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If Your Lips Are Constantly Chapped, It Could Be One Of These Three Very Unexpected Reasons

Alexandra Engler
Author:
December 26, 2023
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Image by ohlamour studio / Stocksy
December 26, 2023
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For those with chronically dry lips, it may feel like a never-ending and very steep uphill battle to keep the skin hydrated. This little patch of delicate skin seems to always be in need of quenching, no? 

And if your lips are perennially parched, there's a chance you've been curious about why it's so hard to keep them moisturized. For example, ever wondered why so many lip balms feel like they dry the lips out in the long run, triggering a vicious cycle of reapplication after reapplication? Or why do you need to reach for your balm post morning brew? Or if it's something, perhaps, internal going on? 

Well, if you've had any of those thoughts—you're a beauty genius because your hunch is spot-on. And if you've never considered any of these as causes for your perennially dry lips, understandable—they're quite unexpected. Here, surprising reasons your skin is chapped. 

Ingredient combinations 

It's not just the ingredients that matter—but the combination of ingredients. Board-certified dermatologist Joyce Park, M.D., posted a video explaining common triggers of dry, chapped lips that you may be overlooking. 

"There are many things in lip balm that can be making your chapped lips much, much worse," she explained. "[For example] your lip balm may not have the right combination of ingredients. You want both humectants and an occlusive in the formula," she says, sharing a few of her favorite ingredients to look out for on the ingredient label. 

Humectants are ingredients that attract and hold water, helping to keep skin hydrated. Your body actually makes some humectants naturally (such as hyaluronic acid, of which about 50% of your body's supply1 is found in the skin). In skin care formulas, they can be both botanical or lab-derived. A few that Park mentioned she recommends: hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea, and sorbitol. 

Occlusive ingredients are simply those that help "trap" hydration. They create a seal over the epidermis so water isn't able to evaporate into the air around the skin. These tend to be thicker molecules that sit on top, such as beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, and petrolatum. If you avoid the petroleum-derived ingredients for environmental concerns, a good alternative is castorlatum, or castor jelly, which is a castor-oil-derived alternative that's very similar. 

Drinking hot coffee or tea

Hot coffee can dehydrate the lips—but not necessarily in the way you might think. Just like exposing the skin elsewhere on the body to scalding hot water can weaken the barrier by disrupting your natural lipids, the same can be true for the lips when you're drinking piping hot coffee.

Exposing the skin to hot water—as in steamy showers, hot coffee, or scalding hand-washing—has the ability to strip skin of its natural lipids, thereby stealing from the skin its natural defense system. While the lip area does not have oil glands (to produce sebum), it does contain other protective lipids like ceramides and fatty acids2.

You don't have to skip your morning (or afternoon—no judgment) cup of coffee. Just apply a lip balm before to add a protective buffer between your lips and the hot liquid. 

Vitamin deficiencies 

The diet and skin connection is strong—we know that poor nutrition can influence inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea, disrupt our skin barrier, and contribute to fine lines. The lips, it turns out, are no exception. 

"Interestingly, certain deficiencies, particularly of zinc and B vitamins, can lead to lip peeling or redness," says board-certified dermatologist Alicia Zalka, M.D., in our story about dry lip causes. Both zinc and B vitamins have been shown to promote healthy skin and support wound healing, and because they are essential vitamins to a healthy system, a lack of these vitamins can lead to dry lips.

The takeaway 

Chronic, chapped dry lips always have a root cause. It's just not always obvious. Consider these lesser-known dry skin triggers if you're dealing with a dehydrated pout. And then check out our favorite lip balms.

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