“I’m at war with my lips: by December, they are dried up and shredded. I feel like I’ve tried everything to keep them from drying up and cracking and looking horrible, but nothing, repeat nothing works! Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?”—Sara, Chatham
I have a clever friend who calls this deeply annoying problem her “apocalips,” and it comes to mind whenever chapped lips come up in conversation — and when they happen to me every year, basically from October onward unto May. It’s a universal affliction: in a quick poll of the Kit team, even our beauty director said she still hasn’t solved this yearly conundrum.
Not to say this isn’t an important and frustrating problem, Sara, but I feel like I’m bringing a battleship to a rowboat race with our experts this week. First up, I tapped Dr. Fred Weksberg, a professor at U of T, and a dermatologist at Dermapure, one of many skin-treatment clinics across the country.
I asked Weksberg to explain what is happening here on a skin-deep level, when winter brings on cold temperatures and lower humidity levels, exacerbated by central heating drying out the air in our homes. “These changes cause the top keratin layer of the lips to lose its flexibility and dry out, causing cracking, soreness and scaling,” he says. Scaling! Exactly the snake-skin-like shedding that “apocalips” describes.
Weksberg says avoiding cold temperatures works, but that can be challenging: I don’t think I’ll get to work from home in Thailand this winter, will you? More accessibly, he says using a humidifier in your home will go a long way to prevent the chapping from starting.
Even easier, start with the basics. “Rehydrate the lip surface with frequent application of a non-irritating lip balm or moisturizer,” he says. But don’t wait too long, because things can get bad, fast. “Badly chapped lips may progress to eczema, at which time a cortisone cream can be prescribed by your doctor to help the lips heal.”
So what kind of balm is going to work best? First, here is what not to use when your lips are already chapped and irritated, according to the doc: “Ingredients to avoid would include camphor, eucalyptus and flavouring agents such as cinnamon, citrus and peppermint. Other irritants to avoid are fragrance, lanolin, menthol, octinoxate, oxybenzone, phenol (or phenyl) and salicylic acid.” He also advises looking for the term “hypoallergenic” on the tube.
So what does help? “Ingredients that may help include castor seed oil, ceramides, dimethicone, mineral oil, petrolatum, white petroleum jelly, shea butter and sun-protective ingredients, such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide.”
Pressed for specific suggestions, Weksberg namechecks a SkinCeuticals product called Antioxidant Lip Repair, which he says is safe and effective on all skin types. He also says CeraVe or Aquaphor are good choices, and adds a serum suggestion, which can do double duty on face and lips: Functionalab Biolift HA Professional Serum, which has a high concentration of hyaluronic acid and “helps to smooth and refine the surface of your lips while fighting dryness.”
If you do think the chapping is progressing toward a more serious condition like eczema, which also tends to worsen in winter, look for signs of redness, dryness and scaling. “The more severe forms may also display cuts or fissures of the lips and swelling.” If this does develop, Weksberg advises avoiding using lipstick or tinted products as they may be irritating. Check in with your doctor if you have a flare-up and your at-home treatments aren’t working.
For chapping that is more cosmetic than medical — and advice for dealing with this during festive lipstick season — I posed your question to Wendy Rorong, a Toronto makeup artist who has tended to the lips and faces of many celebrities, from Cara Delevingne to Nick Jonas, Joan Smalls to Patrick Stewart.
Rorong starts every makeup application with lip balm, leaving it there to absorb while she works on the rest of the face. The finish of your lipstick counts: She advises skipping the matte lip formulas, as every bit of chapping will show. “As much as I love a matte lip, a satin or velvet finish will be more flattering,” she says, pointing out that this applies to her older clients in particular. “As you age, your metabolism slows down, decreasing cell regeneration and causing skin to become thinner, drier and more fragile.” So opt for something with a bit more sheen.
Rorong will often mix up her own lip solution, adding lip balm to her favourite lipsticks to help boost the moisture and address dryness. For a splurge, Rorong likes the cult favourite Laneige lip mask. But her go-to choice of lip balm is Aquaphor, the same brand Weksberg recommended — I have never tried it, but you know I ordered some online before I even finished writing this article. Rorong applies it “every hour,” which is admirable commitment. Keeping a balm on your desk and your bedside table and in your purse will help you keep up the habit.
You often hear about lip exfoliants as a pre-lipstick prep step for flaky lips. Rorong does sometimes do this, and while there are plenty of fancy lip scrubs on the market, she likes to just mix up some honey and sugar and rub that around the lips. “Be sure to moisturize afterwards and often — scrubs of any kind can be drying,” she says. If you’re in the throes of severe chapping and irritation, skip this and go gently. “Lip exfoliants should be avoided when your lips are dry or chapped,” cautions Weksberg. “These products may lead to further inflammation and make your lips worse.
Rorong’s final tip is to max out on hydration on all fronts: Put it on your lips, as explained in depth above, and also drink more water!
May the Aquaphor force be with you, Sara, and may your apocalips become a thing of the past.
Shop the advice
Soothing products to help banish lip chapping
Eucerin Aquaphor Lip Repair Healing Ointment, $11, amazon.ca SHOP HERE
Both of our experts recommended this hypoallergenic, fragrance-free lip ointment, which calls on castor seed oil, shea butter, panthenol and vitamins C and E to repair dry lips.
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, $29, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
This thick, buttery balm is beloved by beauty editors and makeup artists and is perfect to keep on your bedside table for overnight use.
Skinceuticals Antioxidant Lip Repair, $48, skinceuticals.ca SHOP HERE
Dermatologist Dr. Fred Weksberg likes this antioxidant-enriched lip balm by Skinceuticals and says it’s safe to use on all skin types, even when irritated and chapped.
Burt’s Bees Conditioning Lip Scrub with Honey Crystals, $11, amazon.ca SHOP HERE
Our makeup artist expert Wendy Rorong mixes honey and sugar to make her own lip scrub; this natural lip exfoliator does the job for you.
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