We often tend to neglect our lips when it comes to facial skin care, except of course for the occasional collagen injection for some. And yet our mouth and lips are so vitally important for an array of reasons, including the ability to make various facial expressions, speaking, and let’s not forget kissing!
Why Are Lips Red?
The mucous membrane of the lips, which is full of capillaries and is close to the surface, gives lips a reddish color. And because lips contain less pigment melanin in them (the lighter the skin, the less color), the skin is more translucent.
What’s In a Kiss?
The lips are an erogenous zone due to the high content of nerve endings. When you kiss, it carries messages from your lips, tongue and face to your brain. Your brain responds by ordering your body to produce:
- Oxytocin: helps people develop feelings of attachment, devotion and affection for one another
- Dopamine: plays a role in the brain’s processing of emotions, pleasure and pain
- Serotonin: affects mood and feelings
- Adrenaline: increases heart rate and plays a role in your body’s fight-or-flight response.
Our lips are composed of skin, muscle and mucosa. They have no bones, oil glands or infrastructure. The skin is very thin compared to the rest of our facial skin and it’s comprised of three to five cellular layers. As we age, this already thin layer becomes progressively thinner.
Is Pout Important?
According to sexual psychologists, tests have found that men find a woman with full lips to be more sexually attractive than those with thin lips. Apparently it’s all due to a woman’s estrogen – the higher the level of estrogen, the larger the eyes and the fuller the lips. Plump lips therefore serve as a biological indicator of a woman’s health and fertility. No wonder then the demand for lip plumpers and collagen injections!
Lips and the Aging Process
Without proper care, lips can age faster than other areas of our skin. Think of your lips as a sponge. “When exposed to moisture, they absorb water and plump up. When dehydrated, they dry out and shrink,” explains Bruce Bart, M.D., a dermatologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Because our lips are always exposed, they’re prone to dehydration, particularly during the cold, dry, winter months.
A major culprit of premature aging around the mouth is smoking. Besides the damage caused by the toxins in the smoke itself, smokers are more likely to develop lines around the mouth because of the repeated use of the perioral muscles to hold the cigarette. Smoking increases the hits of aging free radicals by about a million per inhalation. Generally, heavy smokers age 10 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts.
If that’s not enough, smoking decreases the secretion of estrogen from the ovaries, and it also is thought to make the liver destroy estrogen supplies (nicotine activates enzymes in the liver that metabolize sex hormones, speeding up the rate at which they are removed from the body), causing possible, early onset of menopause.
Our lips need more moisture and conditioning as we age. The cumulative damage to the lips and the skin resulting from years of overexposure to the sun, cold air and harsh weather pay their toll. The negative effects of the environment frequently result in the drying, chapping, and cracking of the mouth, and there’s increased risk of inflammation, infection and burning sensations. Greater care of your lips can reverse the signs of aging and trauma.
Is It Possible To Reduce The Effects of Environmental Damage And Aging On The Lips?
Using a lip care product with effective moisturizers and sunscreen (SPF 15+) can help reduce the effects of two of the main contributors to an aged appearance: sun damage and moisture loss. Since the lips have little or no melanin, they have little or no protection from the damaging effects of UV rays, which is why the lips can prematurely age as well as contract skin cancer.
Why Do Some Lipsticks Irritate The Lips And Mouth?
Normally this is because of a condition called cosmetic dermatitis, which results when an individual develops sensitivity to certain ingredients (such as dyes in lipsticks or flavoring agents). Allergies are unpredictable; they can attack when using well-manufactured products made by reputable companies, they can occur from an ingredient in a product you have used for years, and everything in between. And blackheads around the lips are typically caused by comedogenic ingredients in lip products such as Red D&C coal tar dyes.
Why Do People Get Pigmentation Just Around Their Mouth?
