Lips are great for showing off your favorite lipstick shade and kissing your significant other. But they can also tip you off about some health issues.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Annie Gonzalez says that our outside environments can do a number on your lips, and there are symptoms that can signal serious physical illnesses.
“While not every new symptom regarding your lips is necessarily concerning, some serious illnesses present signs through the lips,” Gonzalez explains. “It is advised to keep an eye on your lips to see if they change color, texture or size.”
When it comes down to it, your lips are actually telling you more about your health than you may think.
The Anatomy Of The Lips
So get into the nitty gritty, we first have to address the anatomy of the lips.
The skin of the lips is extremely thin, and that allows the blood vessels underneath to be more visible. This is why our lips have a pink or reddish hue.
To break things down even further, there are two distinct kinds of skin on our lips. According to the PMFA journal, the outside part of your lips, where you apply lipstick, is known as the vermillion. The inner, wet part of your lips is called the mucosal lip.
With that info in our pockets, we can dive right in.
What Dry, Chapped Lips Mean
The vermillion doesn’t have the sweat or oil glands the rest of our skin has. This is why lips dry out and get cracked more often than the rest of the body.
Dryness and chapping are by far the most common symptom that affects the lips, said Dr. Susan Massick, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She said that dry lips typically indicate basic dehydration or extreme weather changes.
“When your skin lacks moisture, it becomes dry–same thing happens on your lips, and they will feel dry and chapped,” Dr. Massick says. “Chapped lips can be made worse when people bite or peel the skin off the lips or frequently lick the lips in an attempt to moisten them. In fact, saliva does not moisten the lips–it actually makes them more dry.”
Drinking water and keeping them moisturized with a topical ointment will usually solve the problem. But there’s also the possibility that the underlying cause of your chapped lips is an allergy or contact dermatitis. That’s fancy science talk for an outside source causing irritation.
“Lip-licking dermatitis can occur as a result of frequent licking of the skin and the irritation to the skin from the saliva,” said Dr. Massick. “Some people have sensitivity to lip balm ingredients and this can lead to dry, red and irritated lips. People should be particularly careful if the lip balm that they use stings when they apply it–this can actually make things worse and more inflamed.”
Cold Sores Are Incredibly Common
Cold sores are another incredibly common lip symptom.
According to the World Health Organization, billions of people around the world have the herp, and that means cold sores.
If you have the herpes simplex virus, the symptoms will usually show up as soon as you contract it. It will then lie dormant in your system. But stress, lack of sleep, sun exposure, lack of nutrition or strain on your immune system can reactivate it.
When you start to feel the tingling of a cold sore coming on, talk to your doctor about medication or topical cream. You should also know that an active cold sore can spread the virus, so be mindful of that when you’re smooching.
Pay Attention To The Color Of Your Pout
Dr. Gonzalez says that the color of your pout is uber important.
If you notice your lips losing their reddish, pink color, it could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency. If your lips suddenly go pale, that’s most likely iron-deficiency anemia. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, that’s when your blood cells don’t have the necessary materials to make hemoglobin
If your lips are blue, that can be a sign of anemia or heart disease. If they are yellow, you could have problems with your liver.
Simply put, if you see your lips changing color, it’s time to see your doctor.
A Lot Of Things Can Cause Cracking
Cracks in the corners of the mouth are also extremely common. But if they never go away, a number of different things could be causing the chronic cracking.
From vitamin deficiencies to Crohn’s disease, persistently dry, scaly patches on your lips are telling you something. If they never heal despite moisturizing and hydrating, go see your doctor.
Burning Lips Can Signal A Bigger Issue
If you aren’t eating spicy foods and are experiencing burning lips, that could be a sign of a B-12 deficiency. It could also signal depression, anxiety or menopause. The sun’s rays can also burn your lips, so Massick suggests using a moisturizer with SPF.
Swollen Lips Are A Cause For Concern
If you’re not injecting lip filler to get that Kylie Jenner pout and your lips are swollen, that could be a sign of an allergic reaction. You could be allergic to a certain type of food or maybe a product in your skincare or makeup routine.
If you suspect you are allergic to something, try swapping out various products to figure out what the culprit is. If the swelling doesn’t go away, have a talk with your doctor.