Winter in a pandemic is an interesting time for lip health. We’re not outside battling the elements as much, spending more time wearing a mask and increasing time indoors with heating and air-conditioning. Reaching for a lip balm is great but there’s an important place for lip health as part of your daily skincare routine.
While we think of our ‘lips’ as the bright red/pink structure that we apply lip balm to, known as the vermilion, anatomically speaking, the lips extend from the base of the nose to the oral cavity and from the mid-chin up to the oral cavity. This means our lips or lip area is actually composed of various types of skin.
“Lips are fascinating structures,” Dr Adam Sheridan exclaims, “Where most people refer to the vermilion as the lips, this area can be more delicate than others given the relative lack of photo-protective melanin, thin anatomy and the fact that it is subject to multiple environmental factors including the elements (sun, wind, temperature, water) food and cosmetics”.
Often neglected, the lips benefit greatly from a tailored skincare routine. Dr Sheridan names foundational components as a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, protein and essential minerals; adequate water intake; avoidance of oxidative stresses especially excessive sunshine, alcohol and nicotine.
“The lips benefit from pH-matched cleansing and a fragrance free emollient lip balm, to keep the good in and the bad out. An SPF50+ product is ideal where physical sun block (i.e. zinc) is best”.
Dr Sheridan also suggests avoiding artificial colours, flavours and fragranced products as these can lead to irritation and allergy. “Treat any dryness or irritation early with a simple emollient and humectant to alleviate discomfort,” he explains, “This also helps prevent a vicious cycle whereby the lip skin barrier is compromised, leading to loss of moisture, causing further dryness and so on”.
Yet beyond seasonal dry lips, our favourite lip balm in tow, there are a number of lip health signs we need to be aware of as they can have wider implications. Cracks at the corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis) is a common problem resulting from inflammation of the skin at the angles of the mouth. Not simply excess dryness, its causes include mechanical factors; nutritional deficiencies (riboflavin, folate, iron, protein, vit c, zinc); infection; irritants (lip licking) and allergic dermatitis (from products that come into contact with the lips).
“Maintain a gentle lip care regime: cleaning, moisturising and environmental protection,” says Dr Sheridan, “and seek input from your Dermatologist if you suspect allergy or other pathology. Be especially wary of any unusual changes or symptoms that persist for greater than 4-6 weeks as pigmentation or flesh changes and bleeding may herald skin cancer or internal medical conditions requiring urgent care”.
What does a lip health regime look like? Just like skincare, Dr Sheridan says to change your routine from time to time, never wear makeup to bed and rotate your products according to the season, your age and lifestyle; “because a rich zinc-containing lip balm will be helpful on the ski slopes but less appealing on your next Zoom meeting”.
Dr Adam Sheridan is Spokesperson for the Australasian College of Dermatologists and owner of Specialist Dermatology Surgery and Laser.