While an often overlooked indicator of ill-health, your lips – used as a diagnostic tool in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine – are a valuable means of determining what your body needs.
Here is what you should be watching out for:
If you haven’t received a blow or a knock to the mouth, consider if you are suffering a sensitivity or allergic reaction to either a food or other substance. If accompanied by other symptoms like itchiness, pain or hives, get to a doctor.
Of course, infections like the herpes simplex virus can also cause swelling of the lips. Rarely, medical conditions that cause pain and inflammation in other areas of the body, such as Crohn’s disease, may lead to lip swelling.
2. Cold Sores
Caused by the herpes simplex virus, cold sores are annoying and unpleasant. They’re also highly contagious so watch out! Once you have acquired the virus, it will remain dormant in your system most of the time but can flare up every now and then.
These small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation. The virus can be activated by certain triggers, such as sunlight, fatigue, an injury to the mouth or, in women, menstruation.
Thankfully, cold sores aren’t a harmful virus – although they may signal you are run down, stressed, need to catch up on sleep or should be wearing sunblock on your lips.
Cold sores usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days, although these 12 home remedies can help speed up the healing process.
Tender lips are usually accompanied by other symptoms, like cold sores or swelling, which should give you a good indication of what the underlying issue is. But if your lips are sensitive to touch without any other problems, it may signal a mild allergic reaction or sensitivity to something topical.
Consider if it could be caused by your lipsticks, glosses, balms or even your toothpaste – they are all prime suspects when it comes to tender lips!
For example, some color pigments in beauty products are known to cause sensitivity – read more about them here.
Mild sunburn is another cause of tenderness. Because our skin is so thin on the lips, this area will often be affected long before the rest of the body.
4. Cracking Around the Mouth
Known as angular cheilitis, cracking at the corners of the mouth is quite a painful complaint and can be caused by a variety of nutritional deficiencies.
For example, a lack of iron means that skin cells can’t regenerate as quickly, leading to broken skin. Check out these other symptoms of iron deficiency.
The B complex vitamins are also vital when it comes to skin and lip health. In particular, watch out for your intake of B2 (riboflavin) which you can get from cheese, eggs, almonds, mushrooms, sesame seeds and spinach; B3 (niacin) found in meat, peanuts, mushrooms, peas, sunflower seeds and avocado; and B6 (pyridoxine) from nuts and seeds, fish, meat, bananas, avocado and spinach. Fortified cereals and breads will also help you fulfil your B vitamin needs.
Zinc is another important supporter of lip health. You can find zinc in seafood, meat, nuts and seeds, spinach, cocoa, beans and mushrooms.
On the other hand, too much preformed vitamin A, from supplements, is toxic and can lead to cracking at the corners of the mouth. Instead, get your vitamin A from rich food sources of beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, apricot, mango, melon and squash. When taken from beta-carotene, our bodies only convert as much as they need to, so excess vitamin A isn’t a concern.
Cracked lips can also be a sign of diabetes, because the high level of blood glucose encourages the growth of candida which affects the thin skin at the corners of the mouth. Those without diabetes may also be experiencing a yeast infection, which can be easily treated with over-the-counter drugs or natural remedies.
5. Dryness and Chapping
Dryness and chapping are the most common lip related complaints. These symptoms are often caused by exposure to the elements – from the week you spent soaking up the Hawaiian sun or that half marathon you ran in the driving rain. In future, use sunblock or protect your skin and hair from the Winter elements with these tips.
If you live in a moderate climate, or spend all day chained to your desk, then chances are your dry, flaky lips are down to dehydration. While severe dehydration is a medical emergency, if you’re not experiencing any other symptoms, then just starting increasing your fluid intake with water, coconut water or herbal teas.
Less commonly, allergens in your toothpaste or cosmetics may be causing persistent chapping.
Finally, if you are constantly licking your lips then stop! Saliva dries out the thin skin further and aggravates the problem. Instead, try a nice homemade lip scrub and regularly apply coconut oil or lip balm.
Healthy lips should be a pink or red color. If you notice a change in the coloring of the skin around your mouth – whether it is to brown or bluish-gray – take note.
Slightly blue lips can signal anemia (an iron deficiency) or a lack of oxygen in the blood.
A flat brown to black spot on the lips, known as lentigo, may be associated with long term sun exposure or with certain systemic diseases.
Several different types of medication may cause hyperpigmentation and discoloration of the skin and lips including certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, some antidepressants and other drugs used for the treatment of skin disorders.
Cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse and regular narcotic use may all cause discoloration of the lips.
If the discoloration persists, or is accompanied by other symptoms, see your doctor.
Because the lips take on the hue of the underlying tissue color and blood flow, pale lips can signal a change in the redness of the blood. This is affected by the oxygen levels in the body.
8. Red Ring Around the Mouth
Called ‘red aura’, this ring is often caused by an allergy to common foods like wheat, dairy, soy, or too many sodas. Some people are particularly sensitive to the benzoic acid that causes sodas to be fizzy. Cleaning up your diet is the most effective way of making this aura disappear.
Benzoic acid is also an ingredient in toothpaste so check the labels carefully.
What to Do for Healthy Lips:
Healthy lips should be pinky-red, soft and smooth.
If yours aren’t, make sure to do the following:
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and address any nutritional deficiencies and food intolerances.
- Protect them from the elements by wearing sunblock and lip balm.
- Reduce your stress and ensure you are getting enough sleep to keep your immune system strong.
- Use only all-natural or homemade lip products and toothpastes.
- If the problems affecting your lips aren’t healing through a balanced lifestyle, visit your doctor to determine the underlying issues. If the root cause of your chapped lips isn’t dealt with, it may begin to affect other areas of your body and ultimately your overall health.