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In this post I will share with you my 13 surprising reasons your lips are chapped. The state of my lips has always been important to me. Whenever they are dry and end up chapped, it’s a great deal of discomfort for me. Throughout the years I have carefully observed how certain behaviours affect them, for better or worse. I have found the following 13 behaviours to make them worse.
1. Licking your lips
It may seem counterintuitive but that’s simply because it is. When you lick your lips, you are licking away moisture and when the saliva dries, which it will in no time, you are left worse off than if you hadn’t licked them. The more you lick, the quicker the saliva dries and the drier your lips get. You can observe this phenomena yourself by conducting a simple experiment whereby you keep licking your lips.
2. Breathing through your mouth
As the air passes through your mouth, so too does the moisture on your lips. Have you ever fallen asleep in transit, sitting with your head resting back and tilting slightly? Your mouth tends to be wide open in that comical way. When you inevitably wake up your mouth feels impossibly dry. This is especially so on flights. Do you think sleeping naturally with your mouth open is a surprising reason why your lips are chapped?
3. Some well-wishing lip balms – eg Carmex
Yes, that’s right, some of our favourite lip balms are not as wholesome as we think. Many well-known and popular lip balms actually contribute to dry lips. Carmex used to be one of my favourites. The distinct smell and how it made my lips tingle blinded me to it’s true impact. I had to use it very frequently for it to ‘work’. What was actually happening was that Carmex did not hydrate, it created a barrier to presumably retain whatever moisture is there. The outcome of this is that your lips remain dry and require the quick but short lived relief of the menthol-y lip balm. Furthermore, when you stop using it, your lips become much much more dry than before you used it. You become dependent on it.
4. Hormonal Contraceptives
This one is for the ladies. Any kind of extra hormonal interference, including, but not limited to, the IUD, Implanon/Nexplanon, patches, injections, vaginal rings and of course the pill, all affect your body’s hydration. Personally, I found this to be a surprising reason why my lips were chapped all the time.
Bonus Hormone Science
When a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels are high (during the luteal, or premenstrual, phase of her cycle), she loses around 8% of plasma volume – the watery part of the blood. Sodium level is very important, because it helps transport water into the blood, but those elevated progesterone levels make this harder: Progesterone fights for the same receptors as aldosterone (the hormone responsible for excreting sodium), which increases the amount of sodium your body kicks out. When you’re on hormonal birth control, the estrogen and progesterone in your system can be as much as six to eight times higher. This means less sodium available in your system to carry water ultimately reducing your ability to hydrate.
This one is for anyone who takes any kind of medicine from over the counter such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, decongestants, allergy relief and even many supplements, to prescription items such as antibiotics, antidepressants, strong pain killers and a bunch of other more serious meds. Processing medicine can put a load on the kidneys making it harder to deal with the body’s water needs.
6. Alcohol – especially red wine
If you are partial to a bit of red wine on an evening or heck, even a bender, you will be familiar with the phenomena called red wine mouth. You know, how you end up looking like a hipster vampire after a few glasses and only find out when you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror. Your lips become impossibly dry.
Bonus Wine Science
This is caused when tannins bind to lubricating proteins in the mucus membranes of the mouth, called mucins. These mucins form a barrier and protect sensitive mucus membranes from drying out from chemical and mechanical interactions. They provide lubrication and therefore low friction. This lubricating film in your mouth fails when tannins come in: a sip of wine causes the tongue to feel less slippery.
7. Lipstick, especially long lasting colour, lip taints, lip inks etc
I absolutely love wearing lipstick. Not all the time but regularly enough. Now that I am older and slightly wiser, I have noticed that colouring your lips by any means, is likely to dry your lips out. Those double sided lip gloss wands promising smudge proof colour for up to 16 hours are one of the worst offenders. The glossy side is meant to cover up how drying the colour is. It’s not a pleasant experience, having dry as a bone lips then a thick non-hydrating gloss on top. You can still feel the dryness. The gloss offers very little relief. Best stay away from matte colours as they are especially drying (they have fewer oils) and always moisturise your lips before any colour. Sure you will smudge and leave lipstick all over the place, but how else will you know which glass is yours at a party?
8. Face creams that treat skin problems eg retinols, applying face stuff before protecting lips
My skin problems are two-fold. Firstly to keep spots at bay and secondly to fade dark sports from sport inflammation. I have used retinols and benzoyl peroxide both of which have dried and peeled my skin. Great for my face but my lips no likey. Even face washes strip away from your lips. What I have been doing recently is to always moisturise my lips (with my very own special recipe) before putting anything on my face. This gives my lips that much needed protection shield against anything and everything that might leave them vulnerable.
9. Heating in the winter
You only need to fall asleep with heater on high once to know how intensely drying they can be. I find that even on a low setting, my mouth wakes up feeling like the setting for a western movie. I never sleep with the heater on and prefer to use more blankets instead. Of course that time in the morning when you have to leave the warm cocoon of your bed is excruciating but I’d rather be hydrated than a clump of dry hay.
10. Being in the sun with no lip protection
Contrary to the royalty-free stock image above, you do not need to be on a beach holiday to get some sun action. Being out and about, even on a cloudy day means your lips receive sun damage. The more you are out, the more dry your lips become. Sundried lips anyone?
11. Poor hydration system
Admittedly, this one is rather obvious but I will explain myself. Often I find that I don’t absorb water well. Drinking loads of water does nothing as I just tinkle it away. I have found that wet foods definitely help, such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, soups etc. Electrolytes have also been a game-changer for me. They are packed with sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They help my body deeply hydrate so that my lips also benefit.
I’m sure this one isn’t surprising. Caffeine is well known for its diuretic properties. When I drink coffee, I find that any water I drink is not absorbed as efficiently as when I’m having a caffeine free day.
13. Scarves and covers
I quite like having a warm face, don’t you? I especially like a face that feels cosy. This means my lips are battered by scarves or bedding quite regularly. The fabric rubbing on the lips removes moisture and leaves them more vulnerable.
Do any of these behaviours apply to you? Let me know if you have other particular things that cause chapped lips so we can all learn together 🙂