Protecting your smile in the sun

Protecting your smile in the sun 7/12/2018

July is UV Safety Month, so it’s a great time to read up on the importance of sun protection. You might be surprised to learn that one of the areas you should pay close attention to is your smile.

Because of the thin layer of skin that contributes to your lips’ red color,[1]  they’re particularly vulnerable to UV rays. Plus, your lips are low in melanin – a pigment that helps protect skin from the sun.[2] Your lower lip has an even higher risk of sunburn due to its shape and angle to the sun.[3]

With their increased sensitivity, your lips can be affected by sun exposure right away and in the years to come. Immediate symptoms of a sunburn include redness, swelling or tenderness of the lips. They can also develop small, white blisters filled with fluid.[4] If you make a habit of not using sun protection, you may increase your risk of developing skin cancer on your lips.[5]

One of the best ways to protect your lips is to avoid direct sunlight during peak hours when the sun is most intense. These hours range from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. standard time and 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daylight savings time.[6] If you are going to be in the sun, consider blocking UV rays with a hat, wear sunscreen and apply lip balm with an SPF 30+ rating. SPF lip balm needs to be applied more frequently than sunscreen. Keep it nearby so you can reapply about once every hour or after eating, drinking and licking your lips.[7]

If you forgot lip balm and find that your lips are feeling the burn, try these options for at-home care.[8] First, stay out of the sun while your lips are healing. For treatment, apply aloe vera to relieve the burning sensation, use a cold compress to soothe them, take an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain and moisturize to help the skin heal. If these at-home options aren’t working, you may need to seek medical help. Call your physician immediately if your lips or tongue are swollen or if you develop a rash.

While we often think of SPF protection as a summertime staple, it’s just as important in other seasons. Be sure to keep sunscreen and SPF 30+ lip balm handy all year round for when you decide to head outside.