This is often due to photosensitivity either from an internal condition or from something that causes a reaction when exposed to sunlight. It often results from past exposure to photoactive chemicals found in certain medications, supplements or cosmetics. The symptoms resemble sunburn: redness, pain, burning or swelling. This may happen with even brief sun exposure soon after the application of a lipstick or other cosmetics. It’s important to discontinue use of the cosmetic or chemical triggering the reaction immediately. The application of a lip care product containing SPF15+ is highly recommended.
How Long Does Lipstick Last?
The average shelf life of a lipstick is normally about 12 months, however the cosmetic company you purchase from can confirm. You can even get an allergy because your lipstick is too old! To keep clean, wash your brush/applicator at least twice a week and never share your lip gloss/stick with friends – unless you want their bacteria!
Should You Wear Lip Balm As Well As Lipstick?
Yes, it’s a great idea. Lip balms work best when worn under lipstick, as they normally contain protective and moisturizing ingredients. Using a balm under your lipstick will improve the application because you’ll find that the color will go on more evenly. The lipstick should also last much longer with lip balm and it’s less likely to dry out the lips.
I Use Lip Balm but My Lips Are Still Dry. What Can I Do?
We can often blame the weather, but take a look at your diet or how you are currently dealing with stress and anxiety. Eastern practitioners believe that if you have cracked lips it is a sign of gastric stress, and excess licking of the lips is a sure sign of anxiety. They also believe that dryness at the corners of the mouth is stomach stress of the duodenum, whereby there is too much acid in the body.
In Eastern diagnosis, the mouth represents the organs of the spleen and stomach – the stomach representing the upper lip, and the transverse colon the lower lip. An over protruding, pouty lower lip is related to an overloaded colon, and a curling up, protruding upper lip means there is too much acid in the stomach. Tight lips, tight intestines.
Can You Become Addicted To Lip Balms?
What feels like an addiction is more psychological. According to Dr. Charles Zugerman, Associate Professor of Clinical Dermatology at North-Western University Medical School, people do not become addicted to lip care products or the ingredients in them. Rather, people may become habituated to the soothing feeling of having a lip care product on their lips. Should this happen, the person can stop using the product and experience no withdrawal symptoms. There is no such thing as physical addiction to lip balm.
Can You Exfoliate The Lips?
Yes, but be gentle and use mild exfoliants such as Rice Bran Powder. Never over-exfoliate – once per week max. Dr. Monte Meltzer, Chief of Dermatology at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore states “Some lip products contain Salicylic Acid, an ingredient of unproven safety when applied to lips. Lips are not hyperkeratotic skin, when Salicylic Acid is applied to the lips, it can erode through the outer stratum corneum to damage living skin layers beneath.”
How Do Lip Plumpers/Primers Work?
There is an array of ingredients used for lip plumping; a common one is Red Chili. They work by causing localized skin irritation, whereby the lips become irritated and swell. But keep in mind that where there is inflammation, there is potential for accelerated aging.
Smart Lip Care Tips:
- Avoid excess licking of your lips and do not pick at them.
- Protect your lips daily with a balm or lipstick containing sunscreen.
- Be careful about what products you use and always read the ingredient list first.
- Exfoliate your lips no more than once per week.
- Use moderation with matte. Matte lipsticks can be extremely drying (which helps these lipsticks stay put for so long). That’s why you should use them sparingly when your lips are extremely chapped. Instead, alternate the use of them with hydrating lipsticks (as indicated by ingredients like Vitamin E and/or Glycerin), or add a layer of moisturizing lip balm underneath.
Ingredients to look for:
- Vitamin E
- Cocoa Seed Butter
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Palmitoyl Oligopeptide
- Arginine/ Lysine Polypeptide
Ingredients to avoid:
- Artificial fragrance
- Isopropyl Esters (Myristate, Palmitate, Lanolate and Linoleate)
- Myristyl Lactate
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Lanolin Wax (Lanolic Acid)
- Red D&C Dyes
- Petroleum Jelly
- Baby Oil