woman with smooth lips touching face

Dry Lips: Causes And Hydrating Lip Care Routine

Do you have dry, itchy and cracked lips? Your lips are more prone to dryness than the rest of your body and are particularly vulnerable during cold winter months. Read on for our how-to guide to what causes dry lips and what steps you can take to fix them.

Why Are My Lips Dry?

The number one reason that your lips feel especially dry comes down to anatomy. As a non-glandular mucous membrane, your lips do not have the ability to generate their own moisture. They do not contain the same concentration of oil-producing sebaceous glands as the rest of the body and are therefore less lubricated and more susceptible to dryness and peeling. Your lips also have a thin protective layer, leaving them exposed to drying environmental stressors and preventing them from locking in additional moisture. In fact, Tsippora Shainhouse MD tells Reader’s Digest: “Water loss through the lips is 3 to 10 times greater than through the skin on the face or other skin on the body.”

cross section of a regular skin cell versus a lip skin cell

Signs Of Dry Lips

While healthy, hydrated lips have a moist and pink appearance, chapped lips can take on quite uncomfortable characteristics. Here are a few signs that you’re dealing with dry lips:

1. Tightness

When your lips lose moisture and hydration, they have a tendency to shrivel and tighten. Dermatologist Bruce Bart likens our lips to a sponge, telling SHAPE: “When exposed to moisture, they absorb water and plump up. When dehydrated, they dry out and shrink.” The result: that too-tight feeling that often accompanies chapped lips.

2. Peeling, Flaking and Cracks

Like dry skin, lips are prone to peeling and flaking. Your skin relies on oil to hold in moisture and, without it, can appear rough, flaky and scaly. Because your lips do not contain sebaceous glands, they are ill-equipped to provide sufficient moisture. As a result, they are more prone to peeling and flaking. In severe cases, dry lips can split, leaving open and painful cracks. This is often the result of exposure to extremes in heat, cold or wind.

dry chapped lips

3. Swelling

The skin on your lips is extremely sensitive and has a weaker moisture barrier than the rest of the body. As a result, environmental irritants can more easily slip through the surface, triggering an inflammatory response. This can cause lips to become swollen, red and itchy.

4. Fine Lines

To top things off, the visible signs of aging tend to be more pronounced on dry lips. When your skin is hydrated and moisturized, its texture appears smoother. When dry or dehydrated, textural differences - like those vertical fine lines and wrinkles around your mouth - look exaggerated.

Causes Of Dry Lips

In addition to the anatomical differences that contribute to dryness, environmental and lifestyle factors can play a role in the development of dry lips. These are the most common culprits:

1. Dry Air

As cold winter air moves in, you may find that your lips dry out faster than the rest of your skin. Dry air causes essential moisture to evaporate from your lips, making them dry and dehydrated. And without a fortified moisture barrier, your lips are more exposed to drying environmental elements, like icy temperatures and blustery winds. Protect your lips by following these simple tips:

  • Cover your mouth with a scarf on cold, dry days
  • Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration (essential for optimal skin health)
  • Use a humidifier at home to keep the air moist
  • Follow a daily lip care routine to keep your lips strong and healthy (more on this below)

2. Sun Damage

Unlike the rest of your body, the skin on your lips lacks melanin, a protective pigment that absorbs UV rays and diverts them from healthy cells. This makes your lips more susceptible to sunburn, which is amplified by their vulnerability to the elements. In addition to causing discomfort (sunburned lips are not pleasant), long-term exposure can cause your lips to become stiff and dry, eventually leading to cracking and splitting. Years in the sun also contribute to premature aging in the form of vertical lines and wrinkles around the mouth. The bottom line: You should protect your lips the same way you protect your body, by avoiding excessive sun exposure and protecting your skin with SPF.

3. Chapstick

Wondering why your chapstick isn’t quite cutting it? You may want to review your favorite lip balm’s ingredients. Studies show that petroleum, a common chapstick ingredient, doesn’t provide lips with additional hydration or nourishment; rather, it creates a seal that prevents existing moisture from escaping. The problem: Additional moisture can’t get in. Eminence Organics Product Support Representative Alicia Hawthorne says: “Using chapsticks with ingredients that don’t let moisture in essentially prevents your lips from absorbing moisture, resulting in dryness.” While your regular chapstick will provide temporary relief, it won’t provide long-term hydration.

