On February 10th, 2016 we learned about

Lots of reasons you’re likely to chap your lips

My first grader is currently suffering from very chapped lips, but explaining how she ended up that way has been a little tricky. It’s not that she somehow has dried lips after taking care of them, but just the opposite. She’s somehow managed to simultaneously hit at least three to four common causes of chapped lips, which makes it hard to know where to start fixing things. At the very least, we’ve at least concluded that we don’t need to add alcohol to the mix, which is actually many people’s treatment plan, even if they’re not aware of it.

Delicate but dry

Part of why lips chap is their design. While skin is thought of as one giant organ, not every patch is created equal. Most of your skin has multiple layers, and often holds hair follicles and sweat glands. Your lips, on the other hand, have only a thin sheet of the outermost stratum corneum, which allows for the red capillaries below to give them that pinkish coloration. And while they lack protective hairs and moistening sweat glands, your lips are pack with nerve endings that make them very sensitive to touch (and sadly, the pain from cracking and peeling.) The thinner tissue probably also helps with forming specific shapes for creating phonemes, in contrast to say, the keratin-packed skin on the soles of your feet.

This delicate construction means that our lips are very much at the mercy of environmental factors, like humidity and air flows. Anything that has a chance of dehydrating you can be a factor, from a windy day wicking moisture away, to a hot, dry day in the sun, baking your kisser. Some of these causes may be more subtle than a windy day though, which is where my first grader’s been getting into trouble. Licking your lips encourages more evaporation, much like sweat, which is bad news when you’re at an age that like blowing spit bubbles. If you’re congested, you likely need to breath more through your mouth at night, which puts a constant current of air over your lips, further drying them. Finally, winter often puts people around drying heaters, as the final thing this poor kid can’t really escape right now.

Rehabilitation or quick relief

Fortunately, lip balm can help (along side cutting out the spit bubbles!) You just need to choose your lip treatment carefully, since some products may actually encourage chapping. Menthol, for instance, is an alcohol that evaporates at room temperature. It may feel cool and taste nice for moment, but as it evaporates it takes moisture with it, which is exactly what your lips don’t want. If you don’t want to spend time looking for inert lip balms that will stick to sealing in moisture, basic petroleum jelly is said to be an effective, if unappetizing option.


My first grader asked: Why do people get these lip balms that can hurt your lips? Why do they even make them?!

According to Pfizer, maker of the ever popular ChapStick, their medicated product contains menthol as an “external analgesic.” The cooling sensation triggered by the menthol must be regarded as temporary relief, although whether it is actually numbing your lips is unclear. At any rate, it’s only temporary, and probably won’t relieve the discomfort for as long as it takes your lips to rehydrate.

Source: Why Do Your Lips Get Chapped? by Lissette Padilla, TestTube

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