How to Have Healthy Beautiful Lips
by our Health Expert

When someone tells you to "crack a smile" it can have a whole new meaning if your lips are sore, red or peeling. Not only are sore, flaky lips unattractive, but living with them can make you look and feel miserable.

Lips lack the natural oils that protect against winter winds and the low humidity of indoor heating. Lips are also sunburned easily because they contain no melanin, the pigment that causes suntan and freckles in the rest of the skin.

Although lip problems seem to be more common in winter, dry lips can happen year round. Here are a few tips to help give the kiss-off to chapped lips so that you can smile without wincing. They'll help bring a healthy, beautiful smile to your face.

What causes chapped lips?
Chapped lips are caused by several things. It may be an issue of nutritional deficiencies, particularly with Vitamin B, Iron or Riboflavin. Seasonal wind and sun can contribute to the problem as can dryness in the home.

Licking of the lips is probably the most common cause of chapped lips. Thousands of people lick their lips constantly throughout the day. This habit causes drying and irritation to the lips and often to the other skin around the mouth.

Quit Licking!
People often lick their lips because they feel dry, but the constant wetting and drying actually causes chapped lips. "This is one of the very worst things people can do," says dermatologist Ronald Sherman, M.D., a member of the attending staff at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "It only increases chapping. When the moisture from licking your lips evaporates, so does some of the moisture from your lips."

Another problem is that lip lickers tend to also be lip biters, and biting your lips removes the protective layer of skin. The best way to break the licking/biting habit is to keep the lips constantly moisturized.

Moisturize from the Inside Out.
Start the process by ensuring that you are drinking enough water. "I recommend several ounces of water every few hours," says Diana Bihova, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. "As you age, the ability of your cells to retain moisture decreases, so your dryness problem may actually increase. Another way to help counter dry lips is to humidify the air in your home and office."

Try a little lip service.
Finding something that works for chapped lips is not always easy. What works well for others, may not work for you. You can try coating your lips with skin moisturizer, vitamin E oil or aloe vera gel. These products are greasy, and help keep your lips moisturized.

One of the most common ways to sooth and heal chapped lips is to use a lip balm. If you choose a balm, make sure it's one without flavor, as this may encourage lip licking and more drying. A safe bet is to use a petroleum or beeswax based product or just plain petroleum jelly. If lips are especially chapped, try to find a medicated balm.

How much is too much?
"You should apply lip balm every hour or two-both to prevent chapped lips and to treat them once you get them," says John F. Romano, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Since lips don't hold anything on them very well, reapply it every time you eat or drink anything or wipe your lips.

Don't forget the sunscreen!
According to Nelson Lee Novick, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, "Sun damage to the lips can cause dryness and scaliness, the same way sun can damage the rest of your skin. In its simplest form it can harm the lower lip, which takes the brunt of ultraviolet rays." So if you are going to be outside at all, remember to use a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15.

What else can I do?
"Nutritional deficiencies--such as the lack of B-complex vitamins and iron-can play a part in scaling of the lips and cracking at the comers of the mouth," says Dr. Novick. "So make sure you're okay on that front with a multivitamin/mineral supplement."

What if nothing helps?
If your chapped lips do not respond to treatment, they should be evaluated by a dermatologist. Cracking at the corners of the mouth that does not heal may indicate a yeast or bacterial infection, which can spread to the lips or cheeks.

Persistent chapping may indicate chronic overexposure to sunlight and could be a sign of premalignant or malignant activity, according to Dr. Novick. A biopsy of the lips may be necessary.


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