Read this before you put lipstick on your dry, flaky winter lips

60ish woman applying lip balm in winter

Winter lips need their own routine. The common cold, the flu, low humidity, frigid weather–all take a toll.  And if you find yourself constantly blowing your nose, your lips are probably chapped and flaky as well.

Why our lips become chapped

There are a number of reasons our lips become chapped. You can fix some. Others are built into our physiology.

  • Lips don’t contain oil glands like other parts of the skin. As such, they are more susceptible to drying out and becoming chapped and cracked.
  • Low humidity, so typical of winter air, can draw moisture from your lips if you spend time outdoors.
  • Indoor heating–the dry air inside your home steals moisture from wherever it can find it, including your body.  (The ideal relative humidity level for inside your home is between 30 and 50 percent.)
  • Dehydration robs your lips of moisture from the inside. Be sure to drink plenty of water in winter. Soups are another way to stay hydrated.
  • Frequent sun exposure can also worsen your condition, and not just in summer. Winter sports like skiing expose your lips to sun and wind.
  • Licking your lips, while adding moisture for a few minutes, causes more dryness as saliva from the tongue can strip away moisture.

Of course, you know how to care for your lips under normal circumstances. Use lip balm at night, gloss or lipstick during the day to ensure they stay smooth and hydrated. But times like these call for a more targeted strategy.

How does skin regenerate?

First, let’s take a brief look at skin and how it regenerates.  Skin cells renew themselves every two to three weeks, moving up from the lower level called the dermis.  During this progression through the skin layers, lipids are released into the spaces between cells.

These lipids form a barrier to water loss and help retain your skin’s own natural moisturizing factor (NMF). Disruption of this lipid matrix and subsequent loss of hydration can lead to dry, flaky skin.

If you have a cold or flu, the overproduction of mucus disrupts the NMF or Ph balance of your skin when it drips from your nose onto the surrounding skin.  If you are constantly wiping your nose, the friction only makes it worse.  Add cold weather and no amount of simple moisturizer will solve this problem.

Our two step plan: lip exfoliation and barrier treatments

Why exfoliate your lips?

The dry flaky skin on your lips and between your nose and mouth must be removed before moisturizing.  These are dead skin cells that will prevent the barrier cream from working effectively.  If you apply moisturizer over these dead cells, they will only flatten and give the appearance of moisturized lips.  When the moisturizer has evaporated, however, the dry skin cells will still be there.

Lip exfoliation is not about using the body scrubs from your shower or bath or even enlisting your facial scrubs to do the job.  Lip exfoliators (and they can be used on the skin around the lips and under the nose as well) are specially formulated for the sensitive skin in the center of your face.  You simply use your baby finger and some exfoliator to gently polish the surface until the dead skin is gone.

Under normal circumstances you likely don’t need this product. But when the space between your nose and your top lip resembles the Atacama Desert, the driest, non-polar place on earth, it’s time to reconsider.  Your lips will thank you.

Try these scrubs for soft lips

Beauty For Real Lip Revival Exfoliating and Hydrating Lip Scrub


This lip scrub is made with raw sugar to exfoliate dry, chapped lips. Carnuba wax and coconut oil along with essential oils hydrate and condition lips, leaving them smooth and plump.  Cruelty free, PETA certified, no parabens, made in USA, vegan. Find on Amazon.

“It has been a godsend in these colder months! My lips always get so dry and chapped and this exfoliator hydrates and brings them back to life!”

Sugar Lip Scrub by Hanalei

Jara of Hanalei lip scrub

Contains natural Hawaiian ingredients. Raw cane sugar crystals help to gently exfoliate, while real Hawaiian kukui nut oil and shea butter moisturizes for supple lips.  Made in the USA, paraben free, phthalate free, and cruelty free. Find on Amazon.

“This sugar scrub has a finer grain of sugar and has a more oily consistency. I prefer this because afterwards my lips not only feel smooth and soft, but they also feel moisturized.” 

Handmade Heroes Ultra Sexy Coconut Lip Scrub 

This unscented and fragrance free lip scrub provides a gentle natural exfoliation with 100% natural coconut sugar.  Naturally moisturizes with avocado oil, jojoba oil and sweet almond oil. Vegan and cruelty free, no parabens, artificial preservatives or synthetic chemicals. Find on Amazon. 

“I really love how subtle the coconut is. This lip scrub is for all you people who hate chapped lips with a passion, it really does it’s job as well. My lips are so baby soft!”

Next step: barrier treatment

Once you have used a lip exfoliator and your lips are smooth and free of dead skin, the next step is a barrier treatment.

