Protecting Your Lips for a Beautiful, Healthy Smile
By Arthur Glosman DDS
It’s truly more than lip service. For a healthy, beautiful, younger-looking smile, I tell my patients to take good care of their whole mouth – from the inside out – paying special attention to the lips which need extra protection, especially from the sun…all year around, even in the Fall, regardless of where you live!
Our lips get used a lot…they’re prone to being used and abused. They’re used for talking, eating, emoting, and breathing – all activities that we do constantly throughout the day. To top it off, they have an extremely thin, very sensitive layer of skin lacking in sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands – though the bane of teens fighting acne – are actually one of skin’s best friends as sebaceous glands secrete sebum, an oily, waxy matter whose role is to lubricate and protect your skin. When compared to the skin on the rest of your face – because of the lack of sweat glands, our lips are the most vulnerable to drying out. In fact, research shows you lose up to 10 times more moisture through your lips than you do elsewhere on the face or the body. We need to make sure we protect them from the sun, wind, dry air, irritant foods and beverages, and our owning picking and licking.
As a dentist, I tell my patients to take good care of their lips by:
- Avoiding the midday sun, even in the fall and winter. Sunlight is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in the fall and winter or when it’s cloudy. You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays. Keep in mind that sunlight is more intense when it reflects off water, sand, and snow…all activities that are especially enjoyable.
- Adding moisture. If you’re getting eight glasses a day, but your lips are still parched, try adding moisture to your environment. A good humidifier can keep the air in your home from evaporating too quickly, which will reduce the amount of moisture being drawn from your lips exacerbating dry, chapped lips.
- Using sunscreen around the delicate lip area all year around. Not only will a good lip balm protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, it will also help prevent chapping and dryness as well. Sunscreens that are made for lips, such as lip balms, are less irritating than those made for the skin. Choose a lip balm that has an SPF of at least 30. Apply it generously and reapply every two hours or as needed. I tell my patients to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever possible.
- Avoiding tanning beds. Tanning beds emit UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into your skin and are more likely to cause cancerous lesions than the sun. If you can’t resist the sun-tanned look, choose self-tanning lotions or sprays, but be sure to always avoid the lips.
- Becoming aware that some medications make your lips more sensitive. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs can make your lips more sensitive to sunlight or cause them to be chapped and dry. These include some antibiotics, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and for the teens – the acne medication isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret). Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications prescribed. If they irritate your lips or make them more sun sensitive, take extra precautions and see a doctor as dry, discolored lips – outside the typical chapped lips or cold sore – could be a sign of a more serious underlying medical problem.
- Watching where they put their lips. Be a bit more discerning when it comes to sharing your lips. It might sound obvious, but I constantly remind my patients not to kiss anyone with a sore or infection on their mouth or face – even family members. 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 unsightly and emotionally bothersome cold sores.
- Flossing regularly. Everyday I’m reading more research linking poor flossing habits to serious disease such as heart disease and diabetes. And if your lips are cracked, it could be a sign of a dental infection that flossing could have helped prevent. Floss twice a day or after every meal. Carry floss picks for discrete, on-the-go flossing after meals out with friends or family.
- Eating a healthy diet. Your lips are dependent on a steady intake of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals so enjoy the bounty of healthy Fall fruits and vegetables which can help soothe and condition lips. Vitamins B and E are especially important for healthy lips. Pumpkin, filled with vitamins C, A, and E also offers anti-oxidants from carotenoids. Research shows that pomegranate juice has more inflammation-fighting antioxidants than red wine or green tea so eat/drink it regularly or use it in an age-fighting scrub around the lip area to remove the dead skin around the lip area, helping to decrease the appearance of wrinkles.
- Performing regular lip checks. Examine your lip often for lip growths or changes in existing skin around the area. Make sure your dentist is performing a lip and mouth exam for lesions and other abnormalities as part of their routine dental exam. Lip sores can be temporary, chronic, or episodic. And lip sores can be nothing much to worry about, easily treatable, or cause for greater concern.
It’s more than lip service. Protecting your lips should be as important as protecting the rest of your skin. While most lip problems are temporary and minor, lip infections and lip cancer can be troublesome. As fall approaches, take precautions so you can have both beautiful and healthy lips. As I tell my patients, a beautiful, healthy smile is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make you look and feel younger. Dentists, aestheticians, medical doctors, and other health and beauty professionals can not only be the first line of defense in detecting lip problems, but also in helping their clients attain beautiful, healthy smiles.
Dr. Arthur Glosman, DDS is a graduate of the prestigious University of Southern California’s dental school, Dr. Glosman was recently named by Tatler magazine as “one of the premiere dentists in the United States.” He is also named as one of “America’s Top Dentists” and was noted for his “Excellence in Cosmetic Dentistry” by the esteemed Consumers’ Research Council of American (2010). His unique, customized approach is known as the Glosman DentaLift and the Glosman LipLift. For more information, visit: arthurglosmandds.com.