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Why Lips Become Chapped?

November 28, 2010

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woman with dry, cracked, chapped lips

The feel and look of chapped lips is never a sensation that you want to experience. Unfortunately, chapped lips occur more frequently than most people would think. Our lips are one of the most vulnerable membranes that are exposed to all of the elements, making the lips more likely to become chapped, cracked or infected. The lips have only a very think film of natural oils that protect them. Therefore it this layer of protection is removed or damaged, moisture is lost from the lips and can cause chapping.



            Chapped lips can be an uncomfortable, painful, tender and sore problem for the lips. When lips lose their moisture they dry out very easily cause the lips to look pale, cracked, chapped, peeling, red, swollen, and sometimes they even bleed. Lips lose their moisture very easily unlike the rest of the skin, which has a barrier layer of sweat and oil to protect it.



            Some factors that affect chapped lips include body temperature, environment, weather, humidity, food, allergies, habits, and cosmetics. Winter is the most well known environment that causes chapped lips. The cold, dry air sucks the moisture out of our lips causing them to become dry and chapped. However, hot climates that are exceptionally dry, like the desert can also cause the same reaction to the lips. In addition windiness and low humidity can cause the lips to lose moisture and become dry.



            The first reaction that people have to chapped lips is to lick them. This is an inherent reaction that most people do normally by instinct without knowing why they are doing it. Licking the lips may moisten the lips temporarily but the saliva dries very quickly leaving the lips drier and worse off than before. Licking your lips also removes natural skin and body oils that are meant to protect the lips. Other habits, which dry out the lips, include lip biting and lip sucking. Both damage the lips ability to retain moisture by eliminating oils present on the lips. Lip biting can also damage several layers of skin tissue, which leaves the lips exposed to infection and bacteria.



               Smoking is the worst habit to have, even though over 43 million Americans do it. Not only does it have terrible effects on your health, body, teeth and mouth but also it causes your lips to dry out more easily. When you normally breath out through your mouth moisture and warm air come to rest on the lips giving them moisture. However when you breathe out smoke from cigarettes there are harmful chemicals that come to rest on the lips causing them to dry out. These chemicals can also cause irritation on the lips, which will furthermore rob the lips of moisture. Additionally, normal breathing goes in through the nose and out through the mouth, however when people breathe in and out through the mouth the air coming in and out is drier. There is less time for the air to be warmed and moistened before it goes to the lungs causing the throat, tongue and lips to dry out and become irritated.

Cosmetics are another chemical product that feeds off the moisture of the lips. Although years ago there was only lipstick to be put on the lips now there is a whole slew of products such as lip liner, lip-gloss, lip pencil, lipstick. Unfortunately, the chemicals in cosmetics can be toxic and cause your lips to dry out. In addition some chemical can cause allergic reaction to sensitive skin such as the lips.

While food is most often essential for nutrition, can cause our lips to become cracked and chapped.  Certain characteristics of some foods can cause the lips to lose their moisture, which causes the lips to dry out. When this occurs its best to avoid these foods or keep treatment for chapped lips close by. These foods include cold foods or drinks, spicy foods, salty foods and sticky foods.

The best treatment for chapped lips is exfoliation and moisturizing. This way it removes the dead skin cells from the top of the lips, allowing new cells to be grown and restores the moisture that was lost from the lips. While exfoliation is part of the treatment for chapped lips, over exfoliation can actually damage your lips. Just like over exfoliation of the skin can cause inflammation, and swelling, exfoliating the lips too often or too hard can cause swollen, red lips. The lips are very sensitive and can be harmed very easily. Therefore when exfoliating it is always good to use a soft washcloth or soft toothbrush to remove cracked or dried skin from the lips. Pulling off dried pieces of skin from the lips can cause bleeding and painful, sore lips. Once you exfoliate the lips remember to moisturize the lips immediately to lock in the moisture. Lip balms, or moisturizers should be applied to the lips any time the lips are chapped and before using cosmetics such as lipstick. This will lock the moisture into the lips and act as a base coat.