The human lips labia oris is the junction between the outer facial skin and inner buccal mucosa that lines the mouth cavity. The outer layers are very similar to skin except that the lips has fewer layers. Your lips serve as organs of prehension, suction and speech. It is composed of the skin, superficial fascia, orbicularis muscle and the muscles inserted around it (areolar tissue & mucous membrane).
WHY DO WE GET CHAPPED OR DRY LIPS?
Lips have fewer layers of skin - The top corneum layer of the lip contains about only 3 to 4 layers and very thin compared to face skin which generally the top corneum layer has 15 to 16 layers mainly for protection purpose.
The lip skin has no hair follicle or sebaceous glands and therefore do not make sebum. Sebum provides hydration and antioxidants like vitamin E. Vitamin E is a very important antioxidant that helps to protect against oxidative stress, including that caused by the sun’s UV rays. Lips loose their natural moisture easily and can quickly become dry, dry lips can eventually crack (chapped lips) and if it persists it can contribute to slight discoloration of the lips. This is also more likely to occur in cold climates and windy weather and is more common in cigarette smokers and mouth breathers as the movement of air in and out of the mouth expedites moisture loss.WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT COLORED LIPS?
The color of skin is determined by the amount of natural pigment known as melanin. Melanocytes are specialized pigment cells that produce melanin in smaller quantities than elsewhere on the skin. Our lips also have melanin but to a much lesser degree than the rest of the skin. This lower quantity of melanin is genetically determined but is further regulated by exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight. Due to the fewer layers of skin than the rest of the face, the color of the lips is also largely dependent on the underlying tissue color and blood flow. This is the reason that your lips are a pink, red or brown color depending on your ethnicity.
WHAT CAN CHANGE THE COLOR OF MY LIPS?
LIFESTYLE FACTORS - Cigarette smoking and alcohol use may cause discoloration of the lips. Cigarette smokers may have darkening of the lips and inner lining of the mouth known as smoker’s melanosis. This only occurs in long term cigarette smoking and will resolve once smoking is discontinued. Certain types of alcohol and home brews may use acidic substances to speed up fermentation which can lead to a dark spots on the lips.
LENTIGO - Is a flat brown to black spot that can affect the skin and lips. It may be associated with long term sun exposure (solar lentigines, also known as actinic lentigines or liver spots)
MELASMA - Is hyperpigmentation of the skin associated with increased melanin deposition. It occurs on any surface of the skin that is exposed to sun but on the face in particular. While it has a predilection for the forehead and cheeks, it may also occur on the lips, particularly the upper lip. It tends to form symmetrical patches with no itching or other symptoms of a rash.
DERMATITIS - Lipstick can cause lips sores in some people but this depends on individual sensitivity. The substances can cause irritation of the skin on the lips. This is known as irritant contact dermatitis. In some hypersensitive individuals these substances can trigger an allergic reaction and is known as allergic contact dermatitis.
SUN EXPOSURE - Chronic sun exposure can also cause slight darkening of the lips apart from solar lentigo and melasma mentioned above which present with dark spots or patches respectively. UV light has the same effect of stimulating melanin production as it does on skin on other parts of the body. However, the skin on the lips with its lower melanin content may not be affected as significantly. (Read my blog post about Natural Remedies for Sunburn here.)
HOW DO OUR LIPS CHANGE AS WE AGE?
Your lips lose fullness and shape as you age - Have you have noticed that your lips don’t seem to be as full or as well-defined as they used to be? this is because the amount of collagen proteins in your skin starts to decrease over time. Since collagen is what primarily gives our skin it's firm, youthful structure, declining collagen levels can result in thinning and changes to the shape of the lips.
HOW CAN I BEST PROTECT MY LIPS?
Lip balms are formulations applied onto the lips to prevent dryness caused by moisture loss and help to protect against adverse environmental factors.
- Base: Butter or Wax
- Oils: Avocado Grape Seed
- Coloring Agent: Beet Root, Mango
- Flavouring Agent: Vanilla, Honey
- Plant Waxes: Carnauba, candelilla, jojoba
Animal Waxes: Beeswax, lanolin, spermaceti
Mineral Waxes: Ozokerite, paraffin, microcrystalline, ceresin
Synthetic Waxes: Polyethylene, carbowax, acrawax, stearon.
Lip Gloss and Oils Can Attract UV Rays - Some studies have suggested that wearing shiny lip gloss or oils like mineral oil on your lips without pairing them with SPF could increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Gloss and oils are thought to attract UV rays and focus them more directly onto the skin to which they are applied. While it’s best to avoid glossy lip products altogether, if you really like this look and want a bit of a shine, make sure you also use SPF to decrease the cancer risk.
It is very important that you keep your lips protected from the sun by using an SPF lip balm, as your lips are more likely to get skin cancer than the areas of your body that do have sebum and therefore built-in sun protection.
Until next time...
be human | be kind | be you
- Kokil, Suruchi & Kadu, Mayuri & Suruchi Vishwasrao, Dr & Sonia Singh, Dr. (2014). Review on Natural Lip Balm. International Journal of Research in Cosmetic Science. 5. 1.
Dark lips causes:
Scienctific facts about lips: