Here’s how to kiss chapped lips goodbye

by Karen Bowen

There are many good reasons to lick your lips during the summer season: ice cream, fresh fruit and vegetables, salads, and/or barbecued meat. However, having chapped lips isn’t one of them. Licking chapped lips only makes lips drier.

The skin on your lips is more fragile than the skin on other parts of your body. Even though your lips have the normal three layers of skin – the epidermis (outside layer), the dermis (under the epidermis) and a subcutaneous fat layer (under the dermis) – the skin on your lips is very thin; about five times thinner than the other skin on your face. So, the protective layer (stratum corneum) which tops the epidermis and shields against bacteria, moisture loss, heat and light is also very thin and easily broken and each crack opens a pathway for a possible fungal or bacterial infection.

In addition, lips aren’t well protected from environmental elements. They don’t have sweat glands or hair follicles to maintain an even temperature or excrete moisture for cooling. On top of that, lips sunburn easily, since they don’t have melanin, the pigment that protects skin from the sun and helps you tan.

Some common causes of chapped lips are: dry, hot weather; sunburn; windburn; blowing air from a vent or fan; mouth breathing; a cold; dehydration; an allergy; canker sores; cold sores; and/or a nutritional imbalance.

You may even be the cause without knowing it. If you lick or bite your lips, the enzymes in your saliva break down your lip’s skin just like they break down your food. Also, spicy foods, or food allergies can trigger irritation; so can common ingredients in toothpaste and lipstick.

Avoid toothpaste with guaiazulene or sodium lauryl sulfate, and lipstick with propyl gallate or phenyl salicylate (salol), since these are common allergens. If you breathe through your mouth, you are drying your lips with each breath. Understandably, smokers are particularly prone to chapped lips.

Prescription medications are another cause, in particular: Accutane, propranolol, or prochlorperazine. Chapped lips can also accompany these health conditions: thyroid disease; diabetes; perleche (a yeast infection); and/or psoriosis.

However, you can generally keep your lips soft and pliable by doing the following. First of all, drink enough water keep your skin fully hydrated. Also, eat foods that feed your skin, particularly foods with these skin-building vitamins: B-complex, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. The B-complex vitamins, Vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and Vitamin B9 (folic acid), help maintain healthy hair, nails and skin, including your lips. For B2, eat spinach, yogurt, soybeans, liver, peppers, paprika, and sunflower seeds.

For B9 eat yeast, liver, spearmint, rosemary, sunflower seeds, soybeans and dark, leafy vegetables. If appropriate, consider taking a B-complex vitamin supplement.

Vitamin C is good for your skin because it helps your body produce collagen. Collagen protein works with elastin to create strong, flexible, healthy tissues, including your skin. To get enough Vitamin C, add the following to your regular diet: citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit; and vegetables like green turnips, leafy greens, broccoli and potatoes.

Vitamin E is also essential for skin health. This antioxidant can either be consumed through foods or absorbed through the skin. To ensure your intake of Vitamin E is sufficient, choose from these foods: wheat germ oil; sunflower seeds; almonds; hazelnuts; peanut butter; lean meats; whole grains; spinach and broccoli.

As mentioned, Vitamin E can be absorbed through the skin, so lotions and creams containing Vitamin E also support skin health. Lip balms with Vitamin E and sunscreen are especially effective at keeping the moisture in and the irritants out. Instead of choosing flavoured balm (you might be tempted to taste it), look for these ingredients, which help your lips retain moisture: glycerin; mineral oil; aloe; lactic acid; and sorbitol. To soften your lips instantly, select products with lanolin and beeswax.

If your lips are especially irritated, but you don’t have a lip balm handy, just rub your finger over the side of your nose and then on your lips. That natural skin oil is a great temporary fix. Or, use the oil from a punctured Vitamin E capsule as a quick, moisturizing lip balm. Putting on lip balm just before bed is easy and effective.

Very rarely, cracked lips indicate severe dehydration, which could lead to electrolyte imbalances and life-threatening conditions. If you recognize that the following symptoms of severe dehydration: confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, cold skin, and/or reduced urine production are also present along with chapped lips, seek immediate, emergency medical help to avoid serious complications and/or permanent damage, such as kidney failure, shock or coma. Fortunately, this is very rare.

So, when you get a chance to enjoy these hot, dry days of summer, just remember to protect and nourish the skin on your lips. Then, you can kiss chapped lips goodbye forever.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.