Chapped Lips

If puckering is painful and pursing is too much to bear, you’re probably suffering from chapped lips. Harsh winter weather, dry indoor heat, a habit of constantly licking your lips-all of these factors can help dry out the skin of your lips by causing the moisture in the skin to evaporate. The result: Rough, cracked, sensitive lips that leave you little to smile about.

Protecting your lips from chapping is not only important for appearance and comfort, but for health. Cold sores, bacterial infections, and other problems are more likely to strike lips that are already damaged by chapping. Here’s what you can do to keep your lips soft and moist:

Don’t lick your lips. The repeated exposure to water actually robs moisture from the lips, causing them to become dry. “People feel better if they lick their lips, but it just aggravates the problem,” says Paul Lazar, M.D., professor of clinical derma¬≠tology at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.

Use a lip balm. Numerous products are available over the counter. Pick one that you like so you’ll use it frequently. Most lip balm products are waxy or greasy and work by sealing in moisture with a protective barrier.

Try petrolatum. Plain old petrolatum is good, too, says Jerome Z. Litt, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Wear lipstick. “If you look at old men and old women, you’ll see a difference in their lips, especially the lower,” says Albert M. Kligman,M.D., Ph.D., emeritus professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He attributes that difference to the “moderately helpful” properties of lipstick in moisturizing and protecting against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Be careful of cosmetics made outside of the United States, however, since the purity of such products may vary.

Screen out the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage and dry the sensitive skin on your lips, Indeed, the lips are a common site for skin cancer. “Your lips don’t contain melanin [the pigment, or coloring, that can help protect skin from the sun] and they sunburn easier,” points out Ruby Ghadially, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of California at San Francisco. Certain skin cancers that appear on the lips may be more serious and more likely. spread, she says. So if you’ll be out in the sun, use a lip balm that contains sunscreen. Choose a i product that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

Check out your toothpaste. An allergy-to your toothpaste or mouthwash-could be to blame for the rough, red skin on your lips, says Litt. Try switching brands of toothpaste and going witho6 the mouthwash for a few days to see if the problem clears. Rinse well after brushing.

Watch what passes between them. When your lip are chapped, they’re more sensitive, and certain foods can irritate them. Lazar recommends holding off on pepper, mustard, barbecue sauce, orange juice, and alcoholic beverages to give you lips a break as they heal.

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