How to Get Rid of Chapped Lips This Winter

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How to Treat Chapped Lips
Photo: Rosdiana CIaravolo/Getty

"Why are my lips so dry?" is a question I'm constantly asking myself as I apply another layer of lip balm to my painfully cracked, chapped lips.

That said, it goes without saying that I'm definitely familiar with the tight, burning sensation that comes with dry lips, but I'm not 100 percent clear on what causes them. Sure, chapped lips are more common during winter when temperatures drop and there's less moisture in the air, but are any other triggers?

While the weather is a major factor, it's just one common cause of chapped lips. Believe it or not, lifestyle habits and the products you use on your lips can also be to blame.

In the hopes of getting through this season smooth-lipped and care free, I turned to two dermatologists to find out exactly what causes chapped lips, the best treatments for dry lips, plus how to prevent them.

What Are Chapped Lips?

Chapped lips are a result of excessive dryness, usually brought on by a compromised skin barrier. The skin can crack and in severe cases, scab up. Damage to the skin barrier is often caused by changes in air humidity or exposure to irritants. "A dysfunctional skin barrier can cause the lip skin to turnover abnormally or incompletely, resulting in sheets of dry skin or even painful fissuring," says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and director of Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach Calif.

What Causes Chapped Lips?

The weather is most prevalent cause of chapped lips. Changes in temperature and humidity, along with extreme UV exposure can all dry out or irritate lips.

But licking your lips can also make them chapped. "When you try to remove dead skin and bite it off, you make the chapping worse," explains Dr. Joyce Davis, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "In children, lip licking is common and may cause chapping of the lips and surrounding skin. When chapping is at the corner of the mouth, if is often due to mixing of the mouth saliva irritating this area, and this is most often seen in adults."

And if you're using the wrong products, chances are you're making things worse. "Topical lip products, cosmetics (gloss, lipstick) and oral care products (mouthwash, toothpastes) all may irritate or dry the skin, resulting in dry, chapped lips," says Dr. Palm.

What Are the Best Treatments for Chapped Lips?

If your lips are mildly dry, Dr. Palm recommends using a sugar-based exfoliating scrub, followed by a bland lip moisturizer. Fresh's cult-classic Sugar Lip Polish Exfoliator gently buffs skin and has nourishing ingredients like shea butter and jojoba oil to help re-hydrate lips.

When looking for a moisturizing lip balm, look for emollient ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, squalene, and petrolatum, which all help repair the skin barrier.

For severely chapped lips, Dr. Davis suggests first using an over-the-counter cortisone cream to calm inflammation. But it's important to use it sparringly. "Cortisone is not for long term use, since it can thin the skin," she says. "Once the lips improve, put it away until you next need it." If the chapping is at the corners of your mouth, you may need to see a dermatologist for a prescription topical product or cortisone shot.

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How Can You Prevent Chapped Lips?

Regularly wearing a moisturizing lip balm that contains SPF is the most effective way to prevent your lips from getting chapped this winter, along with occasional exfoliation.

Avoiding products with irritating ingredients is also key. "Swelling, redness, and eventually dry, chapped lips can result from products that contain common irritants such as fragrances, cinnamates (cinnamon like chemicals), and certain dyes or preservatives," says Dr. Palm. If you have sensitive skin, pay particular attention to products in your lip products and consult with a dermatologist if a persistent chapped lip is occurring."

Keep scrolling for a few of our favorite gentle, yet effective hydrating lip treatments to get you through the winter.

1. Vaseline Lip Therapy Advanced Healing Lip Moisturizer

Chapped Lip Treatments

With petrolatum jelly as the hero ingredient, this drugstore staple hydrates lips and seals in moisture.

2. EltaMD UV Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum SPF 31

Chapped Lip Treatments

Major changes in weather isn't the only environmental factor that can leave your lips cracked and dry. Excess sun exposure can lead to chapped lips. An easy solution? Protecting your lips with a hydrating balm that also contains SPF. EltaMD is a dermatologist-favorite because it's non-comedogenic and free of parabens, fragrance, and phthalates.

3. ChapStick Classic Lip Balm

Chapped Lip Treatments

When in doubt, you can't go wrong with a classic. Petroleum jelly seals hydration in to prevent dryness.

4. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Lip Therapy

Chapped Lip Treatments

This lip balm provides instant relief for cracked lips thanks to soothing colloidal oat flower. Glycerin and shea butter restore moisture. The bonus? The soft matte finish is ideal for layering under lipstick.

5. Aquaphor Lip Repair

Chapped Lip Treatments

Aquaphor is a go-to balm for a few reasons: It has glycerin to draw in moisture, shea butter to protect lips, and soothing chamomile to minimize discomfort. The formula is also free of fragrance, dyes, and preservatives, so it's not likely to irritate the lips.

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