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Exfoliating your lips: What you need to know

Follow these expert-approved tips for softer, smoother lips.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 15, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Lip Treatment
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 15, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Why you should exfoliate your lips 
More

Many of us want healthy, smooth lips. But that can feel like a distant goal if you suffer from chapped and dry skin. These problems usually arise due to the unique features of lip skin, including a weak skin barrier and the low water-holding capacity of lips.¹ 

But, there are things you can do, and exfoliating your lips to remove dry, flaky skin is one of them. Here, our licensed dermatology providers will guide you on how to exfoliate your lips properly.

Why you should exfoliate your lips 

The skin of your lips has a high transepidermal water loss (water escaping from the stratum corneum of the lips) and a weaker skin barrier, making it more susceptible to dry conditions.² Some factors that affect the health and appearance of your lips include:³

  • Environmental factors. Sun, wind, and extreme temperatures may affect the appearance and health of your lips. 

  • Smoking. Smoking and certain medications may impact your lip’s overall health. 

  • Aging. Age-related changes may make the lips appear dull. For example, historical analysis of the upper lip showed that collagen and elastic fibers in the cutis (dermis) degenerate during aging. 

Unsurprisingly, many people look for ways to improve the appearance of their lips, with some of them resorting to cosmetic surgery or injections.⁴ Lip exfoliation may be an effective way of removing dead cells that arise due to lip dryness and improving lip appearance without cosmetic procedures. 

Types of exfoliation 

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells to stimulate cell turnover, resulting in a smoother and more polished surface.⁵ Over the years, exfoliation has gained prominence due to its almost immediate results. Today, the availability of a wide range of exfoliation products⁶ also makes it an excellent lip care option. 

There are several ways to exfoliate your lips, but two popular lip exfoliation techniques are chemical and mechanical exfoliation.⁷

  • Chemical exfoliation involves using chemicals to dissolve or get rid of dead skin cells gently. Popular chemical exfoliants include lactic acid and salicylic acid.

  • Mechanical exfoliation, also known as physical exfoliation, includes abrasive scrubs and brushes that are used to remove the dead skin cells physically.⁸

How often you exfoliate depends on the exfoliation method and skin type. Be careful not to over-exfoliate, as the skin on your lips may get damaged.⁹ Following the lip care instructions of a licensed dermatology provider may help ensure you attain your lip goals. 

Chemical exfoliants vs. physical exfoliants

The main difference between chemical and physical exfoliants is that using a chemical exfoliant doesn’t involve rubbing the skin, given they aren’t composed of granular substances. Alternatively, physical exfoliants involve the use of rough substances to polish the skin.¹⁰

Since every type of exfoliation may not work for all lip skin types, it’s a good idea to consult a dermatology provider before choosing an exfoliation method. They will advise you on the best exfoliation method for your lips. 

How to exfoliate lips properly 

How you exfoliate may determine the results you achieve. It may also determine whether or not you injure your lips. Here are 5 dermatologist-recommended tips for properly exfoliating lips. 

  • Be gentle: The skin of your lips is delicate. Whether you’re exfoliating with a brush or your hands, ensure you are as gentle as possible to avoid injuring your lips. Use short, light strokes when using a sponge or brush.¹¹

  • Let your lips heal: Don’t exfoliate when you have open cuts or wounds on your lips.¹²

  • Avoid over-exfoliating: As mentioned earlier, the lip skin is delicate. As such, over-exfoliating can do more harm than good. Find the right schedule to achieve desirable results without injuring your lips.¹³

  • Choose the right ingredients: Beneficial ingredients that may help heal chapped lips include shea butter, petrolatum, mineral oil, hemp seed oil, ceramides, dimethicone, sun protective ingredients including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and white petroleum jelly. Ingredients you should avoid when your lips are chapped include camphor, eucalyptus, lanolin, and menthol. It’s advisable to use hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products on your lips.¹⁴

  • Keep your lips safe: Hydrate your lips using a good moisturizer, such as a lip balm, after exfoliation.¹⁵ Curology’s Lip Balm with SPF 30 could be an excellent option. This lip balm is designed to lock in moisture with the help of nourishing oils and natural butters.

By following these exfoliation tips, you should have noticeable improvements within a short period. Consult a licensed dermatology provider if you have additional questions about exfoliating your lips. 

What are the benefits of lip exfoliation?

Lip exfoliation offers several potential benefits. For one, it helps remove dead skin cells from the lips. You may use a brush or sponge to gently scrub off the dead cells from your lips. Alternatively, you may use a chemical exfoliant such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve the dead skin cells.¹⁶ Whichever option you choose, make sure you are gentle. 

