Have you noticed how dry your mouth can get during dental services? It goes without saying that your skin is the largest organ in/on the human body, it is also the most unique. What’s interesting about skin is that there are different types of skin all over your body. The skin on your lips for instance is very different than skin found anywhere else; it seems to have a mind of its own!

Lip skin has three translucent layers. Skin on other parts of your face has roughly 16 layers of dead and living skin that is opaque in color. Your lips get their pinkish/reddish color from the mucous membrane which is a subsurface layer. The reddish tint of lips is from the blood in the plentiful capillaries housed in the mucous membrane layer of your lips. When you push your lips together and they turn white, you are pushing the blood out of the capillaries.  When your lips are relaxed after having pressure placed on them they return to reddish as blood flows back into the capillaries.

With only three layers of skin to make up the lips, it’s easy to understand why they can easily become problematic. Biting your lips is a nervous habit that leads to dry cracked lips. Dry lips can be painful, they can crack and they do not look as nice or healthy as plump, moist, vibrant lips. Often times, if someone has dry lips they begin to lick them. It’s important to realize that licking your lips will dry them out. The three thin layers of skin on the lips are easily damaged. Licking lips may momentarily moisturize, but when the saliva dries, the natural moister found on lips evaporates with the saliva. Saliva is made up of enzymes whose primary purpose is the breakdown of food for digestion. Amylase and maltase found in saliva will begin to break down the skin just as it breaks down food. Excess saliva on the lips will take its toll on this thin layer of skin and do more damage than good.

Dry or chapped lips are often a sign of dehydration. Dehydration or lack of water dries out all of the cells in our bodies, including the lips. Drinking plenty of water each day is one of the best ways to keep your lips from drying and chapping. Having a humidifier in your home is another way to add moisture to your lips and skin.

Most lip balms will help keep lips moist. It’s a good idea to use a lip balm with sunscreen and a base that agrees with you. Bases include petroleum, oil or beeswax and are the main ingredient that acts as a barrier to keep moisture from evaporating. Balms that have emollients like lanolin or aloe are good for softening lips. Some balms have added vitamins or nutrient rich compounds to help bolster tissue regeneration of the lip skin tissue. If you have dry lips, make sure your lip gloss or lipstick does not contain alcohol. Alcohol in your lip color will strip away natural moisture from your lips.

Dry lips can also be caused by facial mask and topical facial treatments or medicines. You should always put a lip balm or petroleum jelly on your lips when applying a mask anywhere near your mouth. These types of products are extremely drying and can have a negative effect on the sensitive tissue on your lips!

Posted on behalf of Dr. Michael Juban, Juban Dental Care