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Using Scrubs or Exfoliants On Your Lips Can Damage Them Further

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Sep 4, 2020

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Image Credit: Adobe Stock

Dull, chapped lips are no joy to have, but some popular remedies we are sold to fix them are only making them worse. Beauty hacks to fix chapped lips range store-bought scrubs to DIY sugar-and-honey lip scrubs to straight up brushing lips with toothpaste.

The skin on our lips is a lot thinner than the skin on the rest of our body. Plus, lip skin doesn’t have oil glands, which means it cannot moisturize itself. Not drinking enough water, exposure to the sun and cold/dry air, and habits like smoking can thus make our lips dry and prone to cracking/peeling. Lip exfoliators are supposed to slough off this dry, peeling exterior of the lips’ surface, leaving behind soft, clean lips. But it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

Scrubbing one’s lips can cause redness, irritation or bleeding immediately after the process for some. Long-term, frequent lip-scrubbing can cause micro-tears on the skin’s surface, leading to frequent dry, chapped lips. Essentially, when a person scrubs their lips, they further irritate the skin, which prolongs the presence of dead skin and cracks on the lips, leading to a vicious cycle.

“Lip scrubs can be damaging to the delicate mucosa of the lip; they can cause a little bit of abrasion, micro-injury, and even some bleeding if you’re not careful…,” Lara Devgan, a plastic surgeon, told Allure.


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Instead of scrubbing one’s lips, a better option is using an emollient — a substance that covers the lips with a protective film to trap the moisture within it. A bland emollient is better because flavored and fragranced lip balms have additional ingredients that can also further irritate lip tissue. Some examples of emollients include petroleum jelly lip balms and squalane oil.

However, if exfoliating is absolutely necessary, then using mild chemical exfoliants called ‘lip peels’ is advisable. Mild exfoliating acids like glycolic and lactic acid can gently slough of dead cells without causing any further tears and damage, according to Dr. Devgan. This works as long as the lip peels in question do not have separate ingredients that can irritate lip tissue.

At the end of the day, what is imperative to maintaining healthy lip tissue in the long term is drinking enough water, moderating one’s alcohol consumption, and avoiding smoking altogether.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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