Dry lips? Try a “moisture sandwich.”

Janet Zand OMD, LAc

February 11, 2022

Have you ever heard of a moisture sandwich?

It’s a skin care strategy for skin that needs extra moisture. For example, if your lips get dry and cracked in the winter, a moisture sandwich can keep them hydrated and happy. (It works much better than lip balm alone.)

So what is a moisture sandwich exactly?

What it is

The moisture sandwich keeps moisture in the skin by reducing transepidermal water loss. In other words, you create lots of moisture, and then you seal it in.

The way it works is by layering the right products, applied in the right order. Here’s how:

You start with damp skin. Then you apply the lightest, most watery products. Then you layer something thicker on top, to keep the water trapped for longer, so it stays hydrated and healthy.

Start by dampening your lips with water. This gives the next product you apply more of an opportunity to penetrate the skin on your lips.

Next, apply a tiny dab of your regular moisturizer or face cream to your lips. Does that sound kind of odd? Well, here’s why it’s so good for your lips: lotions and creams are formulated to absorb into your skin, which also works on the skin on your lips. Also, creams contain more water and moisturizing ingredients than lip balm, so they’re an ideal step two in the moisture sandwich. (Remember, we’re going from most watery ingredients to least watery.)

Any face cream will work here, as long as it doesn’t contain active ingredients like retinol and chemical exfoliants (like AHAs and BHAs). Those ingredients could irritate your lips, and it’s not worth the risk. 

Finally, you’ll apply a thick lip balm. You want a product that’s occlusive, meaning it reduces evaporation of water. That way your lips can heal and soak up all the moisture you’ve just applied.

One word of warning: Check the ingredient label on your lip balm. Shockingly, lots of lip balms contain ingredients that actually dry your lips out the more you use them! Here are the ingredients to avoid:

• “Cooling” ingredients, like camphor, phenol, or menthol. These ingredients may give your lips a nice sensation—but they are also the most drying.

• Salicylic acid. This exfoliant is supposed to help slough off dry, flaky skin … but it can also leave lips chapped and peeling.

• Petroleum-based oils. These include petroleum jelly and mineral oil, and they’re very popular in lip balms. The problem is that petroleum-based oils dissolve your skin's natural oils. Over time, your lips will feel dry and hard.

The ideal lip balm will add moisture to your moisture sandwich, while also sealing it in. Look for ingredients like sunflower seed oil, macadamia oil, and kukui nut oil. (Here’s what I use.)

Alright, so try these tips out, and let me know how it goes!

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