Why do I always have chapped lips?
Balm me up
As annoying as a peppercorn stuck in your teeth, chapped lips are a hex that you can’t seem to shake off, no matter the season. Most of us end up applying — and licking off — enough lip balm that it deserves its own food group, but the cracks and drying skin persevere. So why exactly are your lips always drier than a day-old roti?
Dr Kamaldeep Manak, UK-based founder of Well Wonder, first enlightens us that the medical term for this cursed phenomenon is cheilitis, adding, “The most common causes are exposure to cold, wind and lip licking. In cold and windy weathers, the moisture from lips dries out, leaving them prone to being chapped and cracked. Constant lip licking, biting or rubbing exposes the lips to saliva which contains digestive enzymes. As this evaporates, the lips dry out and the digestive enzymes cause irritation.”
As if trying not to eat our lip balm wasn’t difficult enough, there are a few other medical reasons you could be battling chapped lips, according to Manak.
- Allergies – “Contact with any potential allergen can irritate the lips and common culprits include lipsticks, lip balm and even toothpastes. Other triggers include metal, wood which can cause cheilitis in musicians, especially players of woodwind and brass instruments. This can be managed by a removing the trigger and using topical steroid creams.”
- Eczema – “If you are already prone to eczema on your skin, your lips may also be impacted. Keeping your skin as lips well moisturized is crucial to prevent a flare up. You may benefit from a steroid cream.”
- Nutritional deficiencies in iron, vitamin B, folate and zinc can lead to dry, chapped lips. “If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can be prone to low levels of iron and vitamin B. This can be resolved by applying a protective moisturising barrier and treating the deficiency.”
- Infections – A variety of infections can inflame the lips. “This may need treatment with antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medications, depending on the case.”
- Certain autoimmune conditions, where the body attacks its own cells, could also be the reason. “This can include inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or lupus. With these more serious but rarer causes, a patient would also have other ongoing symptoms such as skin changes , joint swelling, abdominal pain, bowel changes. There may also be a family history. If you are worried about these serious conditions, please consult your doctor.”
- Some medications can cause dry chapped lips as a side effect. Common culprits include vitamin A-based oral tablets, Roacctone for the treatment for acne.
- Dentures and braces can make you more prone to cracked lips. Use moisturiser to help soothe the inflammation.
Manak also hotlists environmental factors like UV damage and pollution as bandits aiding moisture to escape your lips. Smokers who have already been warned about the health risks to their habit can throw damage to the skin around and on their lips in the mix.
As you begin the hunt for a lip balm that won’t aggravate the situation (and one that’s tasteless to discouraging errant licking), Manak offers a few alternate solutions that might provide relief to chronically chapped lips. Coconut oil is a natural and healthy replacement for store-bought products, though if you’re likely to be in the sun for a long time, she recommends you use a lip balm with UV protection.
“If you know you are prone to dry chapped lips in the winter, moisturise frequently. It also a good idea to regularly exfoliate your lips gently to remove dead skin. A simple warm wet towel will do the trick but you must moisturise afterwards,” she insists, adding, “Avoid the trigger if possible. This may be shifting through your make-up bag to remove old outdated lipsticks. Using a brush to apply lipstick may also reduce the risk of infections, but do visit a doctor to treat the cause if you are worried about infection or any other medical condition.”
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