By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Read my lips - dryness is no laughing matter. Our lips are one of the most prominent features of our face, expressing our emotions and our state of health.
Dry lips can cause you irritation, embarrassment and discomfort. We all long for moist, healthy-looking lips but why do they often let us down? Ever wondered why your lips are dry and what you can do about it?
Why Are My Lips So Dry?
The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that nearly 81 million Americans suffer from some form of dry, itchy or scaly skin - which includes dry lips - during the winter.
It may be more common to suffer from dry lips in the winter but it's not just cold and wind that causes a problem. Do you suffer from dry lips in the summer, or all year round? Are dry lips causing you discomfort whatever the weather?
All areas of the body can get dry on occasion but lips are particularly vulnerable because, unlike other areas of skin, they do not have oil and sweat glands to keep things moist. The lips create problems when you can't trap enough moisture and keep it there.
What causes dry lips? What can you do to prevent or treat dry lips? Are there any natural remedies to fight dry lips?
We've searched through scientific studies and found the top 10 reasons for dry lips and the best ways to dish the dryness in favor of smooth, moist lips.
Top 10 Causes and Cures for Dry Lips
1. Environmental Triggers Cause Dry Lips
One of the most effective ways to combat dry lips is to avoid the elements that trigger the dryness. In winter, you've got a whole cold front of problems making your lips dry. The 2007 National Health Interview Survey blamed blasts of colder and dryer air, over-exposure to winter sun without adequate protection and over-heated homes and offices.
Dry air seems to suck the moisture from your skin, and your lips are particularly vulnerable. In the summer, your lips are at risk through exposure to ultraviolet light. As well as placing you at risk of skin cancer and sunburn this can also trigger dryness. So don't forget your lips when you're slapping on the sunscreen.
A 2010 study from the Faculty of Medicine and Odontology, University of Murcia, Spain found that application of a lipstick sunscreen three times a day for three months increased lip hydration across the board, with no statistically significant differences in lip hydration with regard to age, gender or skin type.
2. Licking Your Lips Makes Them Dry
So stop licking - it's as simple as that. Licking your lips may appear to moisten them but you're actually making the situation worse. Any moisture you transfer to your lips is evaporated seconds later, creating a viscous circle of lip licking and dryness. Sometimes a simple recognition of the behavior is enough to stop it.
However, for some people, lip licking is less of a choice and more of a habit that's difficult to break. But it can be done. A 1982 study from the Nova University and Anna Mental Health and Development Center, USA of 10 people with self-destructive oral habits such as biting, chewing or licking of the lips took part in either habit reversal treatment or negative practice treatment.
Those who received negative practice treatment --- meaning they were required to lick their lips intentionally in order to experience it negatively --- showed a mean reduction of lip licking of around 65 percent, while those receiving the habit reversal treatment showed a mean reduction of about 99 percent throughout the 22-month follow-up.
3. No More Mouth Breathing
According to the NYU Voice Center at the NYU School of Medicine, normal breathing should take place through the nose, which is specially designed to warm and dampen the air before it reaches your lungs, throat and lips.
If you habitually breathe through your mouth you'll end up with a chronically dry throat and dry lips. Not only is the air that reaches your throat and lips drier, but any existing moisture is quickly blown away as you breathe across it. Sleep apnea can cause you to breathe through your mouth at night, drying your lips as well as frequently interrupting your sleep.
4. Drink More Water To Prevent Dry Lips
This tip is key to kicking dry lips to the curb - increase your intake of water to avoid dehydration and consequent drying of the lips. Around eight glasses a day will keep you properly hydrated and protect your lips. Consider getting a humidifier if the heating or air conditioning indoors is making the air too dry. Water in the air can also help prevent dry lips.
As important as drinking water is to keeping you hydrated, it may be even more important to "eat your water". Scientists have learned that your body absorbs water more easily if the water is contained in vegetables and fruit. Try adding plenty of vegetables with high water content to your diet ---think zucchinis, cucumbers, beans and greens of all types --- as well as high water content fruit (bananas, watermelon, melons of all types) to your diet.
