How to Safely Exfoliate Dead Skin on the Lips

<p>Getty Images</p>

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A luxe matte nude, painted bold and bright, over lined, shimmering, bare save for a high-gloss finish—whatever your favorite lip look may be, all call for a soft, even foundation. But given the unique nature of our lips, what’s the best way to exfoliate and remove dead, dry skin? “Your lips are much more delicate than the skin on your face,” says Dr. Kemi Fabusiwa. “Lip skin lacks the protective oil barrier found on your face, making it more prone to irritation. Additionally, Lips have fewer skin cell layers, so harsh exfoliation can easily damage them.” According to Dr. Fabusiwa, lip sloughing sessions should be gentle and less frequent than similar exfoliation on other areas of the body.

Dermatologist Dr. Naana Boakye agrees. “Lips are thinner, lack oil-production glands, and are, overall, more sensitive than other parts of the body. As a result, they require more delicate exfoliants specially formulated to remove dead skin cells without causing irritation or dehydrating the lips.” Simple steps like regularly applying a moisturizing lip balm, applying SFP, and ditching your lip-biting habit can help keep your pout hydrated and intact. But for those moments when you need help to smooth and soothe, here’s how to safely and effectively exfoliate your lips, according to the experts.

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Causes of Dead Skin on Lips

Dead skin on the lips is caused by several external and internal factors, from the weather to potential vitamin deficiencies. “Weather impacts the condition of our skin, including the lips,” says Dr. Boakye. “Exposure to cold, windy, and dry weather conditions can strip the lips of their natural moisture, leading to flaky, dead skin.” The sun plays a part, too. “Lips have fewer melanocytes (cells that protect your skin from the sun), making them more susceptible to sun damage and thinning,” says Dr. Fabusiwa. And since lips are already made of some of the thinnest skin on the body, a balm with SPF 30+ is a must for extra protection.

As if you needed more evidence that staying hydrated is the key to a happy and healthy life, look to your lips as a barometer. “Dry, peeling skin on the lips is often a sign of dehydration,” says Dr. Fabusiwa. “If you are not consuming a sufficient amount of water, it may contribute to peeling and flaking.” Dry lips can also be a symptom of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, deficiencies in B vitamins and zinc, or hormonal imbalances.

How to Prevent Dead Skin on the Lips

The key to dry lip prevention is to pay attention, the better to identify (and treat) the underlying cause.  “The best way to prevent dead skin is to take a holistic approach, addressing internal and external factors to optimize results,” says Boakye, who recommends ample hydration and throughout the day, along with vitamin B and omega-3s. Invest in a reusable water bottle and watch as your energy levels, skin texture, and dry lips improve.

Effective protection before your lips are damaged helps, too. “Use a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher, even in winter, to shield your lips from the sun's drying rays,” says Dr. Fabusiwa. She also suggests regular application of a fragrance-free lip balm, especially before bed. “Look for ingredients like petrolatum, shea butter, or ceramides,” she says. This goes double in winter, when cold temperatures and a lack of moisture in the air results in dull and sapped skin. In short, internal and external hydration will help keep lips soft and level.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Healing Dry, Flakey Lips

Exfoliating your lips is a simple process, but one that should be executed with care to avoid further damage. Still, it’s a worthy endeavor. “Our cells constantly regenerate, so gently, occasional exfoliation helps to rid the lips of dead skin and buildup,” says Dr. Boakye.

“Use a mild exfoliating lip balm to gently remove dry skin,” says Dr. Fabusiwa, a process that Dr. Boakye notes can be aided by a soft toothbrush. “Avoid techniques that leave a burning sensation. Lips are delicate, and over exfoliation can lead to thinner skin.” Cleanse any excess product with a warm washcloth, and follow with a hydrating product to restore and protect your fresh pout.

“Always apply a nourishing lip balm after exfoliating to hydrate the new skin and prevent drying,” says Dr. Fabusiwa. A humectant, or a product that delivers moisture while creating a seal to prevent moisture loss, is your best bet. “Opt for a thick layer of petroleum jelly or Aquaphor to lock in moisture and prevent further water loss.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes dead skin on lips?

Dehydration, sun exposure, wind chill, vitamin deficiencies, and more can all result in dry, dead skin on the lips. Determining what is causing your lip dryness is the first step to addressing the issue.

How can you prevent dry lips?

“Skip harsh lip products containing alcohol, menthol, or fragrances,” says Dr. Fabusiwa. “Licking your lips, picking at them, and using harsh lip products can irritate and damage their delicate skin.” Additionally, drink plenty of water, and invest in a lip balm infused with SPF 30.

Does licking your lips dry them out?

Yes. “Those who constantly lick their lips may also experience dryness and peeling,” says Dr. Boakye. “Despite its temporary relief, the salt content found in saliva causes the lips to be stripped of natural oils and moisture.”

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