Recently, I am noticing more and more patients who have relatively pigment-free skin, but quite severely pigmented lips!By now, most of us are more or less aware of the importance of protecting our skin from the sun’s rays to prevent premature skin aging. However, many of us forget that the lips, like the rest of our our skin, can suffer the same effects of UV damage as well!
Lip Skin is Even More Delicate
There are 3 important differences between the skin on our lips and our face: The skin on the lips is thinner, there are less melanocytes (or pigment cells), and there are more blood vessels underneath.These 3 factors give our lips its lush, pink colour, but also makes them more delicate. Hence, lips become chapped more easily, and can also suffer from sunburn more easily! And because the lips has more nerve endings, sunburnt lips are very painful!
Pigmentation and Cancer
Although the lips contain less melanocytes, they can still suffer from discolouration, especially in darker skin types such as Asians. Lentiges (sunspots) can appear on the lips; and Melasma commonly affects the lips as well. These can be treated with the pigment laser. Squamous cell carcinoma can affect the lips (although fairly rare), and sun exposure is recognized as one of the risk factors contributing to the cancer. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, alcohol, and the human papilloma virus [HPV].
Sun Protection for your Lips
Like the rest of your face and body, your lips require sun protection as well! You can use your regular sunscreen for your lips as well, but you may want to consider a lip balm if you prefer something formulated for the lips. Look out for lip balms with SPF 30 sun protection and above, such as La Roche-Posay Antherpos Lip Cream SPF 50 or Nivea A Sun Protection Lip Care SPF 30 . Some experts believe that lip gloss actually INCREASE sun damage to the lips, as the slick, shiny nature of the gloss may actually make more of the light rays penetrate directly through the skin instead of getting reflected off the surface. Hence, it is best to apply your lip balm sunscreen before you slather on the lip gloss. And remember to reapply your lip sunscreen throughout the day, especially after eating and drinking.