- Your lips may be dry if you spent the day in the sun, since lips get sunburnt super quickly.
- Dehydration and wind damage can also dry out your lips and cause cracking.
- Avoid lip balms with ingredients such as camphor, menthol, lanolin, and fragrance.
Nearly everyone has experienced dry, cracked, or tight-feeling lips.
In fact, "the lips are particularly prone to dryness as opposed to skin on other parts of the body," says Dr. Brian Toy, a dermatologist at Providence Mission Hospital and a clinical professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
This is because the skin on your lips:
- Is thin, so it's more sensitive.
- Is constantly exposed to the elements, as opposed to body parts like feet that are usually protected by shoes or socks.
- Doesn't have any sweat glands, which secrete oils that keep the skin moisturized and protected.
Here's what might be contributing to your dry lips, and how to get rid of dry, cracked, and uncomfortable lips for good.
Since the skin on your lips is thinner than the skin in other areas of your body, it can show the signs of dehydration first. So if you're experiencing dryness and cracking, a good first step is to make sure you're drinking enough water.
What to do about it: Make sure you're drinking enough water: Men should aim for 125 ounces of fluid each day, and women should aim for 91 fluid ounces. While water is an important part of that, you can also count fluids like coffee and tea, plus the fluid found in foods like fruits and vegetables.
If you notice that your lips are dry or painful after a day in the sun, it could be a sunburn. Your lips are even more likely to burn than other parts of your body because the skin on your lips has no melanin, a pigment that protects skin from damaging UV rays.
If you have sunburned lips, you'll notice symptoms including:
- Sensitivity, stinging, or burning
What to do about it: Use a lip balm with at least SPF 15. "A lip balm will protect the skin barrier and reduce moisture loss, keeping the lips supple," Toy says.
If you don't have a lip balm with SPF handy that's ok — you can apply regular sunscreen directly to your lips.
Reapply lip balm or sunscreen every two hours, since it can come off when you're eating or drinking.
3. Wind damage
Because lips are exposed to the elements, wind and weather can take a toll on them. Wind can weaken and dry out the outermost layer of skin and remove the moisture from the skin, making them more prone to drying. This leads to a condition known as windburn, which is especially common on the lips.
So if you're boating, skiing or doing other outdoor activities that leave you exposed to the elements, you'll need to prioritize lip health.
What to do about it: While you're out in the sun, use a lip balm with SPF. After your activities are done and you're inside, use a lip balm with Vaseline or Aquaphor to restore moisture. These thicker balms protect the skin, but they can leave you prone to sunburn, so don't use them while you're out in the sun.
4. Irritation from cosmetics
If you experience dry lips after switching your personal care products, the cosmetics could be to blame, Ugonabo says.
"Sometimes people are sensitive to certain ingredients that are in these products and so their lips are becoming more irritated with use," she says.
When you feel the need to apply a lip balm frequently — more than every two hours — it can be a sign that your lip products are actually drying your lips out rather than moisturizing them, Toy says.
What to do about it: If your lips sting or tingle after application, stop use immediately and wash the product off with soap and water. Choose balms with healthy ingredients, while avoiding harsh ingredients.
Avoid these harsh ingredients:
Choose these moisturizing ingredients:
5. Yeast infection
A yeast infection around the mouth, also known as thrush, can cause dry lips and cracking at the corners of the mouth, Toy says.
If you have thrush, you'll notice symptoms including:
- Painful cracks in the corners of your mouth
- Redness or soreness at the corners of your mouth
- White patches inside your mouth and gyms
Eventually, this can lead to a condition called angular cheilitis, where people develop painful cracks at the corners of their mouths. It's most common in people who drool when they sleep, Toy says, since the moisture lets yeast flourish.
What to do about it: See your doctor. You'll need to be treated with an anti fungal cream. In addition, you'll want to stop drooling, since the moisture helps bacteria thrive. If you drool while you sleep, talk to your doctor about ways to stop drooling, like treating seasonal allergies and acid reflux that might be causing you to drool.
6. Vitamin deficiencies
If you're not getting enough vitamin B12, you might experience dry lips and cracking at the corners of the lips. That's because vitamin B12 helps your body repair cells, so if you don't have enough it's more difficult for your body to repair normal damage to the lips.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is pretty rare, affecting about 6% of adults under 60 in the US. However, about 20% of people older than 60 are deficient. Vegetarians are also at higher risk, since vitamin B12 isn't naturally readily in plant-based products, Toy says. However, there are ways to hit your B12 target if you're a vegetarian including eating nutritional yeast and shiitake mushrooms.
What to do about it: Make sure you're getting enough vitamin B12. Most adults need to consume 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12. To get that, eat more foods like fish, eggs and other animal products that naturally contain vitamin B12; or breakfast cereals that have been fortified with vitamin B.
Talk to your doctor about whether a vitamin or supplement is right for you. If you have a severe deficiency or other underlying conditions, you might also qualify for B12 shots, so ask your doctor if those might be right for you.
When to see a doctor
If your dry lips don't resolve in about a week, it's time to see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you have persistent or severe peeling or cracking, which can leave you vulnerable to infection.
In rare cases, dry lips can be a sign of an underlying medical condition including:
- Infections like a yeast infection around the corners of the mouth
- Nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin B12 deficiency
- Eczema, also known as contact dermatitis
Best lip balms
Dry lips are common because skin on the lips is thin and exposed to stressors including sun and wind. However, "the lips generally heal very quickly due to an abundant blood supply," Toy says.
So, if you have persistently dry lips you should talk to a doctor. They'll help rule out any underlying conditions and help you manage your dry lips.
"Please consider seeing a board certified dermatologist for further evaluation to make sure there isn't something more going on," Ugonabo says.