8 ways to take care of your lips while wearing a face mask

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Next to our keys, wallet, and cell phone, face masks have become part of our daily mental checklist of on-the-go essentials. Something you may not think about, though, is the dry, flaky lips that come as a result of said face masks. Lip woes are especially prevalent when temps drop (think: cold air chapping up your lips), but paired with a face covering that you’re breathing into, the issues can multiply. And while there’s no date in sight for when we can live mask-free lives, that doesn’t mean our lips have to suffer in the meantime. We tapped Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles, to learn how to give lips some much-needed relief.

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1. Exfoliate your lips—gently

You may think of exfoliation as a way to slough off chapped skin, but the process can also remove the healthy skin on your lips if you’re not careful. “The goal with exfoliation is to increase cell turnover and eliminate dead skin but not the natural oils that are responsible for providing skin protection and balance,” explains Shamban. Avoid vigorous scrubbing (that means putting a stop to brushing your lips with a toothbrush) and limit exfoliation to once a week. You’ll notice that not overdoing it reveals smoother lips that are better able to soak up moisturizing ingredients in your products.

When you exfoliate, you can make your own lip scrub by adding a gritty product (like granulated sugar or coffee grounds) into a creamy base (like oil or avocado), or try the popular Homemade Heroes Lip Scrub that exfoliates with coconut and moisturizes with avocado, jojoba, and sweet almond oils. Get the Homemade Heroes Lip Scrub on Amazon for $9.99

2. Avoid licking your lips

Licking chapped lips is only a temporary solution to alleviating the dry feeling—in fact, it can actually exacerbate dryness. “When the saliva evaporates it takes moisture out of the lip tissues,” says Shamban, adding that the bacteria found in saliva also can further irritate raw skin. Not to mention, the harsh enzymes in our saliva that break down foods can also break down any oils or moisturizing products that have been applied to the lips to remedy chapping.

To nip the lip-licking habit in the bud, avoid flavored or scented products with ingredients that may tempt you to lick, such as eucalyptus, menthol, cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus.

3. Lather on a lip balm

Face masks can trap in heat, sweat, bacteria, and saliva. This, combined with ongoing, repetitive friction and low airflow can contribute to dehydration, chafing, and flaking on the lips. To combat this and draw in moisture, slather on a lip balm that includes emollients (think: shea butter) and humectants (like glycerin), as well as occlusives (such as lanolin), which seal in moisture and help the skin maintain its natural oils. Lip balms that list humectants and emollients as their base as well as thicker, high viscosity oils like avocado, mango, or hemp seed can also be effective at targeting flakiness. Shamban says to avoid products that are mostly water- or alcohol-based, as they tend to evaporate more quickly.

If you’re looking for a new go-to lip balm (and can resist the urge to lick your lips), we recommend the Carmex Classic Lip Balm, which is made with menthol and beeswax for a fresh, moisturizing feeling. If you prefer something with protection, try Aquaphor’s Lip Repair + Protect—it has SPF 30 and a fragrance-free formula that’s suitable for sensitive skin types.

  • Get the Carmex Classic Lip Balm on Amazon for $6
  • Get the Aquaphor Lip Repair + Protect on Amazon for $3.74

4. Apply an overnight treatment

During the day, our skin is busy fighting off pathogens, irritants, UVA/UVB rays, and other environmental factors. At night, Shamban says that protection mode is switched off and our skin moves from defense to offense, making it the ideal time to treat chapped lips. “As hormone levels rise and cellular communications are uninterrupted by dermal distractions of the day, we can accelerate our cellular function and stimulate the production of proteins, collagen, and antioxidant enzymes necessary for regeneration,” explains Shamban. “Any treatment product applied overnight will be able to penetrate better and get to work more efficiently.”

Double down on your nighttime skincare routine and apply an overnight lip mask that’ll boost the health and appearance of your lips come morning. For this, try the mega-popular Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, which claims to moisturize with hyaluronic acid and soothe and soften the lips with vitamin C and antioxidants from berries.

Get the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask at Sephora for $22

5. Avoid matte lipstick formulas

You may be tempted to opt for matte, long-wearing liquid lipsticks to avoid staining the inside of your mask, but Shamban says to avoid them if you’re struggling with chapped lips. “Those are usually made with the least oil or emollients and can be the most drying,” she says. Instead, go for a clear or slightly tinted lip color that boasts a satin finish—this eliminates the risk of drying out your lips and gives you that “no-makeup makeup” look that won’t feel uncomfortable underneath your face mask.

If you don’t already own one, we suggest the Bille Super Salve, which comes in six shades (clear included) and uses sunflower and avocado oil to nourish and hydrate lips.

Get the Billie Super Salve Daily Hydrating Lip Balm for $9

6. Wash your face mask

A dirty face mask can make for a dermal disaster. Beyond giving you a serious case of “mascne” (that’s mask acne), it can wreak havoc on your lips, as well as the area surrounding them. “Bacteria, dirt, sweat, and saliva, as well as sun protection and lip balm, can all build up inside the mask,” Shamban says. “They can also cause angry pores and tissues presenting themselves in the form of blemishes, comedones, atopic dermatitis, rashes, and itchiness.” Throw your face mask in the laundry on a hot cycle to avoid skin irritation. And, if your disposable medical mask is showing signs of soilage (ahem, foundation stains), it’s time to replace it.

For a reusable mask, we recommend the Athleta Non Medical Face Mask, which feels breathable but offers protection with three layers of fabric. It’s also machine-washable and keeps its shape when dried, though it’s recommended to lay it flat to air dry.

Get the Athleta Non Medical Face Mask at Athleta for $30

7. Apply SPF underneath your mask

If you thought you were in the clear when it comes to protecting your lips from the sun, we’re here to tell you otherwise. A white T-shirt has a UPF of about 7, so while an opaque mask with multiple layers will protect you, it’ll only do so while you’re wearing it. Because many of us remove our masks when we’re alone outside to catch a deeper breath, take a sip of a drink, or wipe away sweat, it’s important to have an SPF on board. Harmful rays can cause burning in lips that are already dry and flaky, which can lead to a host of other issues like cold sores and rough patches. “Any time spent outside the mask or not requires sun protection,” Shamban advises.

This lip balm from Neutrogena contains SPF 20, comes in several tinted shades, and promises to maintain lip moisture.

Get the Neutrogena Revitalizing and Moisturizing Tinted Lip Balm SPF 20 on Amazon for $6.97

8. Whip up a DIY lip mask

If quarantine has you looking for new activities to occupy your time, play cosmetic chemist and try a DIY lip mask of strawberry, honey, and coconut oil. High in moisturizers, emollients, and fatty acids, this natural solution will make your lips look (and feel) revitalized and smooth. Plus, the antibacterial and “clarifying” effects of honey combined with the antioxidants the vitamin C found in strawberries helps to fend off bacteria and free radicals that cause aging. To make the mask, mash one strawberry with one teaspoon each of honey and coconut oil. Apply onto the lips for three minutes before gently wiping away and following up with a nourishing lip balm, such as the shea butter-rich eos The Hero Extra Dry Lip Balm Treatment.

Get the Eos The Hero Extra Dry Lip Balm Treatment at Target for $3.99

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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