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Overcoming Chapped Lips and Dry Skin in the Winter

Are you suffering from chapped lips and dry skin? They often go together. If your hands feel like sandpaper and you're licking your lips, we have remedies.

Are you licking your lips? That is the first sign they are becoming dry and chapped. Lip licking is the worst thing you can do to your lips. It may temporarily make them feel better but licking just dries them out faster. How can you avoid licking your lips, though, when they feel dry and uncomfortable? If your lips are chapped the chances are good that your skin is in bad shape too. When the weather gets really cold and humidity drops, our skin dries out fast. With colds and flu circulating, you are are probably following instructions to wash your hands frequently. That can wreak havoc on already red cracked knuckles. What can you do for chapped lips and dry skin this winter?

Avoiding Chapped Lips:

How can you stifle the urge to lick dry lips? A long time ago a reader shared his secret with us. We grant you it sounds like a tongue-in-cheek story to us, but it captures the concept:

“I was visiting my uncle’s ranch one day when I saw a ranch hand squat down, drag his finger through fresh chicken manure, and smear it on his lips. I said, ‘Unk, that’s not good for chapped lips, is it?’ ‘In a way,’ my uncle said. ‘It’ll keep you from licking ’em.’”

Do not try this trick at home! Instead, coat your lips with something that might discourage lip licking. For some, that might be a Vaseline product such as Vaseline Lip Therapy.

Many of our readers will cringe at this recommendation. Some will say that it is a petroleum-based product (petrolatum) and they do not want to swallow anything made from petroleum. Exactly! You might be less inclined to lick your lips if every time you start to do that you think “byproduct of crude oil.”

If that isn’t enough deterrent, you might want to try a beeswax-based lip balm. It’s thick enough to moisturize and may also discourage lip licking. Other natural ingredients include coconut oil, jojoba seed oil, cocoa seed butter and castor seed oil. They can all seal in moisture and that in itself may help lips feel better and reduce the tendency to lick your lips.

Ingredients to Avoid in Lip Balms:

Many commercial lip balms contain sunscreen ingredients. You may not recognize the names, but here are several to be aware of: oxybenzone, avobenzone, benzophenone-3, octocrylene, Parsol SLX, octisalate.

The reason we are cautious about sunscreen on the lips in the winter is that some people are sensitive to the chemicals in sunscreens. They may trigger an allergic-type reaction for susceptible individuals (Contact Dermatitis, Feb. 2014; Dermatitis, Dec. 2007; Dermatitis, July-Aug. 2015; Contact Dermatitis, July, 2006).

Unless you are planning to go on a ski adventure or spend lots of time in the sun, we can think of no good reason to use a lip balm with sunscreen in the winter.  If your lips become irritated because of an ingredient in your lip balm you may not realize that the lip balm is contributing to your discomfort.

Could Your Toothpaste Contribute to the Problem?

Most people would never associate an ingredient in their toothpaste with lip irritation. But an article in the journal Acta Stomatologica Croatica (June, 2016) described a person who reacted to the ingredient SLS (sodium laurel sulfate):

“This paper reports on the results of a case study of a 19-year-old female who presented to the Oral Medicine clinic with a chief complaint of scaly and peeling lips. The lesions had persisted on her lips for more than 7 years and were refractory to previous treatment. Her physician’s diagnosis was contact dermatitis. We diagnosed this patient as having exfoliative cheilitis (EC). A patch test using the toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) was positive and the patient discontinued using it. Instead, she started using a toothpaste not containing SLS.”

After changing toothpaste the patient’s cheilitis (irritated lips) gradually improved.

Natural Lip Balms with NO Sunscreens:

Several years ago we consulted one of the country’s leading natural product chemists. We specified that we wanted to develop an all natural lip balm without sunscreen or peppermint oil. He helped us develop a line of products that many people have found helpful.

Susan in North Carolina says, “Great Lip Balm”

“I am one of those people who has been addicted to lip balm for many, many years. About 5 years ago I developed allergic reactions to any lip balm, even the ‘all natural’ ones and I have tried many! I have been using the People’s Pharmacy Pomegranate lip balm for at least 3 years now without any allergic reactions on my lips. It’s been such a relief to have found a lip balm that I can safely use. Thank you!!!”

