitamin C and retinol ($10; 800-FOR-AVON).
thin lips If you want fuller lips, the best temporary option right now is collagen (Zyderm) injections, which cost about $300 per treatment and last about six months. (Possible side effects include temporary redness and excessive swelling of the lips.)
Shape Tested: Best lipsticks and balms
We tested hundreds of colors and moisturizing balms to pick these favorites.
Best vitamin-enriched lipstick Almay One Coat Lip Cream with vitamins A, C and E ($8.75; at drugstores).
Longest-lasting lipsticks It's a three-way tie between Cover Girl Outlast All-Day Lipcolor ($9.50), L'Oréal Endless Lipcolour ($9.75) and Max Factor Lipfinity ($12.75), all at drugstores. They all last up to eight hours.
Best flavor Origins Liquid Lip Color ($11; origins.com) has a tingly mint flavor as a well as hydrating aloe, vitamin E and rice-bran oil.
Most moisturizing Maybelline Moisture Whip lipstick ($6; at drugstores) is made up of 75 percent lip conditioners -- and comes in 60 shades.
Best glosses BeComing by Avon Hearts of You Lip Gloss ($7.50; 866-I-BECOME), Aveda HypnoticSwirl Lip Gloss Minus Lanolin ($11.50; aveda.com) and Madina Milano Lip Gloss($12; 866-MADINA-M). Different colors are used to create their designs, giving you the choice of blending the colors or using each one alone.
Best lip treatment Clinique All About Lips with green tea extract, vitamin E and salicylic acid ($20; clinique.com).
Best way to prevent lipstick feathering Elizabeth Arden Lip-Fix Cream ($18.50; elizabetharden.com) contains glycerin to prevent dryness and paraffin to keep lipstick in its place.
Best red Clarins Le Rouge Lipstick in Passion ($18.50; gloss.com) is the perfect red we've all been searching for.
Best all-around color Chanel Infrarouge WhisperLight Lipstick in Nude ($21.50; gloss.com).
Most vibrant Dior Addict ($19.50; 800-929-DIOR) with multireflective light particles that give the appearance of glowing lips.
Best lip liner Stila Lip Rouge ($26; sephora.com) is a felt-tip-markerlike pen that gives lasting color. (It works as both a liner and a lip tint.)
Most natural-looking lip tint Revlon Lip & Cheek Jam in China Doll ($8.25; at drugstores). The jamlike consistency smoothes on easily.
Click for feature products.