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Heal Chapped Skin

Updated on November 30, 2015
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Soothe rough patches – and get your skin healthy – with this advice.

Chapped skin and lips can be painful and unattractive, which is why there are tips here on how to keep skin soothed and hydrated.

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The Basic Facts

One of the skin’s main functions is to hold moisture in via the epidermis, which includes the stratum corneum, the epidermis’ outermost layer. If this skin barrier doesn’t work properly, moisture escapes, triggering dry skin, which tends to crack. This allows environmental irritants, such as bacteria, to sneak in, which can lead to inflammation. The rough, irritated texture is referred to as chapped skin. The lips have it worse because, unlike skin elsewhere on the body, they don’t have as thick a protective outer layer, and lip tissue lacks hair follicles and oil glands, which makes lips more prone to chapping and inflammation.

What To Look For

Some common chapped-skin triggers:

  • A harsh environment (blustery, cold weather) goes hand in hand with low air humidity, which sucks moisture out of the skin; the same is true for indoor heating.
  • Licking your lips can cause any moisture present in the lips to evaporate and the lips to become even drier (thanks to digestive enzymes present in saliva).
  • Poor skin barrier function allows irritants to seep into skin, inflaming it and causing it to itch.

Simple Solutions

You can prevent chapped skin and lips. Beauty Rx:

  • Moisturize regularly, especially after showering. Look for hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum or urea, to hold in moisture. For skin that’s inflamed and itchy, try products that contain oatmeal (such as Eucerin Calming Cream). For lips, apply emollients like Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vaseline Lip Therapy.

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  • Shower with lukewarm, not hot, water and stay in less than 10 minutes. (Long, hot showers dry out the skin). Then pat – don’t ­rub – dry with a towel.

  • Wear leather gloves when out in cold weather (leather is a better barrier to moisture evaporation than wool) and put on waterproof vinyl gloves while doing wet chores.

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What Works

For lips, keep applying lip balm throughout the day. For skin that’s dry but not cracked, moisturizers with alpha-hydroxy acids (lactic acid or glycolic acid) can help maintain the skin’s barrier function. But don’t apply to broken skin; it will sting. My take-home message is prevention. Just as you shouldn’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, don’t wait until your skin is chapped and dry before moisturizing.

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