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How to Get Rid of Flaky, Chapped Winter Lips

Photo: Olena Yokobchuk / Shutterstock.com

Whether you plan to hit the slopes or just want smooth, soft lips to make applying your lipstick a little bit easier this winter, read on. Cheilitis—doctor-speak for dry, chapped lips—is common during the cold season, but it's easy to treat.  

Why does it happen in the first place? Well, the skin on your lips is thinner and more delicate than the skin on other areas of your body, says Lori Brightman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. The lips are also a mucous membrane and lose water more easily than other parts of the skin. Translation: They're vulnerable to dehydration, dry air, and irritation from products—or even from your own saliva. (Related: 8 Signs You're Actually Addicted to Lip Balm)

Read on for more about the most common reasons for chapped lips (especially in the winter) and how to get rid of chapped lips quickly and easily.

Top Causes of Chapped Lips

  1. Very dry air. "Environment plays a big role in overall skin hydration, and many will notice that winter is a period of time where extra lip care is necessary due to the lack of humidity," says Jordan Carqueville, M.D., a Chicago-based dermatologist. Essentially, your lips contain humectants, molecules that draw moisture from the air into the skin. But in dry, winter conditions, moisture evaporates more quickly, leaving you with dehydrated, dry lips. 
  2. Chronic lip licking. Enzymes in your saliva can irritate and dry out your skin over time, causing cracked lips, says Dr. Brightman. Take note of when you lick your lips the most so you can get to the root cause of the habit—which is often stress or dehydration.
  3. Certain medications. If the culprits above don't seem to be your trigger, know that some oral prescriptions for acne, high blood pressure, and nausea can cause dry, chapped lips, says Dr. Brightman. Talk to your doc if you think your Rx may be to blame. 
  4. A yeast infection. If the corners of your mouth are constantly cracked, see your doctor. "You could have a type of yeast infection that's caused by the saliva that pools when you sleep with your mouth open," says Dr. Brightman. Either way, your lips will get soft again if you treat them right.

How to Get Rid of Chapped Lips

  1. Lock in moisture. "Products that keep the water in the skin will help prevent water loss, such as emollients containing blends of petrolatum, oils, and waxes," says Dr. Carqueville. Look for unflavored, nonmedicated lip balms like Aquaphor Lip Repair ($15 for a pack of three, amazon.com), which contains panthenol and lanolin. Heading outdoors? Choose one with sunscreen, like Supergoop Fusion Lip Balm SPF 30 ($10, amazon.com). (Related: 10 Moisturizing Lip Products That Go Way Beyond Basic Balm
  2. Try a new toothpaste. Synthetic flavors can cause an allergic reaction or peeling, says Dr. Brightman. A natural paste, like Tom's of Maine Sensitive Toothpaste ($17 for a two-pack, amazon.com) or Burt's Bees Purely White Toothpaste ($18 for a pack of three, amazon.com), is a good alternative.
  3. Exfoliate. "It can be helpful to exfoliate the dry lip skin using sugar scrubs or even using a toothbrush to gently remove the excess skin," says Dr. Carqueville. So before you apply your balm, try a natural lip scrub like French Girl Organics Rose Lip Polish ($19, amazon.com).
  4. Avoid citrus. Until your dry, chapped lips are healed, don't eat acidic fruits. The juice can sting and lead to more flaking, Dr. Brightman says.
  5. Buy a humidifier. Try using a humidistat device ($10, amazon.com) to monitor moisture in your home. If you get a reading below 45 percent, switch on a humidifier in your room at night to make the air—and your skin—dewier, Dr. Brightman suggests. Try PurSteam Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($30, amazon.com).

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