You know it's winter when nearly all the kids in a preschool have those tell-tale red rings around their lips. Winter is hard on our skin – from head to toe – but especially on our lips.
"The air outside is dry this time of year, and when we turn the heat on in our homes that means there’s less moisture inside too," said Dr. Mike Ferguson, an ear, nose and throat physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – ENT.
The result? Many kids – and adults – develop chapped, cracked lips. Even though cold weather is a common cause of chapped lips, he adds that the real culprit is licking your lips.
“When lips feel dry or chapped, the natural reaction is to lick your lips," Dr. Ferguson said.
Constant licking to relieve discomfort can cause lip licker’s dermatitis, a red rash that forms around the mouth. The saliva from habitual lip licking irritates the skin – the constant cycle causes chapped lips to extend over the lip borders and create that telltale red ring.
So what can you do to help a child with chapped lips?
One solution is to use a healthy emollient such as Aquaphor or Vaseline, which create a protective barrier that prevents moisture loss, Dr. Ferguson said.
Liberally coat your child’s mouth and skin as often as possible throughout the day, and especially before bed. Dr. Ferguson recommends avoiding stick formulations as some contain ingredients that will continue to dry out the lips.
What else can you do? Dr. Ferguson says sleeping with a humidifier can help put moisture back in the air – and keep more moisture in your skin. And of course, stay hydrated. Kids ages 4 to 8, for instance, should get about five cups of water a day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.