Don't Pout About Irritated Lips: Dermatologists Can Offer Top Tips to Help Keep Lips in Tip-Top Shape

Saturday, February 2, 2008 General News
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SAN ANTONIO, Feb. 1 While winter's harsh, windy weather isoften to blame for dry, cracked lips, sometimes the cause of lip irritation isharder to pinpoint. In fact, several types of foods, cosmetic products,medications or even bad habits have been linked to dry lips. The key isdetermining the source of the irritation and modifying your daily regimen toeliminate the problem.

Speaking today at the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Academy ofDermatology, dermatologist Margaret E. Parsons, MD, FAAD, assistant clinicalprofessor of dermatology at the University of California at Davis, discussedthe most common causes of lip irritation, available treatments andpreventative measures to keep lips healthy.

"When I treat a patient for dry lips, the first thing I try to determineis what this patient might be doing or not doing that could be contributing tothe problem," said Dr. Parsons. "In some cases, it might be a new lipstickthat contains an ingredient irritating to the skin or an anti-aging facialproduct that inadvertently comes in contact with the lips that could be theculprit. Or, someone might be working outdoors or participating in sports andnot protecting their lips from wind and sun damage with a lip balm, especiallyone with sunscreen. Once we determine the cause, there are some simple,tried-and-true treatments that work well for most patients."

Mother Nature

Dr. Parsons noted that not only can winter's outdoor elements contributeto dry, cracked lips, but the conditions indoors during this season can play arole in irritating the lips. Heat used to warm the indoor temperature driesout the air and lowers the humidity level, which can lead to dry skin andlips. At the other end of the weather spectrum, the intense summer sun canlead to sunburned or sun-irritated lips.

"When working outdoors or engaging in sports, men and women should apply alip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher year-round to protect their lips from sundamage," said Dr. Parsons. "By wearing lipstick -- particularly the productsin recent years with sunscreen -- women have protected their lips better thanmen, which could explain why men have significantly more skin cancers on theirlips than women."


In some cases, products that you put on your lips -- lipsticks, lip balmsor the newer lip plumpers, which are applied topically to make lips appearfuller -- can cause dry or irritated lips.

"Lip plumpers often contain chemicals used to intentionally irritate thelips and make them appear fuller, such as capsaicin (derived from chilipeppers), mint, or menthol, among others," explained Dr. Parsons. "For some,this irritation is mild, causing a slight swelling and fuller appearance. Forothers, this irritation is significant and causes painful swelling andredness."

Dr. Parsons added that the ingredient phenol used in some of thetraditional lip balms and other lip products can irritate and actuallycontribute to further drying out the lips. Even though phenol is used in lowconcentrations in lip products, it is the same chemical used indeep-penetrating facial peels that removes the top layer of skin.


Spicy foods, the acid found in citrus foods and even the cut edge of amango peel (which contains the chemical toxicodendron found in poison ivy) canburn the lips and lead to dryness and irritation. In addition, people withnut allergies could react to lip products that contain nut-based products,such as shea butter.


Although many people might not suspect their medications to be the root oftheir lip problems, Dr. Parsons explained that patients who cannot attributetheir dry or irritated lips to other common factors should take a close lookat their medicine cabinet. For example, some oral acne medications, such asisotretinoin, can cause considerable lip dryness even though the

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