What Causes Chapped Lips?

By Howard J. Bennett

Every season has its ups and downs. As far as winter goes, the biggest ups include time off from school, hot chocolate and snow. The biggest downs include freezing rain, the flu, and chapped lips.

If you’ve ever sat in bed picking at a piece of skin that was dangling from your upper lip, you know why chapped lips made the list. In addition to enduring the physical pain that comes from having chapped lips, you also have to endure the “mental pain” that comes from certain adults nagging you to LEAVE YOUR LIPS ALONE!

If it were only that easy! Chapped lips beg to be licked and picked at, even though doing so clearly makes them worse. Chapped lips are the body’s version of a Wet Paint sign. Whenever you see one, you instantly want to touch the paint to find out if it’s really wet.

Although it looks simple, skin is actually a complex structure. The top layer of skin, the epidermis, has two basic jobs. It keeps moisture in and germs out.

The outer layer of epidermis, the stratum corneum, is the part that does most of the work keeping your skin from becoming dry. It contains fat-based chemicals that act as a barrier, trapping moisture within your skin.

There are a couple of reasons why lips become chapped. First, skin on your face is thinner than skin on other parts of your body. As a result, your lips are more likely to become dry when they are assaulted by cold air, dry air, sunlight and wind. Second, your lips have the unfortunate attribute of being near your tongue. No one would lick their forearm because it felt dry, but the tongue can have a mind of its own and might take a big swipe at your lips before you think about it. After you lick your lips, the saliva evaporates making them drier than they were to begin with.

The third reason lips become chapped is that, like the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, they don’t have the oil-producing glands that are found over the rest of the body. As a result, lips produce fewer oils to help keep them moist.

Here are some tips to prevent and treat chapped lips.

• Don’t lick them. Instead, coat them frequently with lip balm.

• Avoid citrus and salty foods that can sting.

• Don’t pick them. If you tend to pick without thinking, put cotton socks or gloves on your hands to stop yourself.

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 10/20/10.)

For more KidsPost articles and lots of other cool stuff,
please visit Dr. B’s website at  www.howardjbennett.com.