Sunburn on lips is a very real problem – here’s how to treat it

You exfoliate them, you gloss over them, maybe you even semi-permanently plump them — but are you taking steps to prevent sunburn on lips?

Yep, burnt lips are a very real thing. In fact, your mouth is even more prone to sunburn than other areas of your body because of the unique nature of the skin that comprises your lips. “[The lips] have a thinner layer of skin compared to the rest of the skin on the body, and very little melanin, which helps provide some natural protection from UV rays,” says Birmingham, Alabama-based board dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD. 

And here’s a fun fact to dazzle your friends with: Your lower lip is more vulnerable to sun damage than your top one, “because the nose offers some sun protection for the upper lip,” adds Philadelphia-based board-certified dermatologist Nazanin Saedi, MD. 

We know, we know — you didn’t come here for dinner party fodder. In fact, you’re probably reading this because you’re experiencing some combination of lip swelling, stinging, and sensitivity that you suspect might have been caused by sun exposure. So, without further ado, read on for exactly how to determine if your lips are sunburnt — plus how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Meet the experts:

What does sun damage on lips look like?

The initial signs your lips have been sunburned appear about two to five hours after extensive sun exposure, says Dr. Saedi. How a sunburn presents itself, of course, depends on the level of damage inflicted.

Symptoms of a mild case can include dryness, irritation, and redness. If your lips fit that description 24/7, first of all, may we suggest a few of our favourite hydrators? And second, ask yourself if you feel heat radiating from your lips, which is a telltale sign of sunburn, says Dr. Hartman. If you’re suffering from a moderate to serious burn, those symptoms kick into overdrive in the form of blisters, bleeding, pain, and extreme sensitivity

As with any sunburn, you’re going to be dealing with the immediate consequences for anywhere from three to five days. And the state of your lips might get worse before it gets better: “When the lip heals, the dead skin peels off and sheds,” says Dr. Saedi, noting that it’s normal (and, in fact, a sign of healing) to also experience some itchiness during the process.

Can sunburned lips cause cold sores and blisters?

But notice we said those symptoms are the immediate consequences — because unfortunately, a sunburn on your lips can sometimes cause more trouble down the line.