Check-Up: Why do her lips get so dry?

February 10, 2020

Dear Readers,

Josette has a problem with wearing lipstick. She doesn’t know if it’s because she works in an air- conditioned environment, which dries out her skin and lips.

She says that within an hour or so of applying lipstick, her lips get dry, and the lipstick begins to peel off. Sometimes she just has to wipe it all off.

She notices that her sister can keep the same lipstick on for hours at a time, which makes her envious.

She asks Check Up what is causing this anomaly and what can she do about it.


Well, everybody’s skin just isn’t the same, even with siblings. Josette may have skin allergies for certain substances involving her lips.

Lipsticks are thought to be ‘moderate-risk’ cosmetics for the development of allergic reactions.

Some people develop allergies where the regular skin meets the outer margin of the lip, and this reaction can even extend to involve the adjacent skin surrounding the mouth and the angles of the mouth.

Acute allergic contact eczema of the lips, also called cheilitis (inflammation), can cause swelling and small blisters to form within minutes of applying lipstick.

In a more chronic form, what will happen is that after applying of the lipstick, the lips might feel dry and scaly and even a bit itchy.

Slight lip swelling can also occur. This can begin within hours of applying lipstick and can last for days, and even months.


Other allergic type disorders of the lips are:

- Contact urticaria

- Contact leukoderma


Lipstick is composed of several compounds, and an individual can be allergic to any of them, or even more than one. These compounds include:

- The stick

- Emollient

- Solvent for the pretty dye colours

- The colours

- Preservatives

- Antioxidants

- Perfumes

- Flavouring


Lipsticks are the most common source of allergens in women. You can test for this by patch testing, which is a method of determining substances which, on contact with the skin, cause allergic reactions in a particular person.

The best treatment for lipstick allergy is to avoid the substances contained in the lipstick which are causing the allergic response.

Note also that even though only a small amount of alcohol is used in the preparation of lipsticks, this small amount can cause lip dryness.

Also, matte lipsticks use more wax than oil in their composition to give the flat, non-shiny look.

But with less oil, the lips will tend to dry out more quickly than a glossy lipstick. Fragrant lipsticks are also often mixed with alcohol, which dries the lips.

So the message is, be careful what you choose.

In addition to this, temperature fluctuations, dehydration, exposure to cold temperatures or windy conditions and cigarette smoking can all cause dry, scaly lips.


So, drink water and keep well hydrated and limit exposure to the elements. Moisturise your lips before applying lipstick.

Hydrate your lips with lip balm before, during and after application of lipstick.

Vitamin B, zinc and iron deficiencies can also result in split lips, so taking a good multi-vitamin daily is useful.

If lips are itchy, take an oral or topical antihistamine every day while you moisturise your lips several times a day.

Virgin coconut oil or cocoa butter are really good lip moisturisers which can be applied several times a day. Olive oil can also work as well as Vitamin E oil.


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