There are a number of reasons why lips dry out. Chief among them is that they're located within reach of the tongue; in other words, it's easier to lick our lips than our foreheads. Doing either would produce the same effect -- dryness. Human saliva contains two compounds that promote dryness in skin. Amylase and maltase are digestive enzymes that can actually strip away the sensitive skin of your lips, leaving it exposed to dry air.
What's more, when saliva dries on the lips, it actually leads to further evaporation of the natural moisture found in lips, which further exacerbates lip dryness [source: Gardner].
A common misconception is that lips dry out because they lack sebaceous glands. These glands are most commonly associated with hair follicles, which, in hairy regions of the body, deliver sebum to the skin. Sebum is a natural oil made of fats called triglycerides and the detritus of dead cells. Once it reaches the skin, it both moisturizes and waterproofs skin. Since lips are hairless, many people think they lack sebaceous glands. In actuality, lips have a specialized type of sebaceous gland, known as ectopic sebaceous glands [source: Bolognia, et al].
Clearly, the widespread existence of dry, chapped lips shows that the ectopic sebaceous glands that keep the lips moisturized need some help from time to time. If you like going the natural route to healthy, beautiful skin, we've included five natural remedies for those dry lips of yours.
Coconut Butter or Oil
For the last several thousand years, people in tropical locales have used the coconut both for dietary and medicinal purposes. Modern research into the properties of coconuts, especially its oil, has supported ancient notions that the coconut is a healthy food.
It turns out that coconut oil is composed of an uncommon type of fat. Most animal and plant fats are made up of long-chain fatty acids. Coconut oil is made of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which our bodies metabolize differently than long-chain fats. Most notably, unlike fats composed of long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil doesn't increase cholesterol in the blood stream. In fact, it also decreases the presence of cholesterol in the tissues of organs like the liver, effectively lowering cholesterol [source: Fife].
Coconut oil has also been found to possess other healing properties, including boosting the health of skin -- including improving dry lips. Because of its MCFAs, coconut oil is easily absorbed by the skin. It serves as an emollient (a softening agent) and a moisturizer. Even more, coconut oil allows for easier absorption of vitamins, including the fat-soluble vitamin E, an antioxidant that reduces the formation of free radicals that damage cells.
Cucumber slices have been associated with beauty regimens for awhile now. The image of a spa patron with his or her face covered with a skin mask and a slice of cucumber over each eye is a ubiquitous one. Cucumber slices have been shown to be effective in enhancing the beauty of skin by reducing the appearance of under-eye swelling. What works on the sensitive skin beneath the eyes can also work for dry lips.
Cucumber is composed of mostly water -- more than 90 percent -- which means it can serve as a delivery vehicle for H2O [source: Chow]. The water in raw cucumber slices can help restore moisture in lips on its own, but cucumber has other ingredients that can promote the health of lips as well. The vegetable has a significant amount of ascorbic acid, known more familiarly as vitamin C. Ascorbic acid promotes the production of collagen, a connective protein that gives structure and resilience to skin tissue. Cucumber also contains caffeic acid, an antioxidant that suppresses the generation of free radicals by ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun [source: Yamada, et al].
Combined into cucumber slices applied topically to the lips, the water and caffeic and ascorbic acids moisturize lips, promote lip fullness and protect from sun damage. Not bad from a vegetable you can get for less than a buck at the local market.
Mango Butter or Oil
Like coconut oil, mango butter extracted from the kernels of the mango tree (Mangifera indica) has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. There's a good reason why: Mango butter and oil are rich in fatty acids that make them excellent emollients.
The fats in mango butter are composed mostly of oleic and stearic acids. This makes mango butter a powerhouse at adding softness and moisture to the lips. These two acids are triglycerides, of which sebum is largely comprised. Adding it directly to your lips in the form of mango butter or oil is a natural, but artificial, way of restoring moisture to your lips.
Oleic and stearic acids also have the added benefit of being both hydrophobic and hydrophilic. One end is attracted to water, while the other end repels it, making these two triglycerides excellent at locking moisture in lips and waterproofing lips as well.
The common succulent houseplant known as Aloe vera has been used (both wisely and unwisely) for all kinds of maladies, from reducing pain in burns to relieving constipation. Some of these treatments may actually work, based on the hygroscopic property of Aloe vera gel [source: Mayo Clinic]. What does that mean, exactly?
