We've all been there, applying lip balm all day long to no relief from dry, chapped lips. You might think it's just a pesky side effect of cold or dry weather, or maybe even the result of an ineffective lip balm â€” both of which can cause chapped lips. But apparently your chapped lips might be a sign of an even bigger issue altogether: dry skin.
Why are chapped lips a potential sign of dry skin?
As Rita Linkner, a New York City-based dermatologist puts it, the lips are thinner than the rest of your skin, so you can use them as a litmus test of sorts for your skin's hydration level.
"Lips lack a layer of skin called the stratum corneum, which is why they are extra sensitive and a perfect barometer for how dry the rest of the skin on the face is," she explains. The stratum corneum, by the way, is the outermost layer of the skin barrier, which means it's the skin's first line of defense against environmental stressors.
Because of this, Linkner says having chapped lips could signify that you need to moisturize the whole face more frequently every day rather than just slap on some lip balm. "I tell my patients to 'read your lips,' meaning if your lips are chapped then [you need to] do a better, more frequent job of moisturizing the skin," she explains.
Dermatologist Bradley Bloom adds that simply drinking more water to hydrate skin is not likely to fix the problem of chapped lips.
"When the lips are dry they often have a burning or stinging feeling from microscopic breaks in the barrier, which people call 'chapped lips,' he explains. "In most cases, there is some external aggravating factor, such as licking one's lips chronically or an irritant or allergy from a topical used in the area," he says. By topicals, he means anything applied to or around the mouth, like lipsticks or even toothpaste.
How can I tell if my dry lips are caused by dry skin?
How can you tell the difference, though, between chapped lips caused by dry skin and chapped lips caused by an external irritant? Both Linkner and Bloom agree that the answer is simple: It's best for a dermatologist to diagnose the cause of chapped lips because it's so hard to discern.
What moisturizer should I be using, then?
Either way, it's vital to keep skin hydrated regardless of its effect on your lips. Linkner's advice is to always be on the lookout for products containing ceramides, which "represent the glue that holds skin cells together." In other words, ceramides are the fat molecules in the skin barrier that keep it hydrated and plump. Incorporating them into your skin routine will strengthen your skin barrier, and using products that lock in moisture can help prevent dry skin â€” and lips â€” even further, Linkner says.
What if that doesn't work?
Now, see how skin care has evolved within the past 100 years:
Read more on: dry skin