Thursday, December 16, 2010

Apple #498: Chapped Lips

I'm going to interrupt my series on Christmas in different countries because I must learn about chapped lips.  Now that winter is here for real, my lips are getting chapped again, and this is bugging me.

Chapped lips are really unpleasant.
(Photo from nature Medical lip balm)

  • The primary cause of chapped lips in the winter time is dehydration.  Not that they get cold, but that they lose moisture.
  • In the winter, the cold air is much drier than in the summer, and that dries out your lips faster.
  • Your saliva also contributes to chapped lips is frequent contact with your saliva.  I had thought saliva made your lips chapped because when the saliva evaporates, that also takes moisture away from your lips.  Turns out that's only part of the reason.
  • Saliva also contributes to chapped lips because there are enzymes present in saliva that are there to help begin digesting food.  When saliva is on your lips, those enzymes don't know they're sitting on lips, they think it's food.  So they go to work on your lips.  This robs your lips of moisture as well as a thin layer of protective outer cells on already thin skin; thus, chapping.
  • It's also possible your lips could be sunburned.  For most people, this isn't much of a factor in the wintertime because it's generally less sunny.  But for people who ski or snowboard or are otherwise active outside in the winter, the sun glinting off the snow combined with the very cold and dry winter wind can really do a number on your lips.
  • Another thing people do sometimes is chew at the loose skin or bite their lips or otherwise obsessively gnaw at them.  Sometimes this happens during sleep so you may not be aware that you're doing it.  But if you notice in the morning that there are torn or ragged places on your lips, sometimes torn to the point of bleeding, that may be what's going on.

If your lips are bloody like this in the morning, it could be because you've chewed on them in your sleep.
(Photo from Health Rookie)

  • It could also be that you've breathed through your mouth all night long.  The air rushing in and out past your lips on a regular basis for hours will dry out your lips in your sleep.  If you snore a lot, you may wake up to discover your lips are very chapped.
  • Smoking depletes your body of moisture and vitamins both, and can contribute to chapped lips.  But if you smoke, chapped lips are probably the least of your worries.
  • Related to the sunburn issue, eating or drinking citrus can also contribute to chapped lips.  Orange juice, oranges, grapefruit, etc., can leave behind a residue on your lips that is what's known as phototoxic.  This means when the substance is exposed to ultraviolet light, the skin beneath it suffers greater damage than it would by itself.  So citrus is kind of like the anti-sunscreen.  It's the "Here, Sun, Come Screw Up My Skin" screen.
  • Any of the aforementioned things may be contributing to chapped lips.  But if your lips seem like they are always (chronically) chapped and they have been for a long time, and if that's combined with swelling or itchiness, or even dizziness, you may have developed an allergy. 
  • All sorts of products have been discovered to be related to allergies that give people chapped lips.  They range from various fragrances in whatever lip product you may wear, to too much Vitamin A, to medications (especially those that treat acne), to toothpaste.  If you think you might have an allergy or chronically chapped lips, check out this list in bullet points of possible causes of chronically chapped lips.

  • Drinking lots of water will help hydrate your lips from the inside out.
  • Using a dehumidifier may also help.  If the air is moist, it will be less likely to dry out your lips.
  • If your lips are painfully chapped, steer clear of very salty or very spicy foods for a while. Both will steal moisture from your lips, and they'll also make your already sensitive lips hurt even more.
  • Instead of breathing through your mouth which keeps air moving over your lips and increasing the rate at which moisture evaporates, breathe through your nose as much as possible. I know this isn't always possible if you're out in the cold walking or doing something even vaguely strenuous, but you know what I mean.
  • Wear a scarf so that it covers your mouth.  This will protect your lips from the cold, the wind, and the sun.

