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Dry Lips Won't Take a Licking

It'll cause more problems during winter than you think

SATURDAY, Dec. 27, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Got dry lips? Don't lick 'em, especially not in winter.

Licking your lips can cause two different problems, both of them more common in colder months when the air is dry. One is called perleche and refers to inflammation that occurs around the corners of the mouth as a result of contact with saliva. Saliva contains various digestive enzymes, two of which in particular (amylase and maltase) can be irritating.

"They basically digest your skin," says Dr. Richard Mizuguchi, a clinical professor of dermatology at Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.

The second condition, which is probably even more common, is called irritant dermatitis and is again due to saliva. Contrary to what most people think, licking your lips will not moisturize them.

"When you lick your lips, the water has to evaporate, and when it evaporates, it takes the moisture out of the skin so it gets even drier. When it's drier you lick more and it becomes a vicious circle," Mizuguchi says. The result is a dry, eczema-type process.

The alternative to lip-licking? Try chapstick and, for women, moisturizing lipstick. Not only will this put moisture in your skin, it will also protect your lips when you do have an urge to lick.

More information

Don't confuse dry lips with a dry mouth, which can mean a whole host of things, according to this site.

SOURCE: Richard Mizuguchi, clinical professor, dermatology, Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City
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