How to treat those dry, chapped winter lips

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If dry, chapped and bleeding lips sound like your winter pet peeve, you’re not alone.

Cold weather and more specifically cold air, actually changes the surface of the lips.

“On top of that, we heat [our skin] which dries out the air further, so ultimately there is less ambient humidity and moisture for the lips,” said Dr. Benjamin Barankin, dermatologist and medical director of Toronto Dermatology Centre.

“There is also the aspect of wind burn which is hard on the lips.”

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Does lip balm work?

Some say using lip balm leads to drier lips down the road and for people who have gone through a number of products, it can seem like nothing works. For chapped lip sufferers, the options of lip treatments from oils to balms to serums can seem endless.

Dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology in Toronto, told Global News simplicity is the best method for treating dry, chapped lips.

“[A product like] Vaseline or Aquaphor is probably healing the lips. The problem is a lot of these products have added ingredients that are plant-derived or scented that are irritating to the lips.”

READ MORE: Which is best for dry skin — lotions, creams or ointments?

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Companies also tend to focus on mint or “holiday” flavoured lip balms this time of the year, but Carroll said people with chapped lips should avoid it. “You may not notice it right away, but it is a culminating effect over time, she explained, adding that these products penetrate your cracked lips and create further irritation.

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Mint also has a tingly sensation, which some people believe is working or medicating — this isn’t always the case.

But Barankin added using lip balm doesn’t make your lips drier over time. “Best to humidify your environment, including ideally your office and bedroom with a personal cool mist humidifier,” he said. “Don’t lick your lips, minimize exposure to the elements with a good head covering. Use [lip balm] just as much as is needed.”

He recommended sticking to balms that are greasy, scent-free and with very few ingredients. Carroll also doesn’t mind using coconut oil.

Stop licking your lips

But if there’s a public service announcement that experts in the skincare community want to stress, it’s that dry lips become drier when we add saliva to the mix.

“Licking your lips will dry them out due to the evaporation that occurs,” Barankin explained. “What you can do, is lick or moisten your lips with a lukewarm water damp cloth soak for 10 to 20 seconds, and then immediately after, apply a thick greasy ChapStick/lip balm to lock in the water.”

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WATCH: Ask a Health Pro – dry skin, chapped lips

Carroll said sometimes, people don’t even notice they lick their lips and it can be a hard habit to kick.

“Saliva has a lot of things in it,” she continued. “Hundreds of species of bacteria.”

She said every time we lick our dry lips and think we are “moisturizing” it, we’re actually doing the opposite. When cold, dry air picks up on a wet surface — like saliva on dry lips — it instantly pulls off the moisture.

Reset your routine

If you’ve tried different treatment methods or are unsure where to start, the best thing to do is start over.

Carroll suggested to stop using products and go with something simple like Vaseline. “Coat it all the time [and practice] no licking and no picking,” she explained. “You have to give skin time to heal.”
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READ MORE: Dermatologist says no one ‘actually requires moisturizer’ — is that true?

Sometimes, you just need the experts to intervene.

“If the lips are red, itchy or swollen, or persistently chapped, then best to see your dermatologist,” Barankin said. “There may be other issues going on such as an allergy to something, and topical ointments may be prescribed.”

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