Sun Damage

The outer layer of the lip is thin, so in their natural state lips are not adequately shielded from the sun. In fact, lips have almost no melanin, the natural pigment in skin that helps screen out the sun's harmful rays. As a result, lips rarely tan, but they can easily burn.

Did you know even licking lips can be more detrimental than helpful, since saliva acts like a lens to intensify sun exposure. And because lips are located on the face, they are rarely covered, and thus constantly exposed to sun damage.

When the sun causes lips to burn, long lasting damage can occur. The collagen, for example, can be altered. Collagen is the protein that gives lips body and resilience - and helps keep wrinkles from forming.

When unprotected lips are exposed to too much sun, collagen can change, causing lips to wrinkle and fine lines to form around the mouth. Even when lips show no physical signs of the sun's effect, damage can occur. Just because you don't see a surface burn doesn't mean that the underlying layers haven't been harmed.

Wrinkling and premature aging are not the only damage the sun can cause. Prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun can result in the development of actinic cheilitis, a precancerous condition that's sometimes known as "farmer's lip" or "sailor's lip." Individuals with this condition often complain of persistent dryness and cracking of the lips and will frequently exhibit other effects of sun-damaged skin, such as precancerous lesions on the skin and extensive wrinkling. An estimated 3,500 new cases of skin cancer of the lips are diagnosed each year, and 90 percent of those cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.

Young lips (children's and teens') are especially vulnerable. Studies have shown that UV over-exposure during the first 18 years of life can cause the damage that may later result in adult skin cancer.

Sun exposure is also one of the most frequent triggers of cold sore lesions. So for people who suffer from these sores, lip protection can reduce the likelihood of their appearing.

Lips need to be protected from the sun all year 'round. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are always present, whether it's January or July. Although the level of burning UVB rays declines substantially in cooler months, harmful UVA rays remain at relatively constant levels throughout the year. Lips can suffer even on cloudy days, since clouds don't filter UVB rays.

Most of us know that the sun is reflected off sand and water, intensifying its burning effects, but the same is true for snow. In fact, snow reflects nearly 80 percent of the sun's rays (whereas sand reflects less than 20 percent). Exposure at higher altitudes (such as when skiing) also creates an increased hazard, since the air is thinner and thus screens fewer of the sun's rays.

How to Protect Lips

Most dermatologists recommend the use of lip care products containing sunscreens. It is important to apply these lip care products at least one-half hour before going into the sun and to reapply them frequently during exposure.

An SPF number indicates how many times longer a person can stay in the sun before beginning to burn while wearing a sunscreen, as compared to how long it would normally take to burn. For example, SPF 15 provides 15 times lips' natural protection against UVB rays. Some products offer both UVA and UVB, or Broad Spectrum, protection.

If you are pool or beach bound, make sure the sunscreen you use is waterproof, providing protection even while in the water for 80 minutes or more.

Finally, you may want to look for a sunscreen that's PABA-free. Some people can develop an allergy when using a product containing PABA. A photo-allergy may cause skin to actually burn more easily where the PABA was applied, and a rash may also develop.

Not all lip balms have sunscreen. Be sure to check this before purchasing. Blistex lip care products that contain sunscreens include:

medicated-berry-lip-balm
medicated-mint-lip-balm
medicated-lip-balm
orange-mango-blast
ultra-rich-hydration
lip-vibrance
nurture-nourish
complete-moisture
five-star-front-panel
herbal-answer
dct
silk-shine
fruit-smoothies
raspberry-lemonade-blast
deep-renewal
moisture-melt

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