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Sunburned Lips: Derm-Approved Tips To Help Them Heal + How Long It Lasts

Hannah Frye
Author:
May 11, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
May 11, 2023
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For those of you who have experienced a lip sunburn, you know it's no joke. For those who haven't, let me fill you in: A lip sunburn is painful and peely like any other burn but can become irritated quickly if you eat or drink, well, just about anything. 

Unfortunately, there's no way to heal a lip sunburn in one day, but there are steps you can take to speed up the recovery process and protect your pout in the future. Below, the best tips from derms. 

Symptoms of sunburn on lips

Image by Getty Images/iStockphoto

"Sunburned lips can appear similar to dry or chapped lips and as with sunburn on the body, may lead to redness, peeling, or a blistering," explains board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD

In other words, the symptoms of a lip sunburn will vary depending on severity. If you spent hours bathing in the sun in a high UV climate without protecting your lips, then your chances of a blistering, peeling lip sunburn are higher. 

A light lip sunburn might appear pink and will be more identifiable by the stinging feeling than the appearance. Below, a quick summary of possible symptoms: 

  • Peeling
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Pain
  • Blistering
  • Itching

The stages of sunburned lips

Lip sunburns can truly interrupt a great time. Not only are they painful, but they also often include peeling and flaking, not something you want before a big event nor on vacation. Below, the estimated healing timeline for some peace of mind:  

  • Day 1: Unprotected sun exposure takes place. "You may notice redness immediately after sun exposure but that immediate type of erythema may resolve after only one day," says board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC Nava Greenfield, M.D., FAAD. If it doesn't, then you have a burn. "This can appear as early as two to four hours after sun exposure," Garshick adds. 
  • Day 2: "Lips will usually stay red for one to three days before peeling begins," Greenfield says. If you have a more severe burn, you may start to see swelling on Day 2, and possibly even the formation of a blister. 
  • Day 3: "An irritated, dry, and cracked feeling can be expected on Day 3," Greenfield says. You may start to see chipping and peeling on the lips at this point as well. Do your best to resist pulling the skin off, and let it flake on its own. 
  • Days 4-7: Healing takes place. "Healing can be expected between Days 4 and 7. Depending on the severity of the burn, peeling may last longer," Greenfield notes. And remember, peeling is part of the healing process, so let it happen without tugging.

How to treat sunburned lips

During this healing period, you'll want to have some products on hand. Not only can hydrating and soothing ingredients speed up your healing process, but many of them can also ease irritation simultaneously. Below, a few options to consider: 

1.

Aloe

"This is a good remedy for burns in general and for sunburns because of its natural wound healing properties," Greenfield says about popular remedy aloe vera. 

The key here is to use pure aloe vera gel and avoid any products that have fillers or fragrances, as your lips are more susceptible to irritation and allergic reactions during this time. 

Look for 100% pure aloe vera gel, or pick up an aloe vera leaf from your local supermarket and make your own. Then, gently dab it on the lips as needed. 

2.

Hydrating lip balms

Now, if you're on the go, you probably don't want to carry around aloe gel. In this case, keep a hydrating lip balm on hand at all times during your healing process. As we mentioned above, it's best to skip anything with fragrance for now. 

When shopping for a lip balm, look for the following ingredients: 

  • Shea butter
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Cocoa seed butter
  • Mango seed butter
  • Vitamin E
  • Panthenol
  • Castor seed oil
  • Peptides
3.

Cold compress

"This can help to alleviate any swelling or discomfort associated with a sunburn," Garshick says about a cold compress. You probably won't need this during the last few days of the healing process, but it's certainly helpful for the initial sting. 

To do this, simply wet a clean rag with cold water and gently press it on the lips. Avoid any rubbing or tugging on the skin. After you remove the compress, apply aloe vera or a hydrating lip balm. 

4.

Shea butter

"Shea butter can help to soften and smooth the skin of the lips while also serving as a protectant, making it a good option," says Greenfield. This rich butter can be found in plenty of natural lip balms, but you can use it a la carte as well. 

Look for raw, whipped shea butter at the market or online so it's easier to apply to the lips. Remember that this ingredient is rich, so a little goes a long way. 

5.

Olive oil & coconut oil

Thinner oils like olive and coconut oil are other options for those who prefer something lightweight. "They may be too thin to stay on the lip for long and these will need to be reapplied frequently," says Greenfield. 

