By now, you know the drill to get ready for a day at the beach. You slather on the sunscreen before you arrive, making sure you get your back, the tops of your ears, your nose, arms and legs.
It can be easy to miss a spot, though, such as your lips.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that, depending on your skin type, the intensity of the sun's rays and how your skin reacts, you might develop sunburned lips or a burn on other unprotected areas of the skin after anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours of exposure. Common signs of a sunburn anywhere on your body include redness or pinkness, swelling, tenderness and itching, as the Mayo Clinic points out. If you forget to apply sunscreen to your lips, they might be redder than usual and a bit swollen by the end of the day. You might also have sunburn blisters on the lips or other areas that have burned.
How to Get Relief for Sunburned Lips
When your lips are sunburned, the best thing to do is try to soothe them. The NIH recommends applying a cool wash cloth on the burned area to minimize discomfort and advises against using any oil-based products on the burned area, such as petroleum jelly. Oil-based products don't breathe and can make it difficult for heat to leave the burned area. They may also increase the risk of infection.
Depending on the extent of your sunburn, you might try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. The Mayo Clinic notes that an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, can also help to reduce swelling. After a few days, you might notice the skin on your lips beginning to peel. Although it can be really tempting to pick at it, it's best to leave the peeling skin alone as much as possible and apply a non-oil-based moisturizer as needed.
Do You Need to See a Doctor About Sunburned Lips?
For the most part, you don't need to see a doctor if you've got a sunburn on your lips. The burn will usually resolve itself within a few days.
There are some instances when you might want to see a medical professional after a bad sunburn. If your burn doesn't seem to be getting better or if things are getting considerably worse, it's usually a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
The Mayo Clinic notes that you might also want to contact your doctor if you develop a lot of blisters or if your sunburn covers large areas of your body. If you have other symptoms that aren't usually associated with a run-of-the-mill sunburn, such as feeling dizzy, having a rapid pulse or feeling excessively thirsty, the NIH suggests that you get immediate medical attention. It's also important to see a doctor right away if you have a fever along with the sunburn.
Why It's Important to Protect Your Lips From the Sun
Excessive sun exposure can increase your risk of melanoma and lip cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ongoing sun exposure can also increase your risk of developing actinic cheilitis, a type of lip inflammation that can turn into a type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma, as a study in Maxillofacial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery explains.
How to Prevent Future Sunburns
The best way to protect your lips from the sun and to avoid future burns is to apply a lip balm with sunscreen to them before heading outside. The Mayo Clinic recommends using a sunscreen and a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply the sunscreen and balm every 40 to 80 minutes, so that your lips and body remain adequately protected.
If you have any concerns about sun exposure or questions about what else you can do to protect your lips and skin from the sun, talk to your doctor. They can recommend sunscreens and lip balms to you to help stay protected from the sun's rays.