7 Common Mistakes That Could Be Making Your Chapped Lips Worse

Find out why your lip balm just isn’t cutting it this winter.
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Caitlin Miller
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Find out why your lip balm just isn’t cutting it this winter.

Winter is tough for a variety of reasons. You have to trudge through icy slush and attempt to make snow boots fashionable, not to mention the dry hair and cracked hands. However, it’s not just your hands and hair that suffer Jack Frost’s icy wrath. Your lips are actually one of the most sensitive areas of the face, and thanks to constant usage and saliva contact, your pout can end up receiving the brunt end of winter’s chill.

“Lips do not have as many oil glands as the rest of our facial skin,” says Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist at SKINNEY Medspa in New York. Combined with exposure to the elements, this can lead to very dry and irritated skin—or what most of us call chapped lips.

But what happens when it seems like your favorite lip balm just isn’t cutting it? It turns out there are a number of mistakes you might be making that are actually making your winter lips even worse.

01. You’re using the wrong ingredients.

For seriously chapped lips, just any old balm won’t cut it. Dr. King suggests reaching for products with petrolatum (better known as good old petroleum jelly) or dimethicone in the list of ingredients. Both ingredients will keep moisture locked in and act as barriers from the environment. How? Petrolatum and dimethicone are emollients, which work to lock water in by forming a protective layer on the top layer of skin to reduce evaporation, thus making skin more pliable, less dry, and more hydrated. Just be sure to reapply frequently for best results.

02. You’re not drinking enough water.

Hydration on the lips seems like a no-brainer, but did you know that hydration from the inside out is equally—sometimes even more—important? Dehydration will dry out lips and make them more susceptible to chapping, so stay hydrated by taking in fluids regularly. Fluids in general are great for staying hydrated, but ideally you should be staying refreshed and hydrated in winter with water. Remember to consume about 2.2 liters (that’s nine cups) of water a day, especially at meals—sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger—and before, during, and after a workout.

If you’re having a hard time sticking to your eight glasses a day, keep a water bottle at your desk so that you’re always armed and ready. We like S’well’s streamlined bottles that keep cold drinks cool for a whole twenty-four hours (without ice!) and hot drinks hot for twelve hours. Now there’s no excuse not to drink up.

03. You’re not using a humidifier.

Winter air is notorious for being dry. Just look down at your hands if you don’t believe us! Skin is taut and dehydrated. But guess what? If the air inside your home or office is also dry, you’re not doing your lips any favors. If you’re suffering from über-dry skin all the time, Dr. King suggests using a humidifier to put water vapor, and thus humidity, back into the air and replenish skin’s moisture.

04. You lick your lips.

It might feel better momentarily, but you’re really doing more harm than good. In fact, as saliva dries on your lips, it actually takes moisture out of the skin. Best to just reach for your favorite balm or oil instead.

05. You don’t use SPF.

Along with a daily SPF 30 for your face and hands, you should be applying sunscreen to your lips. “Chronically dry and irritated lips can be a sign of sun damage,” Dr. King says. To avoid future damage and to soothe a ravaged pucker, opt for a lip balm with added SPF. Just as you’d reapply sunblock throughout the day, don’t forget to reapply your lip balm as well.

06. You’re biting your lips.

Your mother was right on this one: Don’t pick at your lips. We know that it can be tempting to pull off an annoying flake or two from super-chapped lips, but according to Dr. King, doing so will only cause further irritation—not to mention cause skin to completely restart the healing process, thus leaving you back at painful square one.

07. You’re allergic to your lip balm.

Lastly, prolonged lip irritation could be the result of an allergy to your lip balm. If you notice your lips failing to improve or even worsening after using a product for a period of time, pay close attention to the ingredients listed. Fragrances and pigments can sometimes cause a reaction. If this seems to be the case, Dr. King recommends sticking to a petroleum-based product such as Aquaphor, which is unlikely to cause allergies. It might not be the most glamorous, but it will get the job done.