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THE BASICS OF LIP CARE

Lip care is just as important as caring for the rest of your skin. However, your lips have specific needs that require more than just your usual skincare products. Anatomical differences between the skin of your lips and the skin elsewhere on your face and body make them more susceptible to dryness and peeling. Caring for the lips properly helps maintain your skin’s overall wellness as well as their ideal appearance. 

The area which we typically define as our lips is actually only a portion of them – specifically, the vermilion zone. This is the pink, outer portion where we would apply lipstick. It is contained by the vermilion border, or the lip line. These areas are different from the rest of our skin because they have no sweat or sebaceous glands, or hair follicles. Additionally, the skin here is only three-five epithelial layers thick, compared to approximately sixteen epithelial layers across the rest of the body. This characteristic thinness is what allows your lips to present their pink hue, a result of the closeness of blood vessels to the surface. 

In order for our skin to be durable, different regions of the body develop varying degrees of keratinization for protection. Keratinization is responsible for maintaining hydration and withstanding friction on parts of the body which are not coated in mucous. Typically, we consider skin on the outside of the body (our arms, legs, and face) to be highly keratinized for these purposes. Skin cells inside the body, such as in our nasal passages and mouths, are deemed non-keratinized. The vermilion zone of the lips is unique in that it rests between these two distinctive qualities – it is less keratinized than skin elsewhere on the body, but more so than skin cells inside. The lesser keratinization is what makes the lips more susceptible to trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). In fact, the lips lose hydration three times as fast as the skin over your cheeks. This means they are often chronically dry, unless properly cared for. 

Because of their predisposition to TEWL, lips rely on products with effective occlusive agents. Occlusive agents minimize water loss to the environment by forming a protective layer which sits on top of the skin. Aside from maintaining moisture, occlusive agents help reduce irritation and can protect injuries while they heal. Such ingredients may include beeswax, carnauba wax, olive oil, soybean oil, and lanolin – think heavy, “slippery” substances. 

Another class of ingredients which can aid in the appearance of your lips are emollients, substances which soften the upper layers of the skin. Dryness often leads to flaking, peeling, and roughness of the vermilion zone. Emollients such as shea butter, colloidal oatmeal, lipid formulas, and sunflower seed oil can speed up barrier repair by replacing the sebaceous oil lost to cleansing, makeup, and the environment. Because the lips can’t directly produce their own sebum, emollient ingredients in your lip care are key to maintaining a soft, smooth, healthy skin barrier. 

Because they are so often drier than the rest of our skin, the lips also benefit greatly from ingredients with humectant properties. Humectants promote water retention by actually drawing it into the cells which need it from the rest of the body and from the environment. They also are able to bind water molecules within the skin so that they can’t evaporate as easily. Lip care products containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, lactic acid, and vegetable oils will have this added benefit. 

The lips are a unique feature of our face in more ways than one. Caring for them has not only aesthetic benefits, but health ones as well. Treating the delicate skin here properly will maintain their comfort and appearance. Find lip care products which combine occlusive agents, humectants, and emollients for long lasting hydration and softness.

References: 

  1. Carey, J. C., Cohen Jr, M. M., Curry, C. J., Devriendt, K., Holmes, L. B., & Verloes, A. (2009). Elements of morphology: standard terminology for the lips, mouth, and oral region. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A149(1), 77-92.
  2. Kobayashi, H., & Tagami, H. (2004). Functional properties of the surface of the vermilion border of the lips are distinct from those of the facial skin. British Journal of Dermatology150(3), 563-567.
  3. Lévêque, J. L., & Goubanova, E. (2004). Influence of age on the lips and perioral skin. Dermatology208(4), 307-313.
  4. Rawlings, A. V., Canestrari, D. A., & Dobkowski, B. (2004). Moisturizer technology versus clinical performance. Dermatologic therapy17, 49-56.
  5. Verallo-Rowell, V. M., Katalbas, S. S., & Pangasinan, J. P. (2016). Natural (mineral, vegetable, coconut, essential) oils and contact dermatitis. Current allergy and asthma reports16(7), 51.

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