What to Do if Your Lips Get Sunburned, According to a Dermatologist

August 22, 2022
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | skincare.com by L'Oréal
Person with freckles holding head and chin

Sunburns can occur anywhere on the body — from your scalp and shoulders to your legs and lips. That’s right, the delicate skin of your lips can be harmed by the sun’s powerful UV rays just like the rest of your skin, and you can develop an uncomfortable sunburn in this area. Ahead, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Orit Markowitz about what sunburned lips look like, how to treat them and how to prevent this issue in the first place.

Can Sunburned Lips Be Worse Than Other Sunburns?

According to Dr. Markowitz, sunburned lips can even be worse than other areas of sunburn on the body. “Lips have almost no melanin to protect them, and the epidermis is thinner on the lips generally,” she says. “This increases your chances of sunburn because they are more susceptible to damage from UV rays.”

She also says that because the lips have so many vessels and nerve endings, UV rays irritating the lips usually leads to swelling and discomfort.

How Do I Know If My Lips Are Sunburned — And How Can I Treat Them?

“Lip sunburns tend to make the lip swell and become more sensitive, which dries them out,” says Dr. Markowitz. A mild sunburn will take about 48 hours to resolve, but severe sunburn causing blistering can take up to two weeks to heal. With deeper burns, you also have an increased risk of infection, she notes. If you think your burn falls into the latter category, it’s imperative that you make an appointment with your dermatologist.

For mild lip sunburns, Dr. Markowitz recommends applying 1% hydrocortisone ointment three times a day for two days. “You can even refrigerate your hydrocortisone for a cooling effect,” she says. If you have any questions about how to treat your sunburn, reach out to your dermatologist or healthcare provider.

What Should You Avoid Doing If You Have a Lip Sunburn?

If you have a sunburn on your lips, stay away from additional sun exposure because the area is now very sensitive and prone to more damage. “Spicy or salty foods are also to be avoided, because they can cause further irritation and drying.”

How Can You Prevent Lip Sunburns?

To help avoid sun damage to your lips in the first place, it’s important to apply and reapply SPF every single day and take other sun protection measures.

“Use a dedicated lip balm with SPF as part of your morning routine,” says  Dr. Markowitz. For the area surrounding your lips, try a soothing sunscreen stick with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, like the CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Stick with SPF 50.


Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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