The skin that covers your lips is unique. It doesn’t have sweat or oil glands and it’s the thinnest skin on your body. That makes it especially vulnerable to day-to-day aggressors, like sun, wind, heat, salty foods and cold weather. Add aging into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for extra dry and uncomfortable lips.
“Lips are delicate and undergo a lot of abuse from foods (rough, acidic, etc), the elements (windy weather, long dry winters), and aren’t protected by clothing,” explains Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a dermatologist and medical director of the Toronto Dermatology Centre. “And sometimes we cause our own troubles by picking or licking them.”
Winter often takes a toll. Heating our homes, frigid winds and a lack of humidity makes dryness worse. Lips can become cracked and painful quickly since they have the highest density of nerve endings of any spot on your body. That’s when we tend to lick our lips the most. Though it might make them feel a bit better in the moment, it’s a practice that will only exacerbate the problem, so try to resist the temptation.
Think about running a humidifier in your home and reaching instead for a moisturizing lip product, but choose carefully. Some formulations are aggravating and not soothing. “Look for simple products with few ingredients, the greasier the better,” says Dr. Barankin. “No fragrances, no cinnamon, or limp plumpers. Good ingredients include things like petrolatum, beeswax, sunflower oil (or other oils like sweet almond or coconut or grape seed), and/or butter (like shea or cocoa).”
Skip the formulations with essential oils, especially if you’re lips are already dry or cracked. They may be irritating and increase discomfort. People respond by reapplying more often and that just makes the condition of the lips worsen, which sparks the desire to apply again – starting a vicious circle.
Though you can get cold sores any time of the year, winter seems to cause them to pop up more frequently. To avoid outbreaks, Dr. Barankin suggests apply sunscreen and trying to keep stress to a minimum.
If you do get a cold sore, you’ll know it first because you may feel tingling, tightness or itching at the site. This is followed by the appearance of small painful blisters that multiply and grow. Those bumps fill with fluid and the surrounding skin becomes red and painful. Around day four, the blisters burst, leaving a shallow ulcer (open sore).
You can blame the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), but you’re not alone. An estimated 67 percent of the world’s population under the age of 50 has the virus. It’s very contagious and it never leaves your body once you’ve been infected. It can be dormant for many years or be triggered by various things, such as stress, fatigue, cold weather, excessive sunlight, hormonal changes, a weakened immune system or dental trauma.
Your best strategy is to attack the cold sore in its earliest stages when you feel the tingle start. Try applying a product like Abreva, the only approved non-prescription cold sore medicine. Formulated with the active ingredient docosanol, the cream can shorten the duration of a cold sore from about 10 days down to about four, and start the healing process quicker.
When applying it, you’ll want to make sure lips are clean and that you wash your hands afterward. Cold sores are contagious so you’ll have to refrain from smooching until they are gone. But take heart, if you address them right away, you’ll be able to pucker up again soon.