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Here's How To Actually Heal Your Dry, Chapped Lips

Prepare to become extremely aware of how dry your lips are in 3, 2, 1 ...

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Unless you're an alien, the winter weather is probably causing your lips to get extra chapped and dry. So BuzzFeed Health spoke to Dr. Diane Madfes of New York City and Dr. Joel Cohen in the Denver metropolitan area, both board-certified dermatologists and members of the American Academy of Dermatology, to find out how to care for them.

1. Your lips get chapped AF because the skin is literally breaking from lack of moisture.

"Chapped lips or cheilitis is due to a loss of hydration from the natural oils and lipids in the outermost layer of the lip, which causes it to dry out and crack," says Madfes. Your lips are more sensitive than the rest of your skin, plus they put up with a lot of wear and tear through eating, drinking, breathing, talking, kissing, etc. It's normal for lips to get chapped, but bad cracks and inflammation can lead to infections, buildup of fungus, and painful sores — so it's good to take preventive steps for healthy lips!

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2. And yes, winter is the worst time ever for anyone with lips.

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Wind, snow, and the lack of humidity in dry air can all mess with your skin's barrier and suck out the moisture from this super-sensitive skin, says Madfes. Plus all that dry heat inside your home can dry them out, says Cohen. You can combat this by using a humidifier and applying lip moisturizer before bedtime, but overall just get ready to struggle with chapped lips all winter long.

3. But chapped lips can also be caused by dehydration, excessive lip-licking, or allergies to common beauty products.

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Dehydration can pull moisture from the lips, so it's important to drink a LOT of water if you feel your lips cracking. And even though it will be tempting, try to avoid licking your lips at all costs, because you lose more moisture when the saliva evaporates, says Madfes. "There's also a chemical irritation from your saliva which dries out the lips," says Cohen. This only makes them more itchy, so you compulsively keep licking them — and chronic lip-licking is a hard habit to break, says Madfes.

Other things that cause dry lips are high-pigment matte lipstick and face cleansers or creams with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide that get applied around the mouth, says Cohen. Some medications can also cause dry mouth or chapping as a side effect.

4. The best way to treat your lips is with these super-plain, boring, scent-free moisturizers.

An emollient is a moisturizer designed to soften the lips and add moisture. "I recommend emollients with fatty and linoleic acids, such as shea butter olive oil, emu oil, or coconut oil which absorb very well," says Madfes. Another option is using Vaseline or Aquaphor. These have large molecules and a silicone base, Madfes says, so they don't absorb as well, but they create a great barrier. Reapply every every 2 to 4 hours until your lips are healed.

5. And stay away from lip products with flavors, fragrance, or colors until your chapped lips have healed.

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They smell amazing, but they can irritate chapped, flaking lips. "You can go back to fragrance and pigment later, but if your lips are chapped they've lost the protective barrier, and your lips develop a sensitivity to things like cinnamates which give it a sweet flavor," says Madfes. That allergy can make your lips dry and itchy, so it's counterintuitive to keep applying it. And of course if any product ever starts to irritate your lips, stop using it.

6. Whatever you do, don't pick the skin flakes off your lips!

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"Picking the skin off your lips means you are forcibly removing skin cells that aren't ready to fall off," says Madfes. So you're really just causing a small wound, bleeding, and swelling, which makes it more difficult for your chapped lips to heal. "You are really losing that top protective barrier, so your lips are very vulnerable," says Madfes.

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7. Try gently exfoliating your lips with a homemade scrub instead.

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If the skin is already dead and flaking off, Madfes suggests removing it by gently exfoliating your lips with a clean washcloth and homemade scrub. "You can add salt or sugar to warm water, coconut oil, or honey — my favorite exfoliant ingredients are all natural things from the kitchen," says Madfes. The most important thing is that you move in very gentle, circular motions and follow up with proper moisturizing.

8. Your everyday lip balm should be a combination of emollients (moisturizers) and protectants (waxes).

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This combo provides the perfect barrier and moisturizing effect for continuous use. Wax is a great protectant, Madfes says, but it doesn't do much to moisturize your lips — so the main ingredient should be an emollient that actually helps return moisture to your lips. "Antioxidants such as vitamin E are also helpful to decrease inflammation and sensitivity so chapped lips heal faster," says Madfes. And it's always smart to alternate with simple petroleum jelly products like Vaseline.

9. And always use an SPF sunscreen when you're in the sun.

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"People always forget that their lips are vulnerable to sun damage and skin cancer," says Madfes. One of the most common symptoms is a dry, flaky patch on the lower lip that fails to go away — many people mistake this for a tricky chapped spot before going to the doctor. "Make sure to use sun protection on your lips, such as lip balm containing zinc, especially in the summer," says Cohen. There are also a variety of ChapSticks with SPF for regular use.

10. Even though some people swear by waxy, menthol lip balms, they're not the best treatment for dry, chapped lips.

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The wax creates a good barrier for the elements, and the combination of beeswax and menthol can cover up the burning or pain from the skin being chapped. This is great for the short term, but it won't help chapped lips heal. So if you're super dry, you'll just end up covering the problem and reapplying over and over. "It might feel like magic because the menthol gives instant relief, but you need an emollient to heal your lips," says Cohen.

11. Just because a lip balm says it's "medicated," that doesn't mean it's actually healing your lips.

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Basically, the "medicated" label is all marketing — there is no one ingredient or group of ingredients that makes a balm medicated. It could be menthol, vitamins, antibiotics, or a numbing agent, says Madfes. "Many will contain 1% hydrocortisone, a steroid for redness and inflammation — but topical steroids shouldn't be used all the time, only for temporary treatment," says Cohen.

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12. You can become "addicted" to certain lip balms.

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This is usually the case with wax-based and menthol lip balms or ones with fragrances or active ingredients that are more likely to cause irritation. Over time, regular use can make your lips too sensitive and dry to form their own natural barrier, says Madfes, so you become "addicted" to your lip balm because it provides temporary relief. But as you continue to reapply, you continue to irritate your lips and cause sensitivity — it's a hard cycle to break. It's also possible to become addicted to medicated balms, since some active ingredients can actually make your lips more sensitive and prone to cracking.

Likewise, many people can have a mild allergy to an ingredient in their lip balm and mistake an allergic reaction of dryness and itchiness for the normal symptoms of chapped lips. So they reapply constantly, which creates a bad cycle of irritated lips.

13. So if your lips are chapped beyond return, try to find a good emollient-based lip balm and drink a LOT of water.

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"Internal hydration is so important for your lips," says Madfes. And lay off dehydrating stuff like coffee, soda, and salty foods.

14. And keep in mind that what works for your lips might change over time.

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Everyone is different — but it's important to recognize which products work well on your lips and which ones don't. You can actually develop an allergy to one product or become sensitive to an ingredient you didn't react to before, says Madfes. Just in case, always have a simple, hypoallergenic staple lip balm on hand — like petroleum jelly or Aquaphor, says Cohen.

15. And if your chapped lips feel like they're never healing, you might want to see a dermatologist.

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If your dryness isn't responding to emollients or oils and you still have painful dryness and cracking after about a week, you might want to see a dermatologist. "The doctor can determine whether you have any allergies and an underlying medical condition which is causing the dry lips," says Madfes. They can also help recommend the best lip balm for you and your skin type.

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