Chapped lips in the winter – can anything be done?

January 6, 2020 / Duncan Fisher
Yes. And here’s what the dermatologists say.

It’s not your imagination. Your skin does dry out in the winter, at least if you live where it’s cold.

It isn’t so much the cold that does it, though the cold doesn’t help. Chapping happens mostly because winter air is drier than summer air, and windier. Low humidity combined with extra-speedy evaporation in the wind, and then, secondarily, very low temperatures, do compromise your skin’s ability to function as a barrier to the elements. This weather is an assault at the cellular level, and it makes your skin more susceptible than usual to irritation.

That seasonal skin irritability happens because your keratinocytes release cortisol and inflammatory cytokines. You also grow more dermal mast cells, which makes your skin extra reactive to allergens. This is why people with atopic dermatitis suffer most in the winter months.

But it needn’t be this way. If you keep in mind that your skin doesn’t like air that’s dry (or windy) or very cold, you can use some common-sense ways of keeping your lips nice and happy all the way to springtime.

Here are your winter lip tips

1. Stop putting things on your lips that you can feel ‘working’. People like perfumes, and things like camphor and eucalyptus, because they’re pleasant, and they feel all tingly. They imagine this is healthy and medicinal. Actually, it’s irritation. Stop that for the winter.

2. Put things on your lips that are skin-neutral and weather-protective. Good old petroleum jelly works extremely well. You want to keep a non-irritating barrier against the elements, and you want to seal in what water is in your skin. (Read our piece on how ‘moisturizers’ really work.) Don’t be afraid to put it on even indoors. It can be dry in the house.

3. If you’re in the sun, put on a lot of (non-irritating) lip balm, that’s got an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Zinc oxide balms work very well. Be sure to reapply it every couple of hours. (People forget this.)

4. Try to be aware of touching your lips (and stop). Don’t lick them, either, even if they feel dry. That actually makes them drier.

5. Drink water. Want to hydrate your skin? Hydrate your body.

6. Consider a humidifier indoors. This won’t exactly put water into your skin, but it will help slow water evaporation from your skin.

And there they are – six good tips that should set you right. If you have healthy skin, just dried out, you’ll see results in a few days. In a week or two, you should have completely normal lips again. If you don’t, have a word with your dermatologist about it.

Happy sledding!

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