Remember how the oleic and stearic acids found in mango butter had a hydrophilic property, meaning it was attracted to water molecules? Aloe vera gel is similar, but it actually attracts water molecules to itself. This makes aloe gel hygroscopic -- it strips water vapor from the air around it.
If the aloe gel is applied to dry, chapped lips, its hygroscopic property attracts moisture to the lips, making it a humectant. Aloe also serves as a great delivery vehicle for essential oils that may aid in elastin and collagen production, like rosehip oil.
Your Own Sebum (Or Someone Else's)
This one may seem a bit gross, but it's arguably the cheapest and most natural method of treating dry lips: your own sebum. Remember back on the first page, where we discussed sebum, a natural oil that both moisturizes and waterproofs your skin and hair? Ultimately, all skin care products looking to replenish and lock in moisture are emulating the sebum found on the skin. So why not go to the source?
Rub your finger beneath your nostrils and along the sides of your nose. The oil you feel there is sebum. Now rub your finger along your lips. You've just rehydrated them.
You'll also likely to find that your lips don't taste very good now. It turns out that there's an added benefit of using sebum as a natural remedy for dry lips: It can train you not to lick them. Of course, before you do apply sebum to your lips, make sure your hands are clean.
Millennials are crazy about lip fillers, and it seems we have Kylie Jenner to thank. HowStuffWorks fills you in on lip fillers.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bolognia, Jean, et al. "Dermatology." Gulf Professional Publishing. 2003. http://books.google.com/books?id=f2IwYiyh3YUC&pg=PT553&lpg=PT553&dq=sebum+lips+dermatology &source=bl&ots=k7QFyqB2Uo&sig=i48Hm0dEFyD3MHyxvvQZtOqlHAc&hl=en &ei=IqSmSvenJ8Sltge-jZyoCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false
- Chow. "Cucumber." Accessed September 8, 2009.http://www.chow.com/ingredients/65
- Coconut Research Center. "Coconut (Cocos nucifera)." 2004. http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/
- Dweck, Anthony C. "Article for cosmetics and toiletries magazine ethnobotanical plants from Africa part two." Accessed September 8, 2009. http://www.dweckdata.co.uk/Published_papers/Africa1.pdf
- Fife, Bruce. "Coconut cures: preventing and treating common health problems with coconut." Piccadilly Books, Ltd. 2004. http://books.google.com/books?id=JW8RtCJqZ8MC&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=coconut+oil+doesn%27t+increase+cholesterol &source=bl&ots=4MdKOce9pJ&sig=0tSqtMKO4k8YR02_FyHQCdT6gT8 &hl=en&ei=XH-mSoYngYe2B6KjzfMP&sa=X&oi=book_result &ct=result&resnum=8#v=onepage&q=coconut%20oil%20doesn%27t%20increase%20cholesterol&f=false
- HealthMad. "Care for dry lips." July 27, 2009.http://healthmad.com/beauty/care-for-dry-lips/
- Humbert, PG, et al. "Topical ascorbic acid on photoaged skin. Clincal, topographical and ultrastructural evaluation: double-blind study vs. placebo." Experimental Dermatology. June 2003. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12823436
- Gardner, Amanda. "Dry lips won't take a licking." HealthDayNews. December 27, 2003. http://www.medicineonline.com/news/10/3352/Dry-Lips-Won-t-Take-a-Licking.html
- Prevention Magazine. "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies." Bantam. 1991. http://www.mothernature.com/Library/Bookshelf/Books/48/38.cfm
- The Mayo Clinic. "Aloe (aloe vera)." Accessed September 8, 2009. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aloe-vera/NS_patient-aloe/DSECTION=evidence
- The World's Healthiest Foods. "Cucumbers." Accessed September 8, 2009. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=42
- University of Oregon. "Stearic acid, a fatty acid." Accessed September 8, 2009. http://chemlabs.uoregon.edu/GeneralResources/models/stearic_acid.html
- Yamada, Yukimo, et al. "Suppressive effect of caffeic acid and its derivatives on the generation of UVA-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin of hairless mice and pharmacokinetic analysis on organ distribution of caffeic acid in ddY mice." Photochemistry and Photobiology. November/December 2006. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3931/is_200611/ai_n17192608/