Why are my lips so dry?  6 reasons and how to treat them

Why are my lips so dry? 6 reasons and how to treat them

  • Your lips may be dry if you spend the day in the sun, as lips get sunburned very quickly.
  • Dehydration and wind damage can also dry out your lips and cause cracking.
  • Avoid lip balms with ingredients such as camphor, menthol, lanolin and fragrance.

Almost everyone has experienced dry, chapped or tight lips.

In fact, “the lips are especially prone to dryness unlike skin on other parts of the body,” says Dr. Brian Toy, a dermatologist at Providence Mission Hospital and a clinical professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

This is because the skin on your lips:

  • Is thin, so it is more sensitive.
  • Are constantly exposed to the elements, unlike body parts such as feet which are usually protected by shoes or socks.
  • Has no sweat glands, which secrete oils that keep the skin moisturized and protected.

Anyone can experience dry lips, but certain environmental factors, behavior and vitamin deficiencies can make you more prone to dry lips, says Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, a dermatologist with Unionderm.

Here’s what can contribute to your dry lips, and how to get rid of dry, chapped and uncomfortable lips for good.

1. Dehydration

Since the skin on your lips is thinner than the skin on other areas of your body, it may show signs of dehydration first. So if you’re experiencing dryness and cracking, a good first step is to make sure you’re drinking enough water.

What to do with it: Make sure you drink enough water: Men should aim for 125 grams of fluid each day, and women should aim for 91 grams of fluid. While water is an important part of that, you can also count liquids like coffee and tea, plus the liquid found in foods like fruits and vegetables.

2. Sunburn

If you notice that your lips are dry or painful after a day in the sun, it could be a sunburn. Your lips are even more likely to burn than other parts of your body because the skin on your lips does not have melanin, a pigment that protects the skin from harmful UV rays.

If you have sunburned lips, you will notice symptoms including:

  • Dryness
  • Peeling
  • Sensation, stinging or burning

What to do with it: Use a lip balm with at least SPF 15. “A lip balm will protect the skin barrier and reduce moisture loss, keeping lips supple,” says Toy.

If you don’t have an SPF lip balm handy, that’s okay—you can apply regular sunscreen directly to your lips.

Reapply lip balm or sunscreen every two hours, as it can come off when you eat or drink.

3. Wind damage

Because the lips are exposed to the elements, wind and weather can take a toll on them. Wind can weaken and dry out the outermost layer of skin and remove moisture from the skin, making it more prone to drying out. This leads to a condition known as windburn, which is especially common on the lips.

So if you’re boating, skiing or doing other outdoor activities that expose you to the elements, lip health needs to be a priority.

What to do with it: While out in the sun, use a lip balm with SPF. After your activities are done and you’re inside, apply a lip balm with Vaseline or Aquaphor to restore moisture. These thicker balms protect the skin, but they can leave you prone to sunburn, so don’t use them while out in the sun.

4. Irritation from cosmetics

If you experience dry lips after changing your personal care products, cosmetics may be to blame, says Ugonabo.

“Sometimes people are sensitive to certain ingredients that are in these products, and so their lips become more irritated with use,” she says.

When you feel the need to apply a lip balm frequently — more than every two hours — it could be a sign that your lip products are actually drying out your lips instead of moisturizing them, says Toy.

What to do with it: If lips sting or tingle after application, stop use immediately and wash off the product with soap and water. Choose conditioners with healthy ingredients, while avoiding harsh ingredients.

5. Yeast infection

A fungal infection around the mouth, also known as thrush, can cause dry lips and cracks in the corners of the mouth, says Toy.

If you have thrush, you’ll notice symptoms including:

  • Painful cracks in the corners of the mouth
  • Redness or soreness at the corners of the mouth
  • White spots inside the mouth and gyms

Eventually, this can lead to a condition called angular cheilitis, where people develop painful cracks at the corners of the mouth. It’s most common in people who drool when they sleep, says Toy, since the moisture allows the yeast to flourish.

What to do with it: See your doctor. You must be treated with an anti-fungal cream. Plus, you’ll stop drooling, as the moisture helps bacteria thrive. If you drool while you sleep, talk to your doctor about ways to stop drooling, such as treating seasonal allergies and acid reflux that can cause you to drool.

6. Vitamin deficiency

If you don’t get enough vitamin B12, you may experience dry lips and cracks in the corners of the lips. That’s because vitamin B12 helps your body repair cells, so if you don’t have enough it’s harder for your body to repair normal damage to your lips.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is quite rare, affecting about 6% of adults under the age of 60 in the United States. However, approximately 20% of people over the age of 60 are deficient. Vegetarians are also at higher risk, since vitamin B12 is not naturally readily available in plant-based products, says Toy. However, there are ways to meet your B12 goal if you’re a vegetarian, including eating nutritional yeast and shiitake mushrooms.

What to do with it: Make sure you get enough vitamin B12. Most adults need to consume 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12. To get it, eat more foods such as fish, eggs and other animal products that naturally contain vitamin B12; or breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B.

Talk to your doctor about whether a vitamin or dietary supplement is right for you. If you have a severe deficiency or other underlying conditions, you may also qualify for B12 shots, so ask your doctor if they might be right for you.

When you should see a doctor

If your dry lips don’t go away within a week, it’s time to see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you have persistent or severe peeling or cracks, which can leave you vulnerable to infection.

In rare cases, dry lips can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, including:

Best lip balm

Insider’s takeaway

Dry lips are common because the skin on the lips is thin and exposed to stress factors such as sun and wind. However, lips generally heal very quickly due to abundant blood supply, says Toy.

So if you have persistently dry lips you should talk to a doctor. They will help rule out any underlying conditions and help you manage your dry lips.

“Please see a board-certified dermatologist for further evaluation to make sure there’s nothing more going on,” says Ugonabo.

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