How to Keep Your Lips Safe in the Sun

Woman smiling in the sun

Oral health isn’t only about your teeth. Lips are often forgotten about, which can be bad news, especially during sunny season. The skin of your lips is thinner and contains less melanin, which means it can't protect itself from harmful sun damage, so it needs extra care.

You might find yourself asking some of these common questions about keeping your lips safe in the sun:

1. Can I use sunscreen on my lips?

Yes! The best thing you can do for your lips is use a moisturizing SPF lip balm, reapplied around every 2 hours. In addition to using lip sunscreen, exfoliate your lips to remove any chapped, dry skin to prevent you from picking. Also remember to stay super hydrated — with a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day and even more if it's really hot or if you're out in the sun.

2. Why do lips need sun protection?

Your lips are just as susceptible to the sun's radiation as the rest of your body, which means they're vulnerable to skin cancer. Using lip sunscreen that filters out harmful UVB rays gives you protection from this often overlooked cancer and, in addition, provides much needed sunburn protection.

3. How much SPF do my lips need?

Many sun-protecting lip balms tout SPF 15 and some even go up to SPF 30. The difference is that SPF 15 filters out around 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 filters out about 97%, according to the American Cancer Society, which is actually a huge difference when it comes to the amount of radiation that reaches your skin. If you're going to be out in full sun, like on the beach or poolside, opt for the higher SPF.

4. How can I treat sunburned lips?

Eek, did you forget the sunscreen or did the sun just get the better of you this time? Your lips might be sunburned if they're redder than normal, tender to the touch, swollen or have small, white blisters (ouch!). For some relief, try dipping a soft washcloth in ice water and resting it on your lips. You can also apply 100% aloe vera or another moisturizer to help the healing, but avoid anything with petroleum. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications will help with the pain. A mild sunburn should last 3-5 days. See your doctor if it doesn't get better!

5. How do healthy lips affect my oral care?

Taking care of your mouth quite literally starts at your lips! If your lips are sunburned, tender or swollen, doing your regular brushing and flossing is not going to be fun. Worse than that, lip cancer would have a major impact on your oral health. Protecting your lips in the sun is an easy way to ensure that your mouth stays happy and healthy.

To recap, use an SPF lip balm regularly to protect your lips from sunburn, harmful cancer-causing radiation, and maybe even prevent some of those sun-exposure lip wrinkles. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated in the heat and treat any sunburns immediately. Now that you're armed with answers about keeping your lips healthy and protected, you can help friends and family do the same!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7