Anyone spending time hiking, cycling or skiing, has experienced chapped lips. The condition of dry, chapped lips often starts as a minor annoyance, but can lead to painful and unsightly cracking and bleeding, as well as a more severe condition called angular cheilitis (also called perleche), a fungus that causes painful splitting at the corners of the mouth.
Chapped lips are caused by a lack of moisture when the layer of oil that is naturally produced by the body to coat the lips dries up. Exposure to cold and dry air, intense exposure to the sun, and indoor heating are all major culprits to dry and swollen lips.
The lips are more vulnerable to drying out because the skin there is thin (it contains up to five cellular layers, whereas facial skin contains up to 16 layers). Also, because the skin on the lips does not contain sebaceous glands, sweat glands, or hair follicles, it does not have the usual protection of hair, sweat and body oil to keep the skin protected.
Preventing Chapped Lips
If your lips are dry, your skin probably is too. In fact, your body is probably thirsting for water. The best bet for preventing chapped lips is to keep your body hydrated by drinking lots of water. Remember that your requirement for water is much greater when you are active and consuming the typical backpacker’s diet that includes mostly dried foods – especially if you are frequently munching throughout the day on dried fruit, trail mix and energy bars. So, water is the first defense. The next defense is lubrication from plant oils. The oils can come from food (nuts & seeds) or can be applied topically (lip balm). A balance of oil and water work together to keep the skin cells hydrated. The oil acts as a shield, preventing evaporation of the moisture (water) present in the outer layer of the skin cells.
If you continue to suffer from dry lips, try adopting these simple tips –
Treating chapped lips – naturally
What can you do when you are backpacking and have no access to such luxuries as shea butter, jojoba oil, beeswax, or camphor?
- Here’s a simple remedy for making your own lip balm: Rub your finger on naturally oily parts of your body, such as your forehead, around your nose, and behind your ears. Then spread this oil onto your lips. All you need is a little bit of oil coating to make a significant improvement. Continue to apply as needed. This will work even better if you have not showered in a few days!
- No oil on your skin? Use ear wax. Ear wax is made up of a mixture of dead skin cells, waxy oils, and other substances called cerumen. Cerumen contains lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme.
- Take your shirt between your lips and hold there. Now inhale through your nose and exhale deep breaths from your mouth, so that you are expelling hot air between your shirt and both upper and lower lips. The warm, humid air exhaled from your mouth will help soften and moisturize your lips. Continue this for 30 seconds or so. This looks a little strange, but it works!
- Don’t want to smear your own bodily oils on your lips? Any type of vegetable or nut oil will also work. Olive oil, Coconut Oil, and Safflower Oil (or Vitamin E oil) are all excellent to moisturize the skin.
- It can be tempting to lick or bite your lips when they are torn and split, but this will make the chapping worse. Saliva evaporates fast, making the lips drier. Avoid sipping on spicy soups or citrus fruits, unless you take pleasure in pain.
- Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and we highly recommend you consider carrying it in your first aid kit. When applied topically, it is an effective treatment for preventing bleeding lips from becoming infected, acne, mouth ulcers, angular chelitis, yeast infections, athlete’s foot, scabies, lice, skin cuts, insect bites & stings, burns, and blisters. With so many uses, it is no wonder tea tree oil is referred as a “medicine cabinet in a bottle.” See tips on how to use tea tree oil.
Using a commercial lip balm?
Make sure you review the ingredient label. Don’t forget that your skin has absorptive qualities and the ointment is likely to make its way inside of your mouth and swallowed. For this reason, we do not recommend using petroleum-based products on your lips. If you can’t eat it, why smear your lips with it? Petroleum has lubricating qualities, but not moisturizing qualities. Sure, the oily residue from Vaseline or Chapstick may feel like it is providing a protective film on your lips, but it dries out your lips further; it also requires you to apply it more often, use sit up faster, and buy more of it. Instead of petroleum based-lip balm, look for one that contains natural moisturizers such as camphor or beeswax. Also, make sure it contains sunscreen; zinc oxide is excellent because it protects against UVA and UVB rays.
Good health is our greatest wealth
Finally, giving your body the proper nutrients it needs is essential to keeping your body functioning at optimal potential. Stay healthy by avoiding foods that impair your health. The SAD (Standard American Diet) diet is a disaster. It is the leading cause of so many ailments and disease. Fortunately, we can prevent and heal many of these diseases by eating organic, whole foods. The best defense against dry, chapped skin and lips is to consume a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds, in addition to drinking plenty of water to keep the skin hydrated. You should also focus on eating foods high in essential fatty acids. Alpha-Linoleic acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid needed to keep the skin lubricated. Good plant-based sources of ALA include walnuts, sunflower seed, hemp seed, chia seed, flax seed, and soy.