Using chapsticks with ingredients that don’t let moisture in essentially prevents your lips from absorbing moisture, resulting in dryness.

4. Saliva

Licking your lips may seem like an obvious solution: You're giving them extra moisture, right? Wrong. A surprising culprit of dry lips is your own saliva. Saliva contains enzymes that break down the thin layer of skin covering your lips, exacerbating the damage caused by environmental stressors. It also evaporates quickly, so licking your lips will actually dry them out more. Try to break the habit by keeping your lips sufficiently moisturized and protected from the elements.

5. Your Toothpaste

A surprising cause of dryness could be hiding in your toothpaste. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent that is included in many personal care items for its ability to create a lather when it comes into contact with water. Studies show that this ingredient can cause skin irritation including dryness and redness. When it comes to your delicate lip area, it can strip your skin of much-needed moisture. Check your labels for this hidden ingredient, and opt instead of a gentle, SLS-free alternative.

Hydrating Lip Care Routine

In addition to helping your lips by adjusting daily habits, you can amp up hydration with a proper lip care routine. Follow these simple steps to eliminate dryness and infuse your lips with moisture.

Eminence Organics Citrus Enzyme Lip Exfoliator

1. Exfoliate

The first step in treating dryness is to exfoliate your lips. Regular exfoliation encourages proper skin cell turnover by removing dead surface cells and allowing for better absorption of moisturizing ingredients. The Citrus Enzyme Lip Exfoliator in Eminence Organics Lip Trio Kit uses citrus enzymes and walnut shell powder to dissolve the bonds holding dead skin together and slough dead skin from your lips’ surface.

Eminence Organics Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar gives this application tip: “Just like any type of exfoliation treatment that has a little bit of granule in it, you want to do little circular motions. I also recommend that you don’t have to only apply to the pink of the lip; also think about the outside of the lip where we tend to see fine lines pop up.”

Eminence Organics Lip Comfort Plumping Masque

2. Plump

Another tip from Natalie: Apply a lip mask 2-3 times a week to deeply replenish moisture and encourage collagen production. Also included in the Lip Trio Kit is Eminence Organics Lip Comfort Plumping Masque. This rich lip mask includes shea butter and avocado oil to moisturize skin, as well as botanical peptides derived from hibiscus to diminish the look of fine lines and deliver a plumping effect.

Following exfoliation, apply a layer of the lip mask and leave on for five minutes before removing with a damp sponge. Alternatively, leave it on as an overnight treatment to fix dry lips while you sleep!

Eminence Organics Citrus Lip Balm

3. Moisturize

Next up: Moisturize lips with rich natural emollients. Our petroleum-free Citrus Lip Balm is infused with vitamin-rich sunflower seed oil and shea butter to deeply moisturize dry lips. It also includes natural salicylic acid to prevent the buildup of dead skin throughout the day, helping your lips stay smooth for longer. Eminence Organics fan Vicki M. says in her five-star review: 

Trust me, I’ve tried every lip balm out there! This is like no other. My lips have never been so moist and supple, EVER! There is not one sign of dryness.

Find it in the Lip Trio Kit or purchase it separately from your favorite Eminence Organics partner spa.

Eminence Organics Hibiscus Instant Line Filler

4. Treat

One side effect of dry lips is more pronounced fine lines and wrinkles, particularly around your lip line. If vertical lines are creeping up from your lips, try adding a wrinkle-busting treatment to your lip care routine. Natalie recommends targeting vertical lines with Eminence Organics Hibiscus Instant Line Filler. This Advanced Instant Lift fX treatment combines hibiscus, an ice wine active and botanical peptides to smooth, firm and tighten skin in minutes. Simply massage it around your lip line area after applying your lip balm.

Eminence Organics Rosehip & Lemongrass Lip Balm SPF 15

5. Protect

One of the greatest culprits of dry lips is sun exposure. If you’re planning a day outdoors, be sure to use a lip balm that provides SPF protection. Eminence Organics Rosehip & Lemongrass Lip Balm SPF 15 uses natural zinc oxide to protect your lips from harmful UV rays, as well as rosehip oil and organic extra virgin olive oil to provide long-term hydration. Apply it as the last step before your favorite lipstick shade to keep lips smooth and protected. 

Do you have any tips to share for dry lips? We’d love to hear them! Tell us in the comments below and join the conversation on social media.