Working life: The Life Doctor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
TWO-THIRDS of the population can stop reading at this point. Because, and this is news to me, only a third of the population get or are at risk of getting chapped lips.

Ah, but then when I think about it, it's a bigger problem than that. There are all those people with chapped-lipped lovers, for whom snogging has become an unexpected (and painful) lip exfoliation. Or those who squirm watching an afflicted pal irritatingly tug at a hanging flake of white lip bit, then wonder whether to point out the spot of blood making slow progress down pal's chin. Maybe you should all pay attention.

Why do lips chap? Dr Andrew Griffiths, consultant dermatologist at St John's Institute, St Thomas' Hospital, explains. "There is a big group of people, amounting to about a third of the population, who always have a tendency to various allergic problems. Eczema, hayfever, asthma. Some or all of these problems will be present in various members of the family. The rest of the population have lips that look after themselves most of the time."

Though the structure is similar, lips are more delicate than the rest of our skin. There is less protective grease on the lips, says Dr Griffiths. "While the nose is covered in grease glands, the lips only have lipids from stratum corneum cells. They also get more exposed. They get wet through talking, and people tend to lick their lips. Being frequently wet and then dry causes the lip skin to expand and then contract." This encourages cracking and splitting.

Picking at those loose hanging bits of lip is very tempting but actually exacerbates the problem. "This effectively gives the lips a boost," says Dr Griffiths, "and it [the flaky bit] then grows back quicker."

The cracked world of lips has always suffered from widely believed urban myths. After lengthy undercover investigation we can give you:

Chapped Lips - The Truth

Myth 1: Someone told me at school that lips become reliant and almost "addicted" to lip balm. My mind has been clocking evidence to confirm this ever since. "Junkie!" I sneer when I see women reapplying expensive lip balm every 20 minutes.

Answer: Your lips can't get addicted to anything. If you try to "tough out" chapped lips, you won't stop needing balm; you will get much sorer lips.

Myth 2: Women get chapped lips more than men do.

Answer: Why should they? Extensive field research undertaken personally by me has not found men's lips stronger, or rougher in any way. Dr Griffiths says: "Men suffer just as much as women, but women are much more aware of buying cosmetics. Men tend to put up with it. When I was at school, nobody had a Chapstick. Now it's seen as an essential."

Myth 3: Like pens, lip balms disappear for no reason. No matter how many you buy, sooner or later you can't find one.

Answer: Dr Griffiths seems a little thrown by the question. Eventually he accedes that this myth probably has some truth to it. "A bit like the problem one has with glasses' cases?" he asks. "Yes," I say. "Ah-ha!" he says. I took that as a scientific affirmative.

The best protection for sore lips is a good lip balm. Get one with sun protection. If you don't know why, look at the sad state of Australian cricketers, those poor boys with lips bereft of their youthful hue. It's tragic. Apart from that, advises Dr Griffiths, it doesn't really matter. "Just get one you like the smell and feel of, otherwise you'll never use it."

Reader, I have a confession. I have a very personal interest in chapped lips. I have applied my stick three times while writing this. But I am not ashamed of using my personal suffering as an inspiration for helping others. Next week: I dreamt recently that I was married to Simon Groom (no, really, I did). Thus, an investigation into mental self-torture. Why do I do it?