Dry, Chapped Lips--Not a Pretty Picture
In comparison to other parts of the face, the lips have it rough, literally. Physiologically unique, the lips are predisposed to be the driest spot on our face or body for that matter. While the face is covered in a nice, relatively thick, protective layer of skin that, if we are careful, remains intact and prevents dryness, the lips are virtually naked in comparison. Most of us need lots of help to keep our lips smooth and moist.
Lips do have a layer of "skin" (stratum corneum) like the face, but it is exceptionally thin and transparent, barely covering the vulnerable mucous membrane underneath. In fact, the reddish color of the lips comes from the concentration and proximity to the surface of blood vessels and the ultra-thin, transparent layer of skin which allows the color to come through vividly. Have you ever wondered why lips can turn blue in the winter? It's because in extremely cold weather or when body temperature drops, blood vessels in the lips shut down, becoming poorly oxygenated, making the lips look blue as a result. Lips also have minimal to no sebaceous glands and zero sweat glands. Water loss on the lips is three to ten times higher than other parts of the face or body (Source: British Journal of Dermatology, March 2004, pages 563-567). These physiological facts combined with climate changes (winter dryness, living in an arid climate), all contribute to making dry lips a recurring, persistent problem.
When lips become dry (especially for men, who don't wear lipstick), we tend to repetitively lick them in a futile attempt to restore moisture. Even though licking your lips may, for a few seconds, make them feel better, it is actually making matters worse! Your tongue transfers saliva from your mouth to your lips which actually eats away and destroys the thin layer of skin covering the lips. This can easily become a vicious cycle leading to painful, cracked, sore lips.
What to do? Keep your lips covered! You can restore dry lips with consistency and patience. But chapped lips are not going to disappear in a day, and missing even one day of treatment can drive lips back to dryness.
One of the major causes of dry lips is sun damage (Source: Dermatologic Surgery, February 2005, pages 173-176) which can occur even when it's cloudy and you're not in bright sunlight. That means during the day a well formulated emollient lip balm, lip gloss, or lipstick with an SPF 15 of greater with the UVA protecting ingredients of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (butylmethoxydibenzoylmethane) is vital.
When not in the sun, especially at night, as part of your before-bedtime skin care routine, apply an emollient lip balm or clear thick gloss to your lips. Watch out for lip products that contain skin irritants such as menthol, camphor, peppermint, or citrus or those that are highly fragranced. These ingredients have no benefit for the lips and end up compounding the problem. Never letting your lips be "naked" can actually keep your lips in beautiful shape regardless of the weather.
You may have heard a rumor that lips can adapt to or become addicted to lip balm. It isn't possible. But if the lip balm you are using contains irritating ingredients (and lots of them do) or is poorly formulated, lacking skin friendly oils, emollients, and water-binding agents, your lips will remain dry. Even if a lip balm is otherwise beautifully formulated, if it contains irritating, drying ingredients, there is no way the beneficial ingredients can be of significant help.
One other thing to be aware of: Using a matte lipstick or one of the new long-wearing lipstains can also cause dry lips any time of year but even more so during the winter or in an arid environment.
Cheilitis, the medical term for dry lips, can be caused from other factors besides a change in the weather: Dry scaling of the lips and cracks at the side of the mouth are common in riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. Similar findings may be seen with niacin and B6 deficiency (Source: Pocketguide to Micronutrients In Health and Disease, Dr. Robert Zimmerman, 1999, Thieme). This type of dryness can also be caused by a yeast (candida) infection (diabetics are particularly prone to this condition). Treatment with an oral anti-yeast medication, (such as Nystatin Oral Solution, available by prescription only) may help. Too much vitamin A (more than 25,000 IU) in oral supplements may cause lips to become severely chapped (Source: www.emedicine.com). Lastly, those taking the prescription anti-acne drug Accutane should have been informed (and have no doubt experienced) just how dry lips become while on this medication so they'll need to take extra care.
Source: Paula Begoun