How to have happier, smoother lips

If, despite your best efforts, your lips seem determined to fall into a flaky, chapped state of emergency, here’s a little therapy session: They sort of can’t help it.

“Most of us deal with dried or chapped lips at some point,” says Ava Shamban, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. Lips don’t have oil glands, she notes, which means they’re naturally prone to drying out. Then there’s the fact that the water in our cells passively evaporates from our skin and lips (a phenomenon called transepidermal water loss). Through that process, Dr. Shamban says, “lips can get literally dry from the inside out and outside in.” Add in factors such as collagen loss, environmental factors, stress, and even lack of sleep and it’s a wonder that lips are ever not parched.

And yet, change is possible. Here, a few simple guidelines for returning your lips to their fullest, happiest, smoothest potential.

First, stop doing these things

Before you rush out to buy all the lip balms, try a few behavioral changes. Top priority: Stop licking your lips already! Otherwise, you’ll only dry them out even further, says Dr. Shamban. She notes that flavored balms may entice you to keep nibbling your lips, so take a pass on those. “Toss the Trident, too,” she says. “Gum can be a culprit for dry, chapped lips.”

Indoors, avoid taking long, hot showers; tepid water will be gentler to all of your skin, including your kisser. Similarly, let your favorite tea, coffee, cocoa, or matcha latte cool down before drinking. “Don’t sip hot,” Dr. Shamban says. “Let it cool down to almost a warm room temperature when you are having extremely dry chapped lips—or to help prevent them.”

Remember the indoor/outdoor factor

Braving the bitter cold? Wear a scarf outdoors, but don’t ignore your lips once you’re inside. “Winter’s worst is actually the transition from outside frigid temperatures to the dry heaters in buildings, which are amping up the damage by sucking moisture out of our cells,” says Dr. Shamban. A high-quality balm can mitigate the worst of this process. The new Nars Afterglow balm softens and protects with monoï oil, while Drunk Elephant’s cute and chubby Lippe Balm uses coconut and marula oils.

Put down the matte lipstick

What looks good on social media doesn’t always translate to healthy-looking lips in the real world. “I think the obsession with lip plumping has adversely affected our lip health,” Dr. Shamban says. “The lip products for plumping are irritating and drying.” That goes for matte lip color formulas, too, which are typically drying. “Avoid them at all costs,” she says. Alternatively, a tinted balm such as Dior Lip Glow to the Max boost lips with pearlescent color as it moisturizes.

Treat and protect

If your lips are already chapped, gently exfoliate them to remove flakes; Ilia Balmy Nights Lip Exfoliator and Jouer’s new Smoothing Sugar Lip Scrub are good options, or try a do-it-yourself mix of of sugar and honey.

Once lips are smooth, protect them with a highly emulsive balm. “Look for products with hyaluronic acid, which is a water binder,” says Dr. Shamban, “or something like coconut oil or shea butter, which are great emulsifiers and help to seal in the moisture.” Loaded with hyaluronic acid and shea butter, By Terry Baume De Rose is a thick, luxurious choice. Another star ingredient is vitamin E, which can replenish skin’s natural oils. “It’s a good addition for products and when taken internally,” Dr. Shamban notes. Here, you can’t really go wrong with Chapstick 100% Natural Lip Butter, which has sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and old-school appeal.

As for those Instagram-friendly lip masks, some can work, says Dr. Shamban. “They’re on the gimmicky side,” she says. If, however, they deliver hyaluronic acid and seal the area for any period of time uninterrupted, they can serve a purpose. Still, she adds, “I’d just slather on some coconut oil.”

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At left, shop a few of our favorite transformative treatments for rough, parched lips. —Annie Tomlin

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