Battling cracked, dry lips? It's probably because you're making one of these 7 mistakes

The expert-approved don't list

Close up of woman applying lip balm
(Image credit: Prostock-Studio via Getty Images)

‘Tis the season of sore, chapped and dry lips. Not only is this time of year proving to be particularly cold, but there are a handful of dry lip mistakes that might be making the condition of yours worse—even after investing in the best lip balm.

If dry skin isn't usually a problem for you, that doesn't necessarily mean dry lips won't be either. “Lips are much more susceptible to dryness than other parts of the skin [as] they don’t contain oil glands and are very sensitive,” explains Dr Aiza Jamil, consultant dermatologist at sk:n Clinics. “The most common cause is due to a lack of moisture within the outer layer of skin, which can make symptoms worse. This in itself is caused by many factors.” 

To that end, I spoke to two doctors to shed some light on some of the things that can worsen dry lips, including some of the habits that are worth breaking for their sake. Here’s what they had to say on the matter. 

The most common dry lip mistakes that will worsen their condition

1. Not drinking enough water

Being dehydrated shows up in your skin and that includes your lips, too. "Dehydration is a common cause of dry lips,” says Dr Jamil. “Ensure you are drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day to keep your body, including your lips, properly hydrated." The NHS recommends drinking at least six to eight cups or glasses of fluids per day to stay hydrated. 

2. Not protecting your lips in harsh weather

This applies whether it’s freezing cold or hot and sunny. “Exposure to cold, windy, or dry weather can quickly lead to dry lips,” says Dr Jamil. “Use lip balms with SPF in sunny conditions and apply a hydrating lip balm in cold or windy weather.” 

3. Licking your lips

If your lips are dry, your natural instinct may be to lick them, but doing this will most likely make them feel worse in the long run. "Constantly licking the lips may provide temporary relief, but saliva can actually strip away natural oils from the lips, making them more prone to dryness," Dr Jamil notes. 

Dr Sonia Khorana, a GP and cosmetic doctor with a special interest in dermatology, adds: "Licking your lips can make them much drier as saliva is full of enzymes that are too harsh for the delicate lip skin."

4. Picking your lips

I know how tempting this is as it’s one I struggle to resist, too, but picking your lips is a one-way ticket to them feeling more sore. “Picking your lips is bad for chapped, dried lips because it removes the lips’ superficial skin, which serves as a protective layer,” says Dr Khorana.

5. Using certain lip balm ingredients

Some lip products may contain ingredients that can dry out the lips—Dr Khorana recommends avoiding ingredients like camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. “They’re included in lip balms because of their cooling effect, but they can be very drying or irritants and are actually a common cause of lip dermatitis, too,” she explains. “Menthol can cause skin sensitisation. I’d recommend using ingredients like glycerin, squalane, petrolatum, shea butter, hyaluronic acid and ceramides instead.” 

6. Over-exfoliating

One of the skincare rules I live by is that more is not more when it comes to exfoliation—and that doesn’t only apply to your face. “While exfoliating the lips can remove dead skin, overusing lip scrubs or using harsh exfoliants can lead to irritation and exacerbate dryness,” says Dr Jamil. “Limit the use of lip scrubs to once or twice a week."

7. Not checking for an underlying medical conditions

If there is no other obvious reason or habit that you think is likely to be causing your dry lips, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor to see if there’s another medical issue at play. “If you have persistent dry lips despite taking preventive measures, it's essential to consider underlying health conditions or nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing,” Dr Jamil stresses. “Consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any medical issues.

Dr Jamil also notes that dry lips can also be a side effect of taking certain medications. “Some individuals may be allergic to certain ingredients in lip products, toothpaste or even foods,” she adds. “Patch testing may be helpful to identify those allergens.” 

The best lip balms to add to your regime

Lucy Abbersteen
Beauty Contributor

Lucy is a freelance beauty editor and contributor at Marie Claire, and has written for titles including Glamour, Refinery29, Popsugar, woman&home and more. She was previously Marie Claire’s junior beauty editor. During her career, she’s covered everything from backstage beauty at fashion week to interviews with famous faces like Drag Race royalty and Little Mix. As for her beauty ethos, she’s a big advocate for not having to spend a fortune on beauty products to get good results, and when she’s not got beauty on the brain you’ll find her reading or hanging out with dogs.