Unlike teeth, the stoic gatekeepers of our mouths, a succulent pair of lips has an inviting presence, enticing others to press their own kissers against them. Unfortunately, their subtle and delicate makeup also leaves them prone to being cracked, discolored and mangled.
On the upside, whatever shape your lips are in, there are bound to be ways to fix them. So follow along, and your mouth borders will be back to their remarkably smoochable selves in no time.
Cold Sores, Chapped Lips and the Like
Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, so if you get them, you must have picked them up from someone else. Sadly, that someone else could even be your mom, but not necessarily because you kissed her on the mouth — as WebMD explains, “Pregnant women with genital herpes should talk to their doctor, as genital herpes can be passed on to the baby during childbirth.” Dear God, mother.
Having cold sores, and therefore, herpes, is super common, though: Somewhere around 90 percent of people get at least one cold sore during the course of their lifetime, and 40 percent of adults in the U.S. get them repeatedly. Still, whenever you have a cold sore, which should subside after about a week, avoid kissing and sharing utensils with others.
Even if you get cold sores regularly, you can prevent them from flaring up by avoiding common triggers, like stress, colds, allergies and sunburns. While the herpes virus that causes cold sores is incurable, you can also use an over-the-counter topical cream to speed up the healing process and minimize pain. “People who suffer from repetitive occurrences may want to make sure that they have a prescription for one of these medications on hand so that they can get fast relief,” says dermatologist Bruce Robinson in an American Academy of Dermatology press release. Avoiding spicy or acidic foods and applying a cold compress can also keep cold sores from swelling up.
As for more simple lip ailments, like cracked, chapped or sunburned kissers, your best bet is a good lip balm, especially one with SPF, which adds much-needed moisture back into your lips and creates a protective barrier against environmental stressors so they can heal properly. Also, despite what I know can be the strongest of urges, avoid licking your lips, as this can cause even more dryness. Lastly, similar to cold sores, apply a cold compress, which can reduce swelling, and stay well-hydrated, which can keep your lips nice and juicy — ideal for healing.
Lips naturally come in an assortment of colors, ranging from light pink to brown. In general, the lighter your skin color, the lighter your lips, since the tissue that makes up our lips is particularly thin and allows color from the underlying blood vessels to show through.
There are some conditions that can cause your lips to change color suddenly, though. Poor oxygen circulation, which is a serious problem that should be addressed by a doctor, can turn your lips a blue-ish color; a low red blood cell count, another serious medical problem, can turn your lips white; and smoking can turn them black. On the potentially less serious end of the spectrum, too much time in the sun and some medications can cause spotting on the lips. Similarly, sun damage, smoking, dehydration, allergic reactions to toothpaste, too much caffeine and even a habit of sucking your lips can cause them to become darker over time.
Needless to say, if your lips suddenly change color, you should call the doctor ASAP. But you can also undergo laser or light therapy to smooth out spots caused by prolonged exposure to the sun or darkened areas caused by smoking. One 2002 study also suggests that citrus peels work as a melanin (dark pigment) inhibitor, which can help lighten unwanted darkened lips. As Healthline suggests, “Every night just before going to sleep, cut a lemon and gently rub the juicy part over your lips. The next morning, rinse your lips with cool water. Repeat this routine every night until you see results. It may take 30 days.” Sweet! Or, well, sour.
Small, Large and Uneven Lips
If you want to change the actual size or shape of your lips — or even smooth out lines around the mouth — your only real option is some kind of mild plastic surgery. The most common choices are dermal fillers, which are injectables that can plump thin lips, enhance contours and soften facial creases. If you feel like your lips are too big, however, you might need to undergo a more invasive lip reduction surgery.
While plastic surgery might sound like a bit much, filler injections usually take only a few moments per site, and depending on the number of areas treated, the whole process can be as short as 15 minutes. Plus, the healing process is typically nothing more than some minor soreness for a day or so, which can be easily quelled by a cold compress.
That said, as with any plastic surgery, if you do go down this route, make sure you do your research and go to the right people, something dermatologist Anthony Rossi emphasized during our look at five plastic surgeries you can get on your lunch break. “If the material is placed too superficially, it can look bad — bumpy and lumpy,” he warned. “You definitely need someone who’s really well-trained in doing this.”
There is one other way to achieve plumper lips: Lip plumping gloss, which basically works by irritating your lips to the point that they swell up a bit. These do come with several downsides, though — one being that you have to apply them regularly, and another being that using them too much can cause dryness.
Now curse your mom for giving you herpes, snag some lip balm and show some random person who you matched with on a dating site what the perfect pair of lips can do. But maybe shave around them first.