How to Exfoliate Dry, Cracked Lips, According To Experts

Say goodbye to that chapped pout.

A sun-kissed brunette woman with perfectly cared lips
Getty Images/ Dora Lazarevic / EyeEm

When you think of exfoliating, you might first think about scrubbing the skin on your face — not your mouth. But dry, cracked, and peeling lips actually benefit from exfoliation, and doing so is especially advantageous during the arid winter months. In fact, lips are generally more prone to dryness than other parts of your skin, and exfoliating can improve their ability to retain hydration in the long run.

“Unlike the rest of the face, the lips do not contain sebaceous — or oil-producing — glands, [which] makes them particularly prone to dryness,” Dr. Courtney Rubin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and co-founder and chief medical officer at Fig.1, tells Bustle. And this is an especially prevalent skin issue in the ultra-dry wintertime, says Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. “In winter the humidity drops, and this makes it easier for water to evaporate from your skin into the environment,” Camp explains. “This leads to dry skin much the same way eczema tends to flare in the winter.” And this applies to the sensitive skin on your pout as well.

Tired of chapped lips? Below, see experts’ tips on how to exfoliate them so they remain soft, smooth, and moisturized.

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Why Lips Need To Be Exfoliated

The skin on your lips is more sensitive than the rest of your face, which may seem like a reason not to exfoliate them — but that’s not the case. “Lip skin is thinner and more delicate, making it more likely to be affected by environmental factors such as dry air, wind, and sun,” Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle, adding that gentle exfoliation can help get rid of dry skin buildup and smooth rough patches.

Plus, lips bear the brunt of more movement than you may realize. “Lips are under a lot of mechanical stress from chewing and talking, and are also exposed to the enzymes in saliva and acids in the foods we eat,” Camp explains. “These exposures can irritate and dry the lips, predisposing them to become chapped and rough.” Enter: exfoliation, which removes dead skin and allows for hydrating balms to penetrate and moisturize any dehydrated or chapped patches.

How To Exfoliate Your Lips

You’ve got two options for the job: You can either exfoliate with a pre-made lip scrub, or you can make one yourself with ingredients found in your kitchen, though both Rubin and Shirazi suggest the former. “I prefer buying a scrub specifically made for cosmetic use on the lips because these have usually been formulated with the right ratios of exfoliating particles, oils, and waxes to achieve gentle exfoliation,” Rubin explains.

If you opt for the DIY option, Shirazi suggests mixing one teaspoon of a natural abrasive ingredient (think sugar or salt) with one teaspoon of a nourishing ingredient, like avocado oil, pure petroleum jelly, almond oil, or shea butter, and using the blend as your scrub.

No matter which kind of scrub you choose, one lip exfoliation rule is universal: Do it as gently as possible. “Do not exfoliate the skin too aggressively,” Camp tells Bustle, adding that over-exfoliation can lead to tears in the skin that increase the risk of infection, cause inflammation, and/or cause a rash that can cause darkening of the skin or hyperpigmentation. Over-exfoliation can happen if you do it too frequently — Shirazi advises against exfoliating your lips more than once a week — or from manually rubbing your skin with excessive force.

During your weekly session, Shirazi recommends the following routine: First, starting with a clean face and lips, apply a small amount of exfoliating scrub to your finger. Next, gently apply the scrub to your lips in a circular motion, focusing mostly on dry areas. Do this for 10 to 15 seconds, then leave the mixture on for at most 30 seconds. Once 30 seconds are up, rinse your lips with warm water and pat dry. Finish by applying a protective balm to lock in moisture and allow for self-repair.

While you only want to exfoliate your lips once a week, Rubin says the best way to keep your pout moisturized is by frequently applying lip balm. “Avoid picking the lips or pulling at flaky skin, and try to avoid the urge to lick dry lips, which can make them even drier when the saliva evaporates,” she clarifies. Camp echoes this, explaining that while he recommends applying lip balm twice a day, you may benefit from using one on an as-needed basis if you suffer from particularly rough or dry lips.

On that note, don’t forget that lips need UV protection, too. If you plan to go outside, apply lip balm with SPF 30 or higher.

Shop Lip Scrubs

The Enzymatic Lip Scrub

Shirazi recommends Bite Beauty’s weekly lip scrub, which is formulated with a combo of nourishing agave nectar and squalane as well as exfoliating golden sugar and papaya enzymes. Together, the formula cleanses, exfoliates, and conditions your skin.

The Hydrating Lip Scrub

KNC Beauty’s lip scrub contains superstar moisturizers castor oil, sunflower seed oil, and shea butter, which all work together to hydrate and soothe redness while simultaneously exfoliating the lips.

The Brightening Lip Scrub

This nutrient-rich lip scrub is formulated with organic beet sugar, cocoa butter, and agave nectar, providing your pout with gentle exfoliation as vitamins C and E hydrate and brighten the skin.

The Lip Scrubbing Stick

MILK Makeup’s lip scrub is perfect for those who love an easy application — simply apply it like you would a lipstick. Its potent formula contains jojoba oil, olive oil, sage extract, and peppermint oils, which exfoliate and condition the lips while leaving a subtle minty-fresh flavor.

The Drugstore Staple

Burt’s Bees, the brand best known for its industry-fave lip balm, also makes an exfoliant for your pout. This scrub is formulated with honey crystals to naturally buff away dead skin, while beeswax conditions and hydrates the lips so they stay supple and moisturized.