What not to use on sunburned skin

"Now is not the time to try out new products with new ingredient lists," Greenfield warns. It's best to "stick to basics," she says, and opt for the simple remedies listed above. To avoid triggering further irritation, steer clear of the following ingredients while your lips heal:

  • Exfoliants: This includes physical lip scrubs as well as chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs (alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids). It might be tempting to scrub off the peeling skin, but that will only make things worse. 
  • Fragrance: As mentioned before, fragrance should be avoided at this time. Even naturally scented products that use essential oils can be irritating when applied to a sunburn, so stick with fragrance-free products. 
  • Plumping glosses: For the most part, you should skip lip gloss altogether while your lips heal, and use a balm instead. If you must use a gloss, be sure it's not a plumping formula. These generally contain peppermint oil and other low-level irritants (which is what causes the lips to plump) and will make your lip sunburn sting like no other. 
  • Intense spice and citrus foods: Take it from my personal experience, it's best to avoid spicy foods and raw citrus (like lime or lemon juice) touching your lips during the healing process. 

How to prevent sunburns

As with any sunburn, prevention is key. Below, a few things to keep in mind should you be spending time in the sun: 

  • Lip SPF: You don't need to apply body or face SPF to your lips (ew) but you should use a lip balm with sunscreen in it and reapply it often. As with any beauty product, some are better than others, so scan our curated list of the best natural options on the market to ease your search.
  • Wear a hat: If you're going on a long walk, a sunny hike, or spending a day at the beach, have a hat at the ready. This makes protecting your lips and your facial skin easy and fairly low-lift. 
  • After-sun care: Everyone who enjoys time in the sun should have an after-sun routine, lip care included. Once you've showered, moisturized your body, or whatever else you feel called to do, apply some aloe vera, shea butter, or a hydrating lip balm. If your lips are slightly red, the immediate care may help keep it at that and prevent peeling.

PSA: Sunburns can cause signs of aging or worse

Swollen pink lips may sound aesthetically pleasing, but the impact of lip sunburns is anything but that. To remind you why sun care is so important for your lips, a few possible outcomes of frequent lip sunburns: 

  • Skin cancer: "You can develop skin cancer of the lips," Greenfield says. "More frequently, pre-cancerous lesions develop that need to be treated," she adds. 
  • Discoloration: "Chronic UV exposure leads to the development for sun spots, or lentigines that appear as discolored spots on the lips," Greenfield notes. So that initial pink glow will not last for long and can make your natural lip color uneven or diluted. 
  • Dryness: Sun exposure leads to dryness on any skin, the lips included. If you haven't been exposed to the sun in any notable capacity but your lips are still super dry, it could be due to dehydration, eczema, skin picking, etc. 
  • Fine lines around the mouth: "Sunburns damage connective tissue and collagen, which result in the development of wrinkles," Greenfield notes. This can show up on the lips themselves and around the mouth area should you forget to protect your pout. 
  • Loss of volume: You can damage the connective tissue in your skin when exposing it to the sun without protection. "Loss of connective tissue is loss of volume," Greenfield notes, so the momentary swelling you see with a lip sunburn will only lead to deflated lips later on. 

Is it a sunburn, blister, pimple, or cold sore?

When it comes to red areas around your lips, there are a few different things that could be to blame. Below, a few visual notes on common lip bumps and burns to help you out: 

  • Lip sunburn: Red, irritated skin, may start to peel after a day or two, sensitive to the touch, can be painful.
  • Blister: You may have a blister from a severe lip sunburn or another type of burn. These tend to be filled with pus, very sensitive to the touch, and may be swollen. 
  • Pimple: A fleshy bump with a white or black head, may be filled with pus, comes and goes on its own.
  • Cold sore: Different from a pimple, cold sores are blistered, fluid-filled bumps on the skin. May look like a group of mini blisters. Generally uncomfortable. 

FAQ

How do you treat sunburned lips?

To treat a lip sunburn at home, apply aloe vera gel or shea butter to the lips. You can also use a hydrating lip balm as long as it's fragrance-free. Avoid any lip scrubs or lip exfoliators until the sunburn is fully healed. Don't pick at the peeling skin.

How long do sunburned lips take to heal?

Most lip sunburns will heal within a week. More severe cases that include blistering and intense peeling may take eight 10 days to fully heal. To speed up the process, apply aloe ver and fragrance-free lip balms regularly, and resist the urge to peel or pick at the lips.

Should I put lip balm on sunburned lips?

Yes, you should apply lip balm to sunburned lips. Keep a hydrating lip balm on hand at all times during your healing process. As we mentioned above, it's best to skip anything with fragrance for now. Skip any exfoliating ingredients like AHAs or BHAs as well.

The takeaway

On the bright side, lip sunburns shouldn't last much longer than a week or so. To ease discomfort and speed up healing, apply aloe vera or a hydrating lip balm to the area. In the future, apply lip sunscreen daily, or at least when you spend hours in the sun. Want to learn more about proper sun care? Find our guide here

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