(Photo is of my lips today without any products except a thin layer of Aquaphor for hydration)
The skin of our lips is very similar to skin elsewhere on our face but there are a few key differences. The stratum corneum, that layer that protects and acts as a barrier sealing in hydration and keeping bad things out, is much thinner on our lips than on the skin of our face. The skin of our lips lacks oil glands and therefore is unable to generate the sebum oil production to naturally moisturize them (this is why they become more easily dry or cracked compared to skin elsewhere). Lips obviously have no hair follicles (you know this but maybe hadn’t thought it through completely) and they are also sparse in melanin, that important pigment that we discussed earlier that is activated as a protective response to sun exposure. So all of these characteristics make our lips extremely vulnerable to the elements. As the skin of the lips becomes damaged, we see dryness, cracks, breakdown of collagen leading to fine lines within and around the lips, and dullness. I see many skin cancers on the lips, often on the lower lip which projects out a bit more and therefore bears the brunt of sun exposure, but also many on the upper lip and the skin immediately surrounding the lips.
Why are our lips red? The blood vessels that nourish and supply the skin of our lips lie close to the surface of our lip skin, imparting that nice rich red lip color. You may notice that in colder environments, our lips tend to take on a purplish or sometimes even bluish hue as the blood vessels contract in response to our surroundings, thus diminishing the blood flow to our lip surface.
Because of the vulnerability of our lips, it is of great importance to keep them protected. Here are a few pearls of lip skin care that I abide by on a regular basis, and some of myfavorite tried and true products to achieve healthy lips):
- Wash the skin of your lips with a gentle cleanser, specifically designed for the face (Avene Eau Thermale Mousse cleansing foam and Obagi Nu Derm Gentle cleanser)
- Exfoliate the skin of your lips gently with a washcloth every morning
- Find a sun protective lip product that you love and will use every day that ideally has an SPF 30 or higher (Elta MD UV lip balm SPF 31, Cerave healing lip balm SPF 30, Sugar fresh tinted lip balm SPF 15)
- Moisturize and protect your lips every day. This often involves applying a moisturizing product many times throughout the day as products are easily smudged off when we eat, drink, talk, etc. (Aquaphor ointment is my hands down favorite, but I also love Jouer essential lip enhancer balm)
- Apply a generous layer of Aquaphor to your lips when you go to bed every night
- Do not use straws: the constant puckering motion of your lips breaks down collagen and leads to fine lines forming around the mouth