5. Do Lip Balms Make a Difference to Dry Lips?
When you're suffering from dry lips the first thing you probably do is reach for the lip balm. But your dry lips persist. Do lip balms actually work?
Lip balms, no matter how good they smell, may not be the best weapon against dry lips once you're actually suffering - much better to apply a lip balm or ointment as a protective shield to prevent them from drying out in the first place. Use a thin covering of lip balm but apply it often and choose a balm containing petroleum or beeswax.
Don't forget the sun protection. 2008 research from the Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas found lip balms and glosses, particularly the shiny ones, attract the sun's rays and may increase your risk of skin cancer. Use a lip protection with at least an SPF 15 and make sure it's applied below your shiny gloss or balm before you go out.
6. Do Lips Get Drier With Age?
It's one of the irritating facts of aging, but our lips often reveal our years more than other parts of the body. Older lips are noticeable thinner, but are they drier too? Dr. Charles Zugerman at the Northwestern University Medical School says yes - lips have a thin protective outer layer of skin and as we get older, the layer gets thinner and we start to lose the protective oil and water barrier that keeps lips moist.
Lips bear the brunt of sun and wind exposure and damage and dryness becomes more noticeable as we age. The answer is to keep your lips hydrated with lip protection, wear sun screen and avoid exposing them to the elements.
Pay attention to your bottom lip - 2004 research from the L'Oreal Recherche, Clichy, France found the upper lip remains more hydrated than the lower lip as we get older.
7. Vitamin Deficiencies and Dry Lips
Vitamins are beneficial for a whole host of reasons and a deficiency in a certain vitamin can show on your lips.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B6 help provide moisture to lips and if you're deficient in these you may suffer from dry lips.
Find B vitamins in pork, liver, whole grains, cereals, nuts, bread, eggs, and milk. On the other hand, too much Vitamin A - taken in supplements, prescription medications or the diet - can lead to peeling lips, which can make them dry and irritated. Check with a pharmacist or doctor if you suspect your vitamins are causing your lips to react.
Cheilosis is a condition in which your lips become dry and scaly and you develop cuts or cracks in the corners of your mouth at the angles. Cheilosis is caused by Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency. Try eating foods rich in Vitamin B 2 or taking Brewer's yeast, which is rich in several B vitamins including B2.
8. Allergies Cause Dry Lips
Sometimes the products we pick to help us end up causing us harm. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some products we put on our lips to make them plumper, shinier and more luscious can make them dry.
Lip plumpers in particular, which use chemicals to irritate the lips and make them appear bigger such as capsaicin from chili peppers and menthol, can be a problem.
Phenol is another ingredient to watch out for if you suffer from dry lips. Phenol, though used in lower concentrations, is the same as the chemical used in facial peels to remove layers of skin. Check out your toothpaste and mouthwash.
Toothpaste can also cause dry lips. Sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste is known to cause irritation and skin dryness in some people, and mouthwashes that contain alcohol contribute to a dry mouth and dry, cracked lips. You may also have an allergy to dyes or colorings in that bright red lipstick. Try hypo-allergenic cosmetics and alcohol-free mouth rinses and see if your lips become less dry.
Although you will need to check if you also have other symptoms alongside your dry lips, dry lips could indicate iron deficiency anemia. Anemia occurs when you have less than the usual number of red blood cells in your body and the condition also causes fatigue, palpitations and shortness of breath.
10. Dry Lips and Mouth May a Sign of Diabetes
A dry mouth and dry lips can be a complication of diabetes, caused by prescription and non-prescription medications that treat high blood pressure or other heart problems - used by many patients to manage complications of diabetes, according to Diabetes Health.
Diabetics are also prone to suffering from scaling and cracking in the corners of the mouth which may affect the lips, caused by a yeast infection known as "perleche".
If you're diabetic, consult with your dentist or health care provider about the best ways to keep your mouth and lips moist while retaining the protective effects of medications.