How your lips look may impact your overall appearance, meaning dry lips may influence your attractiveness. 

Can everyone exfoliate their lips? 

While lip exfoliation may improve the overall appearance of the lips, it’s not for everyone. Failure to undertake the procedure properly may result in damaging the skin of your lips. Also, different exfoliants are suitable for specific skin types. For instance, chemical exfoliants may not be ideal for sensitive skin as they may cause some burning or itching sensation. Suppose you decide to exfoliate, ensure you do so safely to avoid skin damage that could lead to redness and other adverse effects.¹⁷

As a good practice, consult a dermatology provider before exfoliating your lips. 

Risks of over-exfoliating your lips

When it comes to lip exfoliation, there can be too much of a good thing. Over-exfoliating your lips may cause adverse effects such as irritation, redness, and skin sensitivity. It may also increase the chances of acne breakouts¹⁸ around your mouth. 

You should create a proper exfoliation schedule for you to avoid such adverse effects. Also, if you experience any of these side effects, stop exfoliating until your skin heals.¹⁹

The key takeaways

  • Lips are susceptible to dryness because they have a weak skin barrier and low water-holding capacity. 

  • Exfoliating lips may help remove dry skin, improving their health and appearance. 

  • You may exfoliate your lips using chemical or mechanical exfoliation techniques. 

  • Recommended best practices for lip exfoliation include being gentle, avoiding over-exfoliation, and stopping the exfoliation process if you experience irritation. 

  • You may want to consult a dermatology provider on which technique to use to best exfoliate your lips.

Curology can help improve the appearance of your lips

Getting your lips to look smooth and shiny shouldn’t take guesswork. Proven-effective lip care products are the best way to care for your lips properly. Curology’s Lip Balm with SPF 30 may help you achieve your lip goals. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Our dermatology providers developed this product to be acne-friendly and non-greasy. This lip balm is packed with beneficial ingredients, including plant-based oils, that help ensure your lips are smooth and soft. 

Sign up for a trial* and get your Curology Lip Balm and other products picked for your skin goals. 

FAQs

Why do you need to exfoliate your lips?

Lip skin is susceptible to dryness and flakiness because of its unique features, such as a low water-holding capacity and weak barrier.²⁰ Lip exfoliation may help remove dry, flaky skin from your lips.

How can you exfoliate your lips?

You can exfoliate your lips using either chemical exfoliation or mechanical exfoliation, though it's best to use a product specifically designed for the lips. Chemical exfoliation entails using chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid. Mechanical exfoliation entails using tools such as a soft brush or sponge to remove dead skin cells from the lips gently.²¹ Generally, it’s advisable to use a gentle exfoliation method because of the delicate skin on the lips.

What ingredients should you avoid when your lips are chapped?

To promote the healing of chapped lips, avoid using lip products containing ingredients such as camphor, eucalyptus, and lanolin. You should also avoid lip care products that have fragrance.²²

How often should you exfoliate your lips?

How often you exfoliate your lips depends on the method you opt for and your lip skin type. Generally, the more aggressive the exfoliation method, the less often you should exfoliate. Find the right schedule so you don’t over-exfoliate.²³

What is the proper lip exfoliation aftercare?

After exfoliating your lips, use a non-irritating moisturizing lip balm to protect and hydrate your lip skin. Curology’s Lip Balm with SPF 30 works to deeply moisturize your lips, leaving them looking healthy.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Kim, J., et al. Relationship between lip skin biophysical and biochemical characteristics with corneocyte unevenness ratio as a new parameter to assess the severity of lip scaling. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (June 2021). 

  2. Kim, J., et al. Relationship between lip skin biophysical and biochemical characteristics with corneocyte unevenness ratio as a new parameter to assess the severity of lip scaling. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid. 

  3. Trookman, N.S., et al. Clinical Assessment of a Combination Lip Treatment to Restore Moisturization and Fullness. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (December 2009). 

  4. Kar, M., et al. Is it possible to define the ideal lips? Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica. (February 2018).

  5. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. (December 2016). 

  6. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. Ibid. 

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. (n.d.). 

  8. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. Ibid.

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  12. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  14. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 7 Dermatologists’ tips for healing dry, chapped lips. (n.d.). 

  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  16. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  17. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  18. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  19. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid. 

  20. Kim, J., et al. Relationship between lip skin biophysical and biochemical characteristics with corneocyte unevenness ratio as a new parameter to assess the severity of lip scaling. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  21. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid.

  22. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 7 Dermatologists’ tips for healing dry, chapped lips. Ibid.

  23. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home. Ibid.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Subject to consultation. Subscription required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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