  • My go-to lip balms, Chapstick and Burt's Beeswax get an "OK" rating from dermatologists.  They are  wax-based, and while the waxes do provide some barrier against the cold, the barrier isn't all that great.  And these balms don't contain much that will address the problem of a lack of moisture.
  • Those camphor-based lip balms -- the ones that people tend to get addicted to -- can actually make things worse instead of better.  Too much camphor can steal moisture from your lips, which will make you reach for the camphor balm again, which will dry out your lips even more, etc., ad nauseam.
  • You'll also want to avoid any cosmetics that contain alcohol.  Alcohol steals moisture. Think of how fast it dries when you dab in on your skin.  Putting alcohol on your lips will steal what little moisture  they have that much faster.
  • For example, a lot of people say they really like Aquafina Hydrating Lip Balm (yes, the bottled water company).  People say they can't live without it, they put it on all the time.  That makes me think, hmm, there's probably a reason people feel like they need to use it all the time; in other words, maybe it actually makes things worse instead of better.  So I checked the ingredients

Aquafina Hydrating Lip Balm comes in metallic-looking tubes like these or else in white plastic tubes.
(Photo and product available from Walmart)

  • True, this lip balm has antioxidants and beeswax and various feel-good ingredients like jojoba and sweet almond oil.  But it also has menthol and two types of alcohol.  So it taketh even as it giveth, hence people feeling the need to use it continually.
  • Other products that hydrate will probably work better.  People disagree about petroleum-based products. Vaseline works really well at holding in moisture (it's also great on chapped skin on other parts of your body like your feet or your elbows).  But some people are wary of using petroleum-based products on their lips.
  • Murad's Soothing Skin and Lip Care does contain petrolatum, but it also has lanolin and vitamin E to help promote moisture.  A touch of salicylic acid is supposed to help exfoliate the skin to keep those ragged little bits from hanging around.  As for the price, you know it's going to be high: it's $15 a tube pretty much everywhere ($14.50 on Amazon).

Murad Soothing Skin and Lip Care, according to Newsweek, was voted the number one lip balm in the country.  I don't know who does these polls, but that's what they said, anyway.
(Photo from  Murad)

  • B. Kamins Lip Balm with SPF 20 has petrolatum, as well as a bunch of different kinds of wax (beeswax, paraffin, carnauba wax), plus vitamin E, plus it has three types of sunscreen, and it has maple flavoring. (You can also get a version without the maple flavor.) This one sells for the oh-so-low price of $19 a tube.  Sorry, this time Amazon doesn't save you anything.

B. Kamins Lip Balm with sunscreen.  And, if you wish, with maple flavor.
(Photo from DERMAdoctor)

  • The old-school Palmer's Cocoa Butter Lip Balm has a few different types of wax, plus cocoa butter which is supposedly a natural moisturizer, and Vitamin E and beta carotene, and a little bit of sunscreen.  No alcohol or menthol, but it does have fragrance.  Some people may be allergic to the fragrance or may develop an allergy.  But still, I'm surprised the ingredients in an old-school product like this match up as well as they do with current dermatologists' recommendations.

Palmer's has the additional benefit of being cheaperoo.  You can get a pack of 12 of these for what you'd pay for one tube of the fancy kind.
(Photo from Ishizawa Labs)

  •  Eucerin Acute Lip Balm (I think Aquaphor is the US verion) is good for extremely dry, chapped lips.  It's got a bunch of lubricants like glycerin and castor oil and magnesium stearate, plus various antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin B5, plus an extract of licorice root which is supposed to be helpful for those who suffer from eczema.  No fragrance, no preservatives.

German version of Eucerin's lip balm. 5.87 Euros or 7.76 US dollars.
(Photo from Bennewitz)

  • I should probably let you in on how I deciphered the ingredients lists.  I had to use a dictionary.  Here are some "translations" for the terms you may see in lists of ingredients:
    • BHT = antioxidant
    • Pantothenic acid = Vitamin B5
    • Tocopheryl Acetate = Vitamin E
    • Oxybenzone = sunscreen
  • One last thing: if you've got cracks at the corners of your mouth, this generally isn't a dehydration issue, but rather due to a deficiency in riboflavin.  Time to hit the B2 supplements.

DERMAdoctor, Chapped Lips
Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Chapped Lips: What's the best remedy?
Articlesbase, Chapped Lips - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, April 1, 2008
Valerie Latona, 7 Tips for beautiful lips, bnet Health Publications, March 2002
Adam Waters, eZine Articles, Kiss Chapped Lips Goodbye
4 Reasons You're Getting Chapped Lips, Cosmopolitan
Ingredient lists for individual products
OneLook dictionary

1 comment:

  1. I caught a typo! You say dehumidifier, when I think you mean humidifier.
    Mr. Anonymousfornian


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