Lips take a lot of abuse, but they lack the protection that the rest of our skin enjoys. They have no oil or sweat glands, and they're constantly exposed to irritants: the tip of the tongue, our food and drinks, environmental pollutants, the weather -- the list goes on and on.
Our mouths need just as much care as the rest of our skin -- if not more -- but despite everything they do for us, our lips are often overlooked or downright neglected. Keep reading to find out how to fight off some of the most common lip problems and put forth a perfect pout. Men, don't stop reading now -- this article's for you, too!
When it comes to our lips, we're our own worst enemy. A lot of our habits can lead to lip dryness, soreness and irritation.
Licking your lips feels great. It cools them down -- but it also makes your problem much worse. Your saliva evaporates quickly, leaving them drier than before, and the enzymes that help your saliva clean your mouth and digest food are much too harsh for your lips.
Avoid breathing with an open mouth. It's bad, and not just because it looks uncouth. Think of all the air being sucked and blown constantly over your poor lips as you gasp and pant, sapping moisture with every breath. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose will stop that harmful, desert-dry airflow.
Be a bit more discerning when it comes to sharing your lips, too. It might sound obvious, but don't kiss anyone with a sore or infection on the mouth or face. Viruses, fungi and bacteria can easily enter cracks in the lips' thin skin. And consider this: By age 50, nearly 90 percent of Americans have been exposed to herpes simplex 1 or 2, the viruses that cause cold sores [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
So, knowing when to keep your mouth sealed is a good first step toward healthy lips, but there's more to it. The next page has more lip tips.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Have you ever noticed that your eating habits sometimes seem to soothe your complexion? Or that your skin might react poorly to a junk food bender? Make no mistake -- your diet is a big factor in your lips' condition.
Your lips are dependent on a steady intake of vitamins and minerals, so stick to healthy, nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Vitamins B and E are especially important for healthy lips and skin.
Do you resort to a tube or jar for a quick lip fix? That's fine, but read on to make sure your favorite product isn't making the problem worse.
Use the Right Lip Balm
Look for a product with a base of beeswax, petroleum jelly or paraffin. These seal in moisture and won't evaporate as quickly as thinner balms or glosses. For extremely irritated lips, aloe vera is a good ingredient. This plant's soothing properties are often used to heal sensitive sunburns, and it's also safe to ingest. Sunscreen is also crucial, even in winter.
Another tip -- your lip balm will be a lot more effective if there's no buildup in the way. Experts recommend exfoliating about once a week with a gentle lip scrub product.
Some balms are deceiving, containing ingredients that dry out your lips even more. Salicylic acid, the miracle worker in acne medication, is one such culprit. The properties that help pimple cream dry up your trouble spots will have the same effect anywhere else it's applied. Menthol and camphor, though soothing, can also cause issues. Stay away from fragrances and silicone, which also sap moisture.
By now, your lips should be smooth and supple … but hardly the volume of, say, Angelina Jolie's. The next page describes some healthy (and natural) ways to plump the shape of your kiss.
Exercise Your Lips
How far would you go for a perfect, heart-shaped mouth? For many people, the invasive idea of implants or injections is too much. Think about it -- how healthy is it to have fat or silicone pumped into your lips?
If you're determined to perk up your face, dedicate a few minutes a day to lip therapy and other facial exercises. The right routine can increase blood circulation, which will give you a healthy glow, and it can improve the tone, texture and shape of your facial skin.
Though lip therapy is often used to improve mouth and throat functions like swallowing, the correct exercises can also improve the appearance of your lips. Some exercises can make lips fuller; others may make lips smaller. Why mess with dangerous and expensive surgery?
To recap: plastic surgeon, not necessary. A doctor, maybe -- but not for this. Read on to figure out when you should enlist professional help for your precious pout.
Know When to See a Doctor
If minor lip woes get worse or don't go away on their own, it's probably time to get medical help.
Some lip problems, such as those caused by infection or poor nutrition, require a doctor's intervention. If you're also suffering from problems like fatigue or frequent headaches, your cracked lips might be just one indicator of a bigger problem, like a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
It takes supreme willpower to overcome the urge to soothe a cracked or dry lip, but it's necessary. Constant licking, biting or picking can cause or complicate cheilitis, an inflamed, crusty patch that can form at the corners of your mouth. If you manage to avoid aggravating cheilitis but it doesn't go away, a doctor can help determine if it's a bacterial, fungal or viral infection and prescribe a topical ointment.
The good news is that we've got more information on the next page to help get your lips in top shape.
Millennials are crazy about lip fillers, and it seems we have Kylie Jenner to thank. HowStuffWorks fills you in on lip fillers.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Lip and Mouth Care." (April 17, 2010) http://www.aad.org/members/media/_doc/Materials_Lip%20and%20Mouth%20Care.pdf
- American Dental Association. "Tobacco Effects on Mouth, Teeth, Gums." Colgate.com. November 24, 2008. (Accessed April 17, 2010) http://www.aad.org/members/media/_doc/Materials_Lip%20and%20Mouth%20Care.pdf
- Bellasugar.com. "Bad Lip Balm Additives." Nov. 25, 2009. (April 17, 2010) http://www.bellasugar.com/Bad-Lip-Balm-Additives-6216447
- Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. "How Can I Relieve Chapped Lips?" WiseGEEK. (April 13, 2010) http://www.wisegeek.com/how-can-i-relieve-chapped-lips.htm
- Gerstein, Julie. "Secret Lipstick Ingredients Revealed." (April 18, 2010) http://www.thedailygreen.com/living-green/lipstick-ingredients-020410
- Gibson, Lawrence. "Chapped Lips. What's the best remedy?" Mayo Clinic. Oct. 4, 2008. (April 13, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chapped-lips/AN01440
- Halepis, Harriette. "What is lip therapy?" WiseGEEK. (April 13, 2010) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-lip-therapy.htm
- Women's Health Magazine. "Get Soft, Sexy Lips." Nov. 29, 2009. (April 17, 2010) http://www.womenshealthmage.com/beauty-and-style/get-softer-lips