Sharon in Buffalo:

“Have tried many others…this one is so much better!..light, not waxy. The flavor is pleasant.”

Anne in New York:

“Love that I do not have to keep reapplying. Have used ChapStick forever (I am 72) here and in England. Your lip balm is the best. Love the taste and have one in every pocket so I am never without. Would definitely recommend.”

Our natural pomegranate flavor has no sun protection chemicals or peppermint oil. You may find that it relieves your discomfort without causing an allergic reaction. Here is a link to The People’s Pharmacy Pomegranate Natural Lip Care. With Chuck’s help we also created The People’s Pharmacy BERRY Natural Lip Care and Chocolate Mint Natural Lip Care. (A word of caution about the chocolate mint lip flavor. It does contain peppermint oil, since that was the only way to create a chocolate mint flavor.)

Dry Skin Solutions:

Chapped lips and dry skin often go together. If you are washing your hands multiple times a day to avoid a cold or the flu the chances are good your hands are red, cracked and uncomfortable. That’s because soap (liquid or otherwise) will strip away the natural oils in the skin. Given that the cold air has low humidity, the problem will only get worse.

One reader summed it up this way:

“I have stopped washing my hands except when I go to the bathroom, but that hasn’t helped much. The lotions and creams that I’ve tried now cause a rash. I’m at my wit’s end. Winters in the Midwest are long and cold enough as it is without having to deal with winter skin too. Please suggest some remedies that will work.”

Remedies for Cracked, Split Fingertips:

Many visitors to this website have offered suggestions to overcome the painful splits that often affect dry skin, especially at the tips of the fingers. Some recommend new-skin Liquid Bandage:

“I get split skin on my fingertips, too, and as suggested by one of the readers, I use liquid bandage. It works.

“I also coat my hands with castor oil some nights before I go to sleep and then put the hands into socks to keep the oil from getting on the bedding. This is supposed to help with osteoarthritis pain, but it could also be helping to reduce the likelihood of split fingertips.”

We too have used Liquid Bandage, but the solvent smell is a bit overpowering for us and it takes awhile to dry. Cindi, a frequent visitor to this site, recommended Locktite brand Super Glue. We tried it and found that it seals fingertip cracks quickly and takes away the pain. Resist the urge to peel the dry glue off, though, as that will only makes things worse.

Urea in Moisturizers:

We frequently recommend moisturizers that contain urea. That’s because research has shown that urea can be an excellent skin moisturizer (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, Nov., 2013). Here is a YouTube video we created to explain benefits of urea.

This compound strengthens the barrier function of the skin (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June, 2012). This natural product can soothe dry skin and make it feel much better. A recent study found that a cream with a much lower amount of urea (5%) prevented the return of eczema far better than a urea-free cream (Acta Dermato-Venereologica, online Jan. 16, 2015).

Udderly Smooth Extra Care 20 Cream is not greasy like the creams that dermatologists frequently recommend, such as plain petroleum jelly, Aquaphor or Eucerin. You can find it at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid as well as many local pharmacies or you can buy it from us. The large size contains 8 ounces. (Full disclosure: Redex Industries, the maker of Udderly Smooth Creams, underwrites our syndicated radio show.)

Chapped Lips and Dry Skin?

We have put together a winter skin survival kit to combat chapped lips and dry skin. It contains our lip balms and Redex Udderly Smooth Creams with urea. Take advantage of substantial savings (The Winter Skin Survival Kit saves you $6.22). It contains all three of our lip balms plus a handy two-ounce tube of Udderly Smooth Extra Care 20 cream and a large economy-sized tub for home use. Here is a link.

A few visitors to our website say:

Mary in Tonawanda, New York really like these products:

“I absolutely love the hand cream. Great for dry hands and I love the taste if the lip balm! Please don’t change it!”

Sue in Houston Texas give us 5 stars:

“I have extremely dry skin and have tried most of the other products available. Most do work for a short time but the effects do not last long. Udderly Smooth works better and lasts longer than anything else I have tried. The cost is reasonable compared to many of the other products available. I have not found it in my area but the availability on this site is dependable and quickly shipped.”

If you are dealing with chapped lips and dry skin, give our Winter Skin Survival Kit a chance and save $6.22.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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