Sunburned Lips: How to prevent and treat the inevitable in the outdoors

We have all had sunburned lips. It’s not something you often think of in the surf or snow but sunburn lips can escalate quickly so it’s a good idea to both protect and prevent your smackers getting torched by the sun. Even when it’s cloudy, you can still get burnt, especially in the snow or on the water.

– Contributing author


Most of us understand how sunburns can damage our skin’s DNA, and increase the likelihood of a skin cancer diagnosis. But when it comes to protecting our skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays there is one area of the body that requires special attention: our lips.


Composed of a layer of muscle, connective tissue, and surface epidermis: lips are tactile sensory organs essential for eating, speaking, whistling and kissing. However, despite being one of the more painful places to wind up with a sunburn, our lips do not always receive the necessary protection they require.



Lips and the sun 101

The lasting damage that can occur from sunburned lips Includes changes in the lips collagen, the protein that provides your lips with their form and fullness. Bear in mind that lip collagen gradually decreases as we age, making your lips even more vulnerable to sunburns.


Your lips, unlike the rest of your skin, contain almost no melanin, the natural pigment that helps protect your skin from the sun. Consequently, lips are less likely to tan than they are to burn. Combine that with the fact that the skin on your face can be up to 16 cell layers thick while the skin of your lips is only three to five layers thick and it is easy to understand how vulnerable your lips are to sunburns.


Sweat glands are responsible for keeping your skin moisturized. However, lips don’t contain sweat glands which means they are inclined to dry out fast, especially in the sun. And because lips are tactile sensory organs that contain millions of nerve endings, they are acutely sensitive to heat and cold, and elicit extreme pain when sunburned.


Lip cancer and sunburns

Sunburns damage the DNA of skin cells. By getting just one sunburn every two years you triple your risk of developing melanoma. Here are the facts about cancer and sunburned lips.


  • Did you know that the lower lip is 12 times more likely to be affected by skin cancer than the top lip?
  • Lip cancer is the most common cancer of the mouth, constituting 25-30% of all oral cavity cancers.
  • Approximately 3,500 new cases of lip cancer are diagnosed each year, and 90% of those cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.


Sun burnt lips in the snow


How to avoid lip a sunburn

Don’t be fooled, even when there are no overt signs of sun damage, the underlying layers of your lips can still be adversely affected by sun exposure


It is prudent to stay out of the sun from 11 am to 1 pm when the sun’s rays are strongest, but notes that if you must be outdoors, using a lip balm with an SPF 30 is essential. ”The specific brand is up to you, but make sure it blocks both UVA and UVB rays to best protect yourself from sunburns and skin cancers,” says New Jersey plastic surgeon Dr. Gary Breslow.


Hollywood, FL, board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Pamela Miller concurs and provides her recommendations. ”My Favorite SPF for lips is Lip Trip by Mountain Ocean. Apply before sun exposure and reapply every hour or two.” Dr. Miller also advocates more traditional sun blocking techniques. “A wide-brimmed hat with a UPF rating is also advised.”


Did you know that licking lips to keep them moist is more detrimental than helpful because saliva acts as a lens that intensifies sun exposure?


Sunburned lips symptoms

It may not feel like you are getting a sunburn as the full effects of the sun can take up to 24 hours to manifest.


Due to their sensitivity, the pain from a lip sunburn is more intense than any other sunburned body part. A sunburn can also cause cracking and tightening of the lips. Color changes can also occur making your lips appear bright pink or red.


Severe sunburns can cause lips to chap and split and trigger the appearance of blisters and sores on the lips.


When to call a doctor

Treatments for sunburned lips include a variety of home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. However, if you break out in a rash, your tongue becomes swollen, or your lips begin to swell severely, it may be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction and should seek immediate medical attention.


How to treat sunburned lips

The first step to healing your lips is to stay out of the sun.


Practical options

Sunburned skin draws water from the body to replenish itself. As a consequence, you may become dehydrated. So drink plenty of water.

Applying ice cubes or a cold compress to sunburned lips can reduce the pain and inflammation. Try moistening a clean cloth with water and placing it in the freezer to create a soothing compress.



Natural Remedies:

Aloe vera: Dr. Buka champions the healing properties of aloe vera and suggests that if you own an Aloe Vera plant to apply the juice from a cut leaf to your burn: “The sap from aloe is much better than any aloe gel you can buy.”

Olive oil dabbed to your lips provides cooling relief. Just remember not to expose your lips to the sun after it has been applied.

Oatmeal paste: After preparing oatmeal, allow it to cool in your fridge before dabbing it on your lips. Oatmeal has skin healing properties that make it an excellent home remedy for lip sunburns.

Raw honey is an anti-inflammatory that can help soothe sunburned lips and prevent blisters from becoming infected. Manuka honey is recommended because of its superior medicinal properties.

Potato: After blending a potato apply the juice to your lips for welcomed relief from the pain and inflammation.

Coconut oil is not only a fantastic moisturizer for your lips it also an effective sunburn treatment. The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of virgin coconut oil are potent. Just remember to stay out of the sun after you have applied the oil to your lips.

Cucumber has medicinal and cooling properties that help speed up wound healing. So, chop one up and apply a few slices to your lips.

Turmeric has antiseptic properties that help alleviate pain and decrease inflammation. Mix two teaspoons of turmeric with water to create a paste that you can apply to your lips.


Kit Deslauriers turmeric tonic
Mountaineer Kit Deslauriers makes a daily turmeric latte


Over the counter suggestions

Aspirin can help ease the discomfort. Sunburns trigger inflammation, so taking an anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen or aspirin, can help with the burning discomfort.

Lip balms are very an effective treatment for healing sunburned lips. Products that contain shea or cocoa butter will help soothe the pain.

Moisturizers can help keep lips hydrated which is an important part of recovering from sunburned lips. Vitamin E, waxes, and lanolin are excellent options that lock in moisture.

Antibiotic creams and soaps may be required if your sunburn has caused open blisters to form on your lips. If that is the case you’ll need to clean the blisters using an antibacterial soap and apply an antibiotic cream to protect your lips from infections.


Note// that Vaseline or products containing petroleum jelly are not recommended because they trap heat inside the body and can potentially cause further harm to your lips.


Read: The best natural sunscreens tried and tested in the surf and mountains


How long do sunburned lips take to heal?

The damage to your skin holds the key to how long your sunburned lips need to heal. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service a mild to moderate lip sunburn should fully heal within a week. However, sunburned lips with blisters, may require longer to heal.


In closing

It may sound cliche, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, by applying a lip sunscreen with moisture locking properties and a minimum SPF 30 you’ll be protecting your lips from the sun and ensuring that you won’t have to deal with the painful consequences of a sunburn.


Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


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