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Sunburned Lips: Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment
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When applying sunscreen to your body, it’s easy to overlook your lips. The skin on the lips is incredibly thin and delicate, making it a prime target for the sun’s harsh UV rays.
Sunburned lips, also known as solar cheilitis or actinic cheilitis, is a common condition that most often affects the lower lip. The lower lip sticks out more than your upper lip and consequently receives greater sun exposure. While the temporary stinging and irritation of your lips can be irritating, the biggest concern of sunburned lips is the threat of lip cancer.
To keep the skin on your lips healthy and cancer-free, here are three things you need to know about sunburned lips:
- Sunburned lips are common in those who have pale skin.
- If your lips become sunburned, you may experience swelling, redness and a tight sensation in your lips.
- The best way to prevent sunburned lips is by applying a daily SPF lip balm.
Sunburn on the Lip: Risk Factors and Symptoms
If you’ve heard just a few statistics about skin cancer, you likely know the danger of spending time in the sun without wearing a daily SPF product. The thin skin on your lips is just as vulnerable to UV exposure, especially if you have a large lower lip.
Lips can become sunburned when you least expect it, such as in the car or in the dead of winter. According to a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Dentistry, risk factors of actinic cheilitis include having pale skin, being older or male, living in a high altitude or close to the equator and working outdoors (see claim: “…actinic cheilitis occur more frequently in pale people, particularly in those with fair complexions...”)
The most common symptoms of sunburned lips include the following:
- Discoloration of the Lip
- Tight Sensation in the Lips
- Shallow Erosions
- Scaly or Flaky Skin on the Lips
If your lips have cracks or wounds that appear to ulcerate, seek prompt medical attention. According to a 2007 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, poorly-defined lesions that are scaly and reddish brown are a classic indication of actinic keratosis, which is often a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma (see claim: “…describes clinically ill-defined reddish to reddish-brown scaly lesions on erythematous base…”)
How to Prevent
There is little doubt that sun exposure plays a big role in the development of skin cancer and cancer of the lips. According to a 1992 study published in the journal Cancer, farmers working outdoors are at a much higher risk of developing lip cancer compared to other occupations (see claim: “…significantly elevated lip cancer in farmers was reported in 43% of the studies reviewed…”)
Here are a few things you can do to help prevent sunburned lips and reduce your risk of lip cancer:
Apply Lip Balm with SPF: Because staying out of the sun can be difficult, applying a daily lip balm with SPF is the most effective way to prevent sunburned lips. Stock up on a few SPF lip balms and make sure that you always have one on hand.
Wear a Hat: Wearing a hat that offers adequate protection to your face can help provide shade for your lips. A hat should provide additional protection on top of your lip balm with SPF.
Seek Shade: Although seeking shade isn’t always doable, try your best to avoid being in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day.
Treatment Options for Sunburned Lips
If your lips were recently sunburned, don’t panic. One sunburn doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to get skin cancer.
For now, focus on taking steps to treat your sunburned lips. The most common treatments include cooling solutions that will soothe your sun-damaged lips.
Take a Pain Reliever: If your lips are stinging, try taking an NSAID to reduce pain and inflammation. This will also benefit any other areas on your body that were sunburned.
Apply a Cold Compress: A cold compress will decrease the swelling and help numb the pain. If you don’t have a cold compress, make one yourself by putting ice cubes in a bag and wrapping a paper towel around it.
Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera is a common ingredient used to treat sunburns. However, be careful to find a gel product that is 100 percent Aloe Vera in case you accidentally swallow it.
Apply a Moisturizing Lip Balm: Make your lip balm work double duty as a sunblock and a nourishing treatment for your sunburned lips. Specifically, look for a lip balm with SPF that also contains nourishing ingredients to soothe you sun-parched lips.
If you’re only just now getting into a daily routine of applying sunscreen, don’t beat yourself up because you forgot about your lips. Most guys don’t even think about their lips until they’re going in for a kiss.
By applying a daily lip balm with SPF, you can sidestep the painful stinging and swelling of sunburned lips. Along with reducing your risk of skin cancer, a daily SPF lip balm will also provide you with healthier-looking lips.