How to Get Rid of Dry, Chapped & Discolored Lips

Help for 3 Common Lip Problems

Woman putting on lip balm.
Use lip balm with SPF to soften as well as protect your lips. Photo: Peter Griffith/Photographer's Choice RF

The skin on our bodies has a protective barrier that protects our skin cells against environmental damage and the skin from moisture loss. But the skin on our lips is thin and doesn't have as strong a barrier to hold in moisture, prevent moisture loss or to keep lips smooth and healthy-looking.

Lip Structure

The lips are made up of the upper lip (labium superoris), lower lip (labium inferioris), vermilion border (the reddish colored border between the lips and the surrounding skin), philtrum (vertical groove on the upper lip that forms what is known as the Cupid’s bow and ergotrid (the skin between the upper lip and nose).

Lip Facts

  • The skin of the lip is three to five cellular layers thick compared to facial skin, which has up to 15 to 16 layers. 
  • Lip skin also has fewer melanocytes (melanin producing pigment cells).
  • Since the blood vessels can be seen through this translucent skin, the lips appear a pink to reddish pink color. 
  • Those with darker skin, the lips can have more melanin and appear darker.
  • Unlike the other skin on the human body, the lips have no sebaceous glands, sweat glands or hair.  Because of this lips have less protection from germs and the environment. They can dry out faster and easily become chapped.

Common Lip Problems

1. Dry and Chapped Lips

Reasons for Dry Lips

  • Allergic reactions to cosmetic ingredients
  • Poor nutrition (vitamin deficiencies, deficiency in fatty acids, etc.)
  • Matte lipsticks – if you tend to wear matte lipsticks a lot, this kind of lipstick can be drying. Try alternating between matte lipsticks with semi-matte, cream or moisturizing lipsticks.
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Breathing through the mouth (from stuffed noses from colds, flu and allergies)

To Prevent Dry and Chapped Lips

Keep lips moisturized with lip balms and other products with moisturizing ingredients. Make sure to use a lip product with sunscreen.

To help lip treatments work, regularly exfoliate your lips.

Best way to remember? When you brush your teeth, gently brush your lips with your toothbrush to remove dead skin cells.

2. Cold Sores

A virus (herpes simplex 1) causes cold sores (also called fever blisters) to appear. Once you contract this virus, it remains in the body, often in a dormant state until activated by specific stimuli. 

What can cause cold sores to form?

  • Stress
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Sunburn
  • Illness/fever
  • Trauma/surgery
  • Dry lips
  • Cross infection from kissing, using infected lip balm, etc.
  • Cosmetic treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, lasers, ingredients like Retin A, etc.
  • Extreme temperatures

What to do when you get a cold sore:

If avoiding the above causes does not help, take an antiviral medication at the first signs of symptoms and discomfort.  

Do-it-yourself: Aloe vera is antibacterial and anti-fungal. Apply gel taken directly from an aloe vera plant to the cold sore at onset.

3. Darkened Lips

There can be a number of reasons why lips get darker. If it’s not genetics, it can also be due to:

  • Sun exposure - just like body skin, lip skin can develop hyperpigmentation from too much sun.
  • Smoking
  • Caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate the skin.
  • Dehydrated lips
  • Licking the lips - licking the lips can strip the lips of moisture due to evaporation. In addition, the enzymes in saliva, also contribute to dryness and discoloration.
  • Certain medical issues, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies.
  • Certain drugs and medications.

See a doctor to rule out the darkening of lips being caused by health issues.

Do-It-Yourself Lip lightener

  • Try a mixture of lemon juice and honey to lips to lighten dark pigment. Citric acid is a skin sensitizer so remember to apply SPF to lips to protect against sun exposure.