You might be tempted to lick your lips as a quick fix—that’s moisture, right?—but resist the urge. Your spit dries quickly, which can leave your lips drier than before. That can make chapped lips even worse.
If your lips are prone to chapping, you need the right tools to deal with it. First, that means prep work. You don’t want to slather on any kind of lip balm or ointment right on top of the flaky skin, since that can block the product from absorbing in, says Dr. Idriss (Here are the best lip balms for men).
That’s why you need to exfoliate your lips first. Your lips are very delicate, so you don’t want to use a rough exfoliant like you would with thicker skin, she says. Try a lip exfoliating ointment with natural fruit acids instead, says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills and Clinical Instructor at the University of Southern California.
Then, you’re ready to bring on the balm. Look for lip products with natural ingredients like cocoa butter (say, Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Lip Balm), shea butter, argan oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil, which will help moisturize the dry skin on your lips, says Dr. Shainhouse. You can also reduce the pain and flakiness by putting Vaseline on around once an hour, says Dr. Idriss.
If your chapped lips are really bad, you can get an over-the-counter steroid cream like hydrocortisone. But keep this to a minimum, because it could thin your lips, leaving them vulnerable to fungal infections, says Dr. Idriss. Another option is to ask a dermatologist for a prescription cream if the pain gets unbearable, says Shainhouse.
You should also be wearing sunscreen on your lips, even during winter. “Lips have thin skin and very little melanin, so they have minimal innate protection from aging and damaging UV rays,” Dr. Shainhouse explains (Here are 6 ‘facts’ about skin cancer that are just plain wrong).