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8 Sneaky Reasons for Dry Lips — Plus, How To Hydrate Them Naturally

January 31, 2022

Dry lips are a common nuisance. But between the cracking and peeling, dry lips can often be more than just uncomfortable—they can even start to feel a bit painful. Though there are the more recognizable reasons for dry lips, such as dehydration or sun exposure, there's also a variety of other factors that could cause lips to feel chapped. Vitamin B and zinc deficiencies could cause lips to lose their moisture, while skin care conditions like eczema and contact dermatitis could also be the culprit. Heck, even certain lip balms can suck the moisture out of your skin and cause it to dry up.

Luckily, there are also a variety of ways to prevent and solve this skin care concern. Though we must admit, a lot of the issues can be resolved with the help of a good clean lip balm. Keep scrolling to check out all the different causes for dry lips and how to fix them!

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Possibly the most common cause of dry lips is dehydration. Proper hydration is key to healthy, glowing skin, and the same goes for plump, healthy lips. But unlike other areas of your face, the skin on your lips is so thin that it's actually one of the first areas to show signs of dehydration. To avoid this, maintain your 64-ounce daily intake of water, give or take some ounces depending on activity, height, and sex.

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Sun damage

There's nothing like soaking up a little vitamin D from the sun, but we all know that too much sun exposure can be damaging to the skin. This includes the skin of your lips. "The sun can dry out the lips and compromise the lips' ability to hold water and hydration," Michelle Henry, M.D., founder of Skin & Aesthetics Surgery of Manhattan, explains. Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep Alicia Zalka, M.D., confirms, "The cells suffer DNA damage and start to lose natural barrier function." 

Beyond this, though, Henry also points out, "Lips are also quite prone to burning because they often have less UV protection in the form of melanin. They are also an area that we often forget to apply SPF."

So the solution is simple: Don't forget to apply SPF to your lips on a regular basis. There are tons of great options from Supergoop Play to Fresh Sugar Lip Balm.


Vitamin deficiencies

"Interestingly, certain deficiencies particularly of zinc and B vitamins can lead to lip peeling or redness," Zalka confirms.

Both zinc and B vitamins have been shown to promote healthy skin and support wound healing, and as essential vitamins to a healthy system, a lack of these vitamins can lead to dry lips. "Vitamin B 12 deficiency specifically can lead to a condition that leads to dry, cracked lips with difficulty healing," Henry says.

Neither zinc nor B vitamins are naturally produced by the body, which means you need to get these vitamins from other sources, such as food. "This can be diagnosed and treated by your primary care physician or dermatologist," Henry clarifies.

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It may be surprising, but lips can experience a lot of the same skin conditions that you've heard about flaring up on the body or face. One of these conditions includes lip eczema. Lip eczema doesn't result in just your average chapped lips. Instead, it mimics common eczema symptoms such as red patches, cracked skin, flaking, and general dryness. This can lead to painful breaks in the lips.

Though the best treatment is to give your lips a lot of moisture, not all hydrating products are created equal. Ideally, a thick ointment will deliver a boost of hydration while also helping to protect the skin's barrier to prevent further water loss. Since eczema is a skin disease, we recommend consulting with your medical practitioner to find a lip balm product that works for you. The National Eczema Association also has a seal of approval for their list of eczema-safe products; look for their recommendations as a good place to start. 


Contact dermatitis

Beyond dehydration, Henry says the most common cause of dry lips is irritation from products like toothpaste that can lead to contact dermatitis. Also referred to as allergic contact cheilitis (or ACC), this reaction can occur when an allergen or irritant comes into contact with the lips. Beyond toothpaste, general irritants include fragrances, metals, or certain foods like cinnamon.

You can treat the dryness with lip balm, but to avoid flare-ups, steer clear of any possible triggers. If you're experiencing contact dermatitis, stop use of any topicals until you can locate the irritant. 

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Skin picking & licking

"Once we have chapped lips, we are prone to licking them and picking the little bits of dry, peeling skin on our lips," says Zalka. "But this far worsens the problem." The lip skin is simply too delicate to take the beating. Plus, it can lead to long-term effects like scarring or discoloration. Zalka also points out that licking the lips can cause a loss of natural oils, especially during cold weather months.

So what's the easiest solution? "Be kind to the delicate lip skin," encourages Zalka. "Keep the lips lubricated with products that retain the lips' natural oils."


Protective face masks

If your lips feel chapped after a long day of wearing a face mask…you actually might be on to something. Thanks to COVID-19, protective face masks are a must during group and public outings. But while these masks may be protecting your immune system, they could also be the catalyst for your dry lips.

"Masks tend to trap moisture on the lips, then when you go out in the cold, the lips get 'zapped' by wind and low temperatures, and lips can lose moisture via evaporation," said Zalka.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Henry notes face masks made out of cotton or paper can absorb the moisture from the lips and dry them out. "Therefore, it's very important that we're using lip balm as a protective covering and to reduce friction," she explains.  

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 Using poor-quality lip balms

This may seem counterintuitive, but certain lip balms can actually make lips feel drier and more chapped after using them over a period of time. They could include irritating ingredients like cinnamon oil, causing contact dermatitis. They could be formulated with only humectants, which, if the air has low humidity, could pull the moisture out of your skin, and then it evaporates away.

Or the most likely culprit is that the lip balm contains mineral oil. You see, mineral oil actually has a very large molecular size, making it difficult to impossible to actually penetrate the skin—meaning moisture can't wiggle its way down into the epidermis. 

As you avoid all of these problem ingredients, instead Zalka recommends looking for ingredients like botanical or beeswax, plant-based oils (like moringa seed oil), and butters (such as shea butter).

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Emily Rekstis
Emily Rekstis
Contributing writer

Emily Rekstis is a freelance writer, editor and content creator. After serving as the beauty assistant at Harper's Bazaar and Self magazine, she went on to cover celebrity beauty and fashion as UsWeekly's Style Editor. Consistently curious and always willing to learn, she indulges in her variety of interests writing about everything from beauty trends to health habits to design tips for publications like Healthline, Byrdie, Women's Health, MyDomaine, BuzzFeed, The Cut, Allure and many more.