- Sunburn on the lips tends to be more painful than on other parts the body.
- Specific symptoms signal sunburn on the lips and it’s important to recognize these early.
- Many natural and over-the-counter products can help treat sunburned lips.
- Simple measures can be taken to block sun damage to the lips.
Summertime spells fun, sun and UV protection. When it comes to sunscreen, the lips tend to be overlooked. The skin on the lips is thinner and contains less melanin, making it especially sensitive and prone to sun damage.
Here we review the steps you should take to heal and prevent future sun damage to your lips.
What are the symptoms of sunburned lips?
When it comes to sun exposure, it’s important to avoid the damaging effects of both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, causing premature skin aging and wrinkling (photoaging). UVB rays will usually attack the superficial layers of your skin and plays a key role in the development of skin cancer. Thus, protecting your lips against harmful UV rays is paramount.
If you do fall victim to sunburn, it’s important to recognize the signs early on so you can treat it immediately.
Typically, a sunburn dries out your lips and you may feel a throbbing sensation and tightness around the cracked skin. In severe cases, lips will split and feel singed when touched. The skin will be tender, and sores and blisters may appear in time followed by an itching sensation.
» Learn more on how to heal sunburn fast – 15 tips from top dermatologists
How can I prevent sunburn to the lips?
Sun exposure destroys collagen and causes thinning of the skin around the lips. A lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 will protect against this and seal in the collagen.
Lip cosmetics that claim to protect against sun damage generally only have a UVB filter and don’t protect against UVA rays. Using a lip balm that protects against both UVA and UVB rays is highly recommended.
Avoid applying lip gloss and other cosmetics to your lips. The shine and shimmer in these products typically attract the sun’s rays, defeating the purpose of sun block.
Lip sunscreen: recommended products
Dr. Joseph Cruise, a plastic surgeon from Orange County, recommends three brands of sun protecting lip balm:
Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm (SPF 25) is a conditioning product that protects against sun damage while it soothes dry and cracked lips.
Sun Bum Sunscreen Lip Balm (SPF 30) contains aloe vera and vitamin E to protect and moisturize the lips.
EltaMD UV Lip Balm Broad-Spectrum (SPF 31) is a moisturizing lip sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. This lip balm was specifically made to help prevent skin cancer and diminish signs of photoaging.
Oral supplements for lip care
Though not a replacement for lip balm with SPF protection, Heliocare along with other oral supplements such as Sunsafe RX can be taken in conjunction with topical SPF protection.
These products contain extracts of the fern Polypodium leucotomes. This plant-based ingredient acts as an antioxidant to block the negative effects of UV damage to cells.
Current research suggests that Heliocare and other sun protection products that use P. leucotomos extract are safe and effective. They can be purchased for under $40 USD, making this a viable and affordable add on to your skincare regimen.
According to Beverly Hills dermatologist and CEO of M Beauty Clinic, Dr. Tess Mauricio, “Oral supplements that contain the proper scientifically proven ingredients, when given in biologically active doses can be very effective.”
She also concurs that there is good science supporting the use of oral P. leucotomos extract.
“Other antioxidants such as vitamin C and Glutathione can also work and the protection can be full-body, waterproof and sweat proof,” she notes. On the addition of oral supplements to lip balm protection, Dr. Mauricio says “Any extra cellular protection from UV damage can help decrease the risk of sunburns from any part of the body, including lips.”
Natural Treatments and at-home remedies
Already suffered damage to your lips from excess sun exposure? We’ve got you covered. There’s a plethora of natural products that can help soothe and repair dry, cracked lips.
We review the top 8 that can help restore your pucker back to its full plumpness.
- Cold compress
A cold compress should be applied to a burn as quickly as possible as it reduces pain and inflammation.
Soak a towel in cold water and place the compress directly on sunburned lips. As the compress gets warmer, refresh it with more cold water and repeat until the pain and swelling reduce.
Never apply ice directly to any burn as this could damage the skin further.
- Aloe vera
Gentle and hydrating, aloe vera is one of nature’s ultimate skin healing treatments.
The two main components that make this plant ideal are glycoproteins that work to minimize pain and inflammation, and polysaccharides that stimulate the growth of healthy skin.
Simply cut open the plant and apply the sap directly to the burned area. Getting the sap directly from the plant is ideal but if this is not possible, then commercially available aloe vera gels are an appropriate alternative.
Technically a fruit, tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that has been shown to protect your skin against harmful UV rays. They can also be used to treat a burn once the skin has been overexposed to the sun.
A mixture of tomato and buttermilk can help soothe sun damaged lips. Mix a ratio of one part tomato to two parts buttermilk and apply it directly onto the lips for 30 minutes before washing it off. Repeat as needed.
This plant possesses plenty of natural healing properties, which help cleanse, tone and soften inflamed skin.
Wet some chamomile tea bags and place them in the freezer for a few minutes. Apply the tea bags directly onto the burn and repeat as necessary. Chamomile oil is also a suitable option. Simply combine it with vitamin E oil and apply it to the affected area.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E contains antioxidants that neutralize the effects of free radicals caused by UV radiation. Free radicals are volatile atoms that are associated with disease, including cancer.
Vitamin E penetrates deeply into the skin, helps regenerate skin cells and prevents scarring. It can be applied as an oil directly onto the lips or in combination with chamomile oil.
- Cucumber slices
A plant from the gourd family, cucumbers contain no harmful chemicals and can help alleviate pain within minutes. Not only can cucumber slices calm aching blisters, this remedy also works to fight dark spots created by sunburns.
Cucumbers contain antioxidants and silica which help refresh and lighten skin. Cut a few slices and refrigerate them for 15 minutes before applying them to sunburned lips. Flip them over once they warm up.
This natural antiseptic will help ease pain and bring down swelling. Turn turmeric into a paste by combining two tablespoons of the spice with a quantity of water that will give it a paste-like consistency.
This paste can be left on the lips for an hour, and the process can be repeated 2 to 3 times daily.
- Coconut oil
This oil is a suitable remedy for sunburned lips. It’s easy to apply and treats dryness as well as chapping. It accelerates the healing process while it hydrates and soothes blisters.
Apply it directly to sun damaged areas and use it as often as desired.
Hydrate your lips and limit sun exposure
After a sunburn, it’s crucial to keep hydrated so that your body can heal. Drink plenty of water – at least eight glasses per day is essential.
Keep in mind that further sun exposure will slow down the recovery process and increase the severity of any existing sunburns. If exposure can not be avoided then wear a hat to protect your face before you step outside.
As mentioned, the lips are a very delicate part of the body and neglecting to protect them using a lip balm with adequate SPF coverage can cause significant damage. Sometimes a sunburn can occur despite our best efforts at protection.
Fortunately, there are many affordable and accessible alternatives to subdue the symptoms and help treat the damage.
»To find out more about natural remedies and professional treatments for sunburned lips, meet our medical review team.