Your chosen lipstick shade makes a major statement about your style, but in their naked state, your lips could be tipping you off to some health issues. Here are the symptoms doctors says are harmless—and the ones you need to pay attention to.
Symptom #1: Dry and chapped
You're probably dehydrated, so instead of swiping on another layer of lip balm, pour yourself a tall glass of water instead and tackle problem from the inside out.
And if you lick you lips, resist the urge, warns Dr. Robert A. Kominiarek, DO. Your saliva may just dry out your skin, making your lips dryer and more likely to crack. Still rough after rehydrating? Try exfoliating and moisturizing your lips.
Symptom #2: Cracked at the edges
You could have a yeast infection (don't worry, not that kind of yeast infection). "If you drool in your sleep or wear an orthodontic retainer, bacteria can accumulate around your mouth and cause an infection," says dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara. It's an easily fixable problem. Simply see your primary care physician or dermatologist for an anti-yeast medication.
Symptom #3: Discoloration
The hidden problems range from the harmless (you ate a colorful lollipop) to the severe (liver disease). See your doctor if the discoloration isn't going away or if it's accompanied by other symptoms. One more cause: smoking. Sounds like one more reason to quit to us.
Symptom #4: Swelling
"Swollen lips can be a result of getting hit in the mouth, or come from an allergic reaction," says Dr. Timothy Chase, DMD, of SmilesNY. If you have a swollen tongue, burning lips, hives on your skin, or an itchy throat, seek medical help immediately—you could be having a serious reaction to something you've eaten or come in contact with.
Symptom #5: Paleness
"Lack of sun exposure can cause pale lips," says Chase. Use this as your excuse to take a walk in the sun—just don't skip the sunscreen. Kominiarek warns that if you're also experiencing paleness elsewhere, you should see your doctor to test for anemia or cancer.
Symptom #6: Tenderness
Are your lips sensitive to the touch and a little extra pink around the edges? Tenderness happens with more severe allergic reactions, but having slightly inflamed or red lips could mean you're allergic to something topical and non-threatening, such as toothpaste or lipstick, says Gohara. Keep track of irritation flareups and stop using any product you suspect is the source.
Symptom #7: Cold sores
Cold sores are the result of the herpes virus, but don't worry—gone are the days when people with herpes were subject to the whims of sore breakouts. "Usually people feel a tingling before the cold sore surfaces," explains Gohara. "Once you feel that sensation, you can put a prescribed medication to suppress the cold sore." She also recommends avoiding triggers like excessive sunlight. A good reminder for everyone: Always wear sunscreen.
So, what should your lips look like?
With so many potentially negative symptoms, it's tough to know what's normal. Generally speaking, your lips should be "pink, soft, and smooth," says Chase. If you have healthy lips and want to maintain them, heed Kominiarek's advice: "Make sure to drink plenty of water, use lip moisturizers and balms, and visit the doctor if you have any non-healing lesions."