Chapped lips are the scourge of the winter season. (Actually, it might be a tie between that and slushy sidewalks.) By mid-winter, we’re either biting off the dead skin (it’s weirdly satisfying), brushing away flakes, or giving up and accepting that we’re just going to have to save the matte liquid lipstick for March.
Even if you do take the initiative and stock up on your favorite balm, you might find that it’s still not enough—because it’s not. There are other, sneaky factors making your chapped lips worse, and you won’t find the solution in a tube. We asked the experts to explain exactly why your lips are so dry and chapped—and what you can do about it.
Using the Wrong Formula
That lip-plumping balm isn’t doing you any favors, since many of the formulas contain irritating ingredients (which is often how they plump your lips in the first place). “Cooling lip products that contain ingredients like menthol or camphor can cause skin inflammation and dryness,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., dermatologist and director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. If you’re really suffering, Zeichner recommends going with fragrance- and flavor-free formulas, like Fresh Advanced Therapy Sugar Lip Treatment ($26). The more basic it is, the better off you’ll be.
Wearing Lipstick 24/7
If you’re one of those people who cannot be seen without your signature red lipstick, we apologize in advance. Lip color is not exactly a priority in the winter months, since if you have chapped lips, you need re-up on the balm whenever you head outdoors. “Wear it while you sleep and also apply before stepping outside,” advises Joanna Vargas, a celebrity facialist in NYC. “This protects the lips—then, you can always apply a color once you arrive wherever you’re going.” Or go with a tinted lip balm, like Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm ($6 for two).
Doubling Down on Balm
As with sangria and snow, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. If your lips are under a constant layer of heavy lip balms, you could be doing more harm than good. “Constant, chronic use of occlusive lip balms may initially help your lips, but they may interfere with the ability for your lips to function properly,” explains Zeichner. Basically, dryness sends a signal to your lips that they need to produce more moisture. If you’re layering on balm 24/7, you could lose those cues and your lips won’t produce as much oil as they should—kicking off a cycle of chapped lips.
Too Much Scrubbing
If you’ve ever peeled dead skin off your lips, you probably know the value of a good lip scrub. But if you’re using it on a nightly basis, you’re actually worsening the situation. “Don’t overdo the exfoliation,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care in Washington, D.C. “Once a week is good, or you risk irritating your lips and making them even drier.”
Blasting the Heat
On a sub-zero day, it’s perfectly understandable to if you want to nurse a warm drink and sit next to your heater. But heat’s a big offender when it comes to drying out everything, from your skin to your hair to, yes, your lips. It’s even worse if you have a cold and are breathing out of your mouth (because congestion is real). Together, the two can seriously dry out lips, says Zeichner. Your best bet if you have your heater on full blast is to use a humidifier, which releases moisture back into the air.
Licking Your Lips
This seems kind of obvious: If your lips feel dry and you’re stuck without your go-to balm—also known as the fourth circle of hell—moistening your lips by licking them seems like it could be a decent fallback. Not so, as it happens. “Licking your lips if they’re dry just makes the problem much worse,” says Tanzi. “Not only does it lead to increased dryness, but it can actually lead to a type of eczema if you do it excessively.” The only thing worse than chapped lips? Lips with eczema.
Your Favorite Thai Dish
If your lips are chapped, it means that the skin barrier there is in rough shape—literally and figuratively. According to Zeichner, spicy foods compromise the skin barrier even further, which only makes your chapped lips worse. Plus, spicy foods have a tendency to burn, and the last thing you want is to feel the burn when your mouth already hurts. Stick on the mild side until your lips have healed—or winter’s coldest months have passed.