I’m going to talk about chapped lips in winter, the reason I’m talking about this topic is – I was shopping in Bicester Village a few weeks ago before lockdown and I had my mask on and I was walking around, and, somebody recognised me. They said, “Oh, you’re Dr. V”. First of all, I couldn’t believe they could recognised me just from my eyes, because I don’t have very distinctive eyes. But the second thing they said to me, is that they suffer really badly from chapped lips. And that the corners of their mouth is really sore. I told her the steps of what she needed to do and why it was happening. But then I realised – if she’s got this issue, then probably thousands of other people have this issue.

The main reason this is happening in winter right now is that we have very dry weather. And so, if you think of water loss as evaporation, you’re going to have more transepidermal water loss in winter when it’s dry, or in any dry environment – this can happen in summer too, but this is why it’s so prevalent in winter. We’re literally having water evaporating from our lips. The other common thing that happens is that people tend to lick their lips when they feel dry. But the problem is – by doing that, you’re actually drying your lips out much faster. You get this immediate instant relief because you feel like you’ve wet your lips and you’ve hydrated them. But what you have done is – you’ve now put amylase on your lips, which actually breaks down skin and causes almost like a secondary infection to take place in the corners. It dries your lips out much faster and it causes additional issues. So no matter what you do, you have to stop licking your lips. That’s the number one culprit of why you get into this vicious cycle so fast. And then it becomes very hard to get out of it. 

Really with dry lips, it is prevention, prevention is your absolute best bet. The other reason people are experiencing dry lips is because of vitamin A. Roacutane, for example, dries out your lips, skin and eyes, also just generally applying vitamin A to the skin tends to dry out those areas also. So, one thing I always say, for example, if you’re using our Lip-X kits, that’s the lip pigmentation kit for the skin of colour, it contains retinyl palmitate. Which is why we give you an additional lip balm to wear at nighttime. You may even want to top up with petroleum jelly – Vaseline, just because of what happens when you put vitamin A onto the lips or when it comes in contact with the lips. The classic symptoms of dry flaking lips is that they can feel sore and they can even bleed if it gets to those later stages. The important thing to know is that we don’t have sebaceous glands in our lips, compared to our skin. Our skin, will create almost like an oily layer that protects our skin from transepidermal water loss. This doesn’t happen on the lips. So we don’t have that extra barrier that blocks water from evaporating from our lips. And that is why barrier treatment is the absolutely the best thing when it comes to lips.

I’ll go through this, step-by-step. First of all, we need to prevent transepidermal water loss. Now 99% of lip balms out there have fragrance in them. My daughter Sienna, tends to get quite dry lips in the winter and tends to get dry hands especially because of the alcohol sanitisers. I’ve given her, her own skincare routine, so when she goes to school, she always has her cream for her hands, but she also takes her petroleum jelly, Vaseline, the original one with her to school. I’ve told her, “You know, when you lick your lips, you get into a vicious cycle and it’s just going to dry out faster and be more painful. You have to keep reapplying your lip balm”. And I remember telling one of my friends and she said, “You gave you a daughter a skincare routine”. I just thought, yes, like all our children need good skin care. And this is absolutely key, especially for skin of colour. We do not want our children’s skin to be inflamed because inflammation for skin of colour equals more pigmentation, which we absolutely do not want. Right from a young age, we should be educating them. My daughter knows all about melanocytes and that I think is very important. She recently said to me “Mummy, I really want to have the orange lip balm because all my friends have the orange lip balm”. I said to her “Sienna fragrance is a number one causes of contact dermatitis. And what that means is imagine you’ve got dry dehydrated skin. And on top of that, you’re putting the number one cause of an irritant on that skin. You’re going to dry the skin out further and you’re going to irritate your skin further. And you’re certainly not going to have the healing properties that you want from your lip balm… You may as well go back to licking your lips”. I literally went through it step by step. I showed her all the different types of lip balms that are out there. 99% of lip balms out there have fragrance in them, which is just such a mistake. 

The other important thing to remember is to obviously avoid dehydration – drink more water. Dehydration is going to dry your lips out. So you do want to be drinking enough water. The other thing that will help you is having a humidifier at nighttime. That will help, also for the rest of your body because don’t forget during winter, not only is it dehydrating outside, inside, we have central heating, which also evaporates water from our skin. And so when you have a central heating on, it’s a good idea to have your humidifier on too, so that you are almost trying to balance out your water loss. I think one thing that’s definitely helping is people wearing their face masks outside or at least covering with a scarf. I think this is the first year we’ve actually seen less chapped lips because of face masks. Ironically, we actually see more maskne – as you’re creating that humid environment by wearing a mask while you’re outside, you’re then breathing out the water molecules in it – that’s actually helping you – you just don’t want cold windy air whipping your lips and causing more trauma to your lips.

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