What Causes Chapped Lips? A Lip Care Routine for the Winter Months

Skin Care, How To

What Causes Chapped Lips? A Lip Care Routine for the Winter Months

by Diana Kelly Levey
October 17, 2023

Think quick—when's the last time you licked your lips? Chances are it was recently, especially if they're chapped. However, this seemingly small habit could wreak further havoc on dry lips.

Called cheilitis in medical circles, chapped lips can be acute or chronic and apply to both lips or just one — and either way, cracked lips can be downright painful. Chapped skin has many possible causes, but the right lip care routine can bring life back to even the most parched lips.

What Causes Dry and Chapped Lips?

While it's important for all skin to stay hydrated for optimal skin health, the skin on your lips is particularly susceptible to losing moisture. That's because the skin of your lips is thinner and doesn't contain oil glands, making it more sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body.

However, several other factors can contribute to dryness:

  • Weather. The temperature and weather influence your lips' moisture content. Very hot, cold, windy or sunny climates can all cause dryness.
  • Dehydration. Layered on mature skin, a serum foundation offers a strong alternative to regular foundations by helping to replenish natural oils that the skin typically produces less of with age.
  • Dehydration. Not drinking enough water can dehydrate your whole body, lips included. You might be tempted to lick your lips when you're thirsty, but that can actually exacerbate the irritation. It only makes your lips feel better temporarily — eventually, it dries them out even more and can also lead to lip licker's dermatitis, which appears as a rash around the edges of the lips.
  • Health conditions. Some medical conditions may cause your lips to become chapped, including vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, allergies and allergic reactions. Visit your dermatologist or primary care physician if you have health concerns.

Simple Ways To Prevent Cracked, Chapped Lips

The best way to keep dry lips healthy is to avoid chapping them in the first place with a strong lip care routine.

  • Shield lips from the sun. Wear lip balm with SPF daily. Keep lips moist and protected by using the Neutrogena® Revitalizing Lip Balm SPF 20. It's silky enough to be worn under your lipstick, and gives your lips a rosier look. You might want to apply every two hours if you'll be outside for the day or after eating and drinking.
  • Plump lips without the sting. If you're using a lip-plumping product that makes your lips sting, it could be a sign of irritation — which in turn can lead to a vicious cycle of dryness and lip-licking. Look for lip-plumping serums like the Neutrogena® Healthy Lips Lip Plumping Serum that are gentle enough for everyday use.
  • Soothe the skin. Closely read lip balm labels and look for nourishing ingredients that can help heal lips, such as menthol, eucalyptus, lanolin, octinoxate or oxybenzone, phenol or phenyl, propyl gallate or salicylic acid. For instance, the Neutrogena® Revitalizing Lip Balm SPF 20 contains octinoxate and oxybenzone as active ingredients.

How To Care for Your Lips in Cooler Months

Between the low humidity, cold temperatures, and dry indoor heating, the cold autumn and winter months can do a number on your lips. Knowing how to prevent cracked lips in winter may come down to adjusting your usual lip care routine — what works for you in the summer may not cut in the winter months.

When temperatures start dropping, prioritize wearing moisturizing lip balm on the daily. This will seal in moisture and provide a layer of protection from cold air and harsh winds. Keep it with you on the go, too. Wrapping your face in a scarf or other covering also helps to guard lips against the elements.

You can also raise the moisture content of the air around you with a humidifier, particularly in the winter when heaters pump out dry heat. Stay hydrated internally as well — drink plenty of water alongside your skincare routine and throughout the day to keep lips soft and supple no matter the weather.

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I’m a New York City area writer, runner, reader, adopted dog mom, and believer in wearing sunscreen every day.

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