As basic as this may sound—amid claims by moisturizers of their miracle properties—water is the key to attaining moisturized, plumped up looking skin.  To be effective, a moisturizer must either be effective in preserving the existing hydration in your skin or have the means to attract and enhance its hydration. 

Three types of moisturizers

In Just Say No to the Lizard Skin of Winter, we discuss the three types of moisturizers: occlusive agents, humectants, and emollients.  It’s the occlusive agents that skin needs in this situation: they increase moisture levels in the skin by providing a physical barrier to water loss.

The classic cosmetic occlusive agent is petrolatum, or petroleum jelly (like Vaseline). As the name suggests, barrier creams don’t let anything in. They prevent the NMF of the skin from being altered by mucus and cold air and the drying effects of tissue. And, they also don’t let anything out. Water, which skin needs so badly in times like these, is prevented from evaporating.

Two skin care regimes: one for night and one for day

But here’s the rub: occlusive or barrier creams are greasy because their primary ingredients are typically greasy—ingredients such as petrolatum, petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, shea butter, mineral oil, lanolin, paraffin, and beeswax.  The greasier the cream, the more effective the barrier.  That’s why you should have a nighttime regimen (when you can use your really greasy barrier cream) and a day time regimen (when you can use a lighter barrier cream that lends itself to lipstick and makeup being applied over it.)

Follow these night and day time regimens for at least five days or until your lips and skin are soft and smooth once again.

Night time regimen

Night time is the best time to slather up and give your skin the time it needs to recover.

  1. Use your lip exfoliator to remove the dead skin cells from your nose and lip area. Use a magnifying mirror in a good light so you can see what you are doing.
  2. Once exfoliated, use your barrier cream to coat the clean skin.

Aquaphor Lip Repair Tube

Aquaphor lip repair treatment

The queen of all occlusive moisturizers is Aquaphor Healing Ointment that can be used on lips, too. Aquaphor also makes a lip repair cream that is essentially the same product as the healing ointment, in a convenient the small tube. Find on Amazon. 

Vaseline Lip Therapy Cocoa Butter

Then there is the grandmother of all occlusives, Vaseline.  For years, petroleum jelly came in one flavor: petroleum.  Now it’s available in cocoa butter, rosy lip, and crème brulée. Find on Amazon.

Daytime regimen

Your daytime regimen is a little trickier because you do not want your face to appear shiny or slathered with heavy ointments.  There are some good barrier creams that contain occlusive ingredients that will work very well and are subtle.  Your daytime regimen mirrors your nighttime regimen. The only difference is that for day you will apply a non-greasy barrier cream to the exfoliated skin.

Highly rated non-greasy barrier creams 

These creams are tasteless and are not perfumed so you can use them on your lips as well as on your face.  And, since they are not greasy, you can apply lipstick over them.

TriDerma® Protect & Heal Non-Greasy Barrier™ Fast Healing Cream

TriDerma’s cream helps heal and protect against wetness, chafing, chapping, cracking, and skin breakdown. It’s clinically proven skin protectants provide long lasting protection. Non-greasy, fragrance-free, paraben-free, and cruelty-free. Find on Amazon.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream Daily Face and Body Moisturizer


Jar of CeraVe moisturizing cream

CeraVe is our long time favorite. It also works as a daytime barrier coating for your lips. It’s a workhorse. Find on Amazon.

Lip balm sticks

For convenience and effectiveness lip balm sticks come in handy. Put them in your pocket, put them in your purse, scatter them around the house–anywhere you might feel the need to refresh your lips.

Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Swivel Stick

Palmers cocoa lip balm 3-pack

Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Swivel Stick softens and smoothes rough, dry lips with intensively moisturizing cocoa butter and vitamin E. It can be used on lips, face & body to moisturize rough spots, cuticles or cracked skin, as well. Palmer’s® has been a trusted brand for over 180 years. Find it on Amazon.

Cococare Cocoa Butter Lip Balm

Cocoacares cocoal butter lip b alm 10 pack

Cococare Cocoa Butter Lip Balm, the “little yellow stick,” is formulated with natural cocoa butter. The emollient properties of cocoa butter help lock moisture in to keep your lips silky smooth. Rather than sitting on your lips’ surface, cocoa butter penetrates skin to heal and nourish your lips deep down, so you might actually find yourself applying the balm less often.The ten-pack gives you plenty to put in all your pockets and by your favorite chair.  Find it on Amazon.

Exfoliation and barrier creams are the key to keeping your lips soft and supple when frigid air and cold and flu season strike.  Be diligent and put up the barriers–and spring will be here before you know it.

As an affiliate of Amazon and other retailers, Blue Hare makes a small commission on qualifying purchases made through the links on this page. 

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