Suffer from really dry lips? What you need to know
Dry, flaky, sore lips create an uneven surface for lipstick, resulting in it looking dull and patchy. Many of us liberally apply balms to heal dry lips, but they only get worse – why? It's because these products only provide a protective barrier. They don't penetrate and moisturise lips' outer dermal layers to properly heal the skin. For lips to appear smooth and hydrated, they need more than a protectant. They need intense, rejuvenating moisture.
The biology: Why lip skin differs from body skin
Have you ever wondered why your lips look different from the rest of the skin on your body? Most of our exterior has a three-tiered covering; the top layer of skin is called stratum corneum, the middle is epidermis, while the deeper layer is dermis tissue. Lip skin is much thinner and doesn’t have such a thick upper layer. Its rosy colour comes from healthy blood flowing close to the surface. Our lips look blue when we are cold because vessels constrict, blood rushes to vital organs and less oxygenated blood remains in the facial area.
Lips are also sensitive because they contain little to no melanin – the pigment that contributes to skin colour and protects against the sun’s damaging UV rays. Add to this the fact our mouths are constantly facing the effects of the weather plus eating, drinking, talking, breathing and chemicals in toiletries (toothpaste) and cosmetics and you have a routine for redness and dehydration.
5 top tips for preventing dry lips
1. Don't lick your lips.
Saliva is full of enzymes designed to digest food in your stomach, not hydrate a parched pout. Once on dry lips, it quickly evaporates causing a constant cycle of licking, which further damages the delicate area and stops it from healing. The best way to break this habit is to use a high quality lip product, like Lük Beautifood's Lip Nourish™, day and night. It should combine an all-natural, anti-allergenic emollient, such as avocado oil (to minimise soreness and maximise moisture) and a natural, water-resistant barrier (eg. beeswax) to lock in nutrients and combat additional cracking.
2. Steer clear of alcohol and salty or spicy foods.
Chilli-infused dishes can trigger allergies and inflammation, while indulging in alcohol or salty snacks encourages skin irritation and dehydration. Take preventative steps by choosing a nourishing lip product that combines natural moisturisers and anti-inflammatories (eg. avocado oil or cocoa seed butter). Sesame oil, rich in copper and zinc, is proven to reduce inflammation.
3. Try to avoid stress.
Stress can cause quickened, lip-drying breathing and induce cold sores. Rather than using skin-thinning steroid creams to get rid of sores, studies have shown lemon balm can reduce the incidence of the herpes virus. Seek out a lip salve containing cold-pressed citrus oils, like the Lip Nourish™ shades Peach Melon, Pink Juniper or Tea Rose. People who use them rave about their therapeutic, anti-viral effects on cold sore breakouts.
4. Eat more foods containing essential fatty acids.
Research shows people deficient in essential fatty acids (EFAs) often have dry lips. Consuming nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish can help resolve this. Also, embrace lipsticks containing EFA-rich avocado (Vitamin E), walnut and flaxseed oils (linoleic acid) that are scientifically proven to heal and hydrate.
5. Avoid using lip products with synthetic fragrances and flavours
Synthetic fragrances and flavours are known to irritate and further dehydrate really dry lips. Don’t get trapped into putting on a protective petroleum-based barrier without treating the root of the problem and moisturising first. The best balms and lipsticks combine natural wax (eg. beeswax) and emollients to hydrate and protect.
When very dry lips mean you need to see a doctor
While it’s unusual for moisture-sapped lips to be a serious medical concern, there are times when they warrant seeing a health professional. If your symptoms worsen or do not resolve after a few weeks, inflammatory issues may be to blame. These include actinic cheilitis (pre-cancerous lip lesions triggered by too much sun), thyroid disease, psoriasis or lupus (which causes photosensitivity on the lips). It goes without saying you should always wear sunscreen on your entire face, including your lips, to avoid skin cancer. One Australian study shows lip cancer represents around half of all oral cancers, with 81 per cent of new cases occurring on the lower lip. The research shows men are more likely to suffer than women, who use more lip products and sunscreen. Females who apply lip protection once a day or less have twice the risk of developing the disease than women who apply it more regularly. Lips are vulnerable and prevention is better than cure.
Image by Ann Agterberg