What Is Chapped Lips?
Chapped, or cracked, lips is the term commonly used to describe dry lips. Chapped lips can be caused by several factors, that include:
- excessive lip licking
- certain medications
Chapped lips are a common condition that only occurs for most people. But some people may develop severely chapped lips referred to as cheilitis. Cheilitis can be caused by an infection, characterised by cracked skin at the corners of the lips.
If your lips continue to be severely dry and cracked, you should consider making an appointment with a dermatologist.
What Causes Dry, Chapped Lips?
There are several different underlying causes and triggers for dry, chapped or cracked lips. These include:
- Skin type and condition
- Lip skin structure
- The environment
- Certain medication
Skin type and condition
As some people are more prone to dry skin than others, so some are more susceptible to dry and cracked lips. Those with an underlying dry skin condition such as atopic dermatitis are more likely to suffer from dry and cracked lips. And some of us also lick our lips more frequently than others. This can cause lip-licking eczema or just make dry lip symptoms worse.
Lip skin structure
The structure of skin varies on different parts of the body. The skin on our lips is thinner than elsewhere on our face making it more sensitive to the environment.
Lip skin doesn’t have any sweat or sebaceous glands. These glands, present in most skin on our bodies, are responsible for producing the protective oils that help skin to regulate its moisture levels. The absence of sweat and sebaceous glands in our lips means it’s harder for them to attract and retain the moisture they need and they are prone to drying out.Lips are prone to age-induced dryness. As we age, lip skin changes: it gets thinner and is less able to retain moisture, making our lips even more prone to dryness.
Lip skin also contains fewer melanocytes. Melanocytes are the melanin-producing cells that give skin colour and help to protect it from the sun. Both these structural factors make lips more sensitive to the environment.
Many of us suffer from dry, cracked lips in the winter. Our lips are constantly exposed to the environment. Changes in climate and weather conditions are a significant trigger of dry, cracked lips.
During the dry hot summer months both time in the sun and time indoors with drying air conditioning may cause lips to dry out. Symptoms can be bad in the winter too: cold outdoor temperatures and icy cold winds, low air humidity indoors due to heating and moving regularly from the warm indoors to the cold outdoors all speed up moisture loss.
People who spend a significant amount of time outdoors – either due to leisure pursuits or because of their jobs – are likely to suffer more than others.
Some medications can cause skin and lips to dry out and crack. People applying topical retinoids such as Tretinoin or Adapalene or taking oral Isotretinoin as part of their medical acne treatment sometimes experience dry and cracked lips as a side effect.
How Do I Care For Dry, Chapped Lips?
Prevention is always better than cure. The best way to keep your lips soft and smooth is to:
- Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Avoid habitual lip-licking
- Apply a moisturizing lip balm at least twice a day but ideally more often
- Keep your lips covered as much as possible in cold and windy conditions
Be on the look-out for things that seem to trigger symptoms for your lips and do your best to avoid them. Once your lips are dry and/or cracked choose a moisturising lip balm that is clinically and dermatologically proven to soothe and protect your lips and that is suited to your skin type and particular needs.