The fix: Think beyond lip balm.
If your lips are super chapped and peeling, you may find that your regular lip balm isn’t enough, even if you reapply it liberally. The dermatologists SELF spoke with recommend upping the ante by using an ointment containing occlusive ingredients, like petrolatum and dimethicone, which completely coat and seal the skin to lock in moisture. Vaseline, or petroleum jelly, is a prime example, however, just keep in mind that while it will help trap any water that’s already in the lips, it doesn’t in itself add hydration or offer any type of reparative properties that will treat dryness, Dr. Perez points out.
You have a couple of options: You can apply petroleum jelly on top of a lip balm that contains hydrating ingredients, notes Dr. Westbay; shea butter and jojoba oil are good ones to look for, she says. Or you could take a gentle, very plain moisturizer (that’s fragrance-free and doesn’t contain “actives”), dab that onto your lips, then apply a coat of petroleum jelly over top, Dr. Perez says. Ideally, she suggests looking for a moisturizer with ceramides, ingredients that are well-known for their skin-barrier-strengthening properties.3 Her top pick: CeraVe’s Moisturizing Cream ($7, Amazon).
To make your life a little easier, you can also opt for an all-in-one product that’s both occlusive and contains hydrating ingredients. For example, CeraVe’s Healing Ointment ($20, Amazon) relies on petrolatum but also has ceramides and hyaluronic acid in the mix, Monika Kiripolsky, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, tells SELF. Dr. Westbay says Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($15, Amazon) is a nice choice, too, since it contains panthenol, a humectant that pulls water into the upper layer of the skin: “It’s a highly effective combo for optimizing water content and locking it in where it’s needed,” she explains.
The problem: lip licking
Constantly licking your lips (and by the same token, drooling in your sleep) is also a potential problem. “Not only can enzymes in saliva break down the skin, but lips constantly getting wet and then drying out further breaks down the barrier and leads to chapping,” Dr. Kiripolsky says.
It can be a vicious cycle at that; it makes sense that when your lips feel dry you may innately want to lick them to moisten them. But this is so common that the subsequent chapping and irritation is often referred to as “lip-licker’s dermatitis,” Dr. Westbay adds.
The fix: Keep your lips coated, day and (especially) night.
We know, it’s easier said than done, but Dr. Westbay suggests trying to be as aware as possible of how often you’re licking your lips. Keeping them regularly coated with lip balm can help because if they feel less dry, you may be less tempted to lick. There’s no set rule regarding how often you should swipe on lip balm; Dr. Westbay says as often as you feel is needed is fine. Just make sure you definitely apply it before bed. Not only can this counteract the dehydrating drool we mentioned above, but the amount of moisture that naturally evaporates out of the skin (known as transepidermal water loss or TEWL) is higher at night, she notes, making it prime time to load up on hydrating products—for your lips, face, and body.4
The problem: allergic or irritant contact dermatitis
In less clinical terms, a certain ingredient your lips are exposed to may be triggering an allergic reaction or simply creating irritation. “This causes inflammation that impairs the skin barrier, leading to more dryness, as well as redness in some skin tones, burning, and itching,” Dr. Westbay explains.