Angelina Jolie’s are legendary, as were Lauren Bacall’s puckers and pouts. And that’s not just lip service.
Throughout history, women and their suitors have understood the advantages of full, flirty lips. Sometimes going to great lengths to plump up the volume, women emphatically rubbed herbs, spices, and oils like ginger, mint, menthol, cayenne, and cinnamon directly onto the skin to produce a ruddy, slightly swollen effect. Naturally this was long before collagen injections became modern civilization’s answer to the bee-stung orifice.
In modern times, playing a collagen-abusing post-ingénue in the film The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn was the embodiment of lips that could have passed as an extra life raft on the open sea. On TV’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, pillow-lipped Taylor Armstrong tipped the collagen scales with a behemoth mouth that some claim preceded her into the room.
For some, attempts at lip plumping come in the form of “face yoga” and other forms of exercise for the mouth, which attempt to stimulate and inflate the lips, though I’d recommend doing this behind closed doors for fear of comparison to a frustrated ape or hungry fish.
At the same time, lips are so much more than poufy invitations and in fact can serve as bellwethers of illness, deficiency or inflammation within. So what are the warning signs that something may be off internally?
While many know that a cold sore on or around the lips, also known as a fever blister, indicates the presence of a viral infection, less commonly understood is that these sores are evidence of the Herpes Simplex Virus. But no need to panic! It’s reported that 80 percent of the population carries the virus, which hides in nerve cells where the immune system cannot decimate it. Stress, exhaustion and a resulting weakened immune system can facilitate a cold sore because, if the virus leaves its nerve cell home, it means the immune system is not strong enough to fight it.
If lips are cracked and dry, sometimes with an inflamed, crusty patch at the corners called cheilitis, applying moisturizing lip balm with vitamin E several times a day is a good way to soothe them. However some people can’t resist the urge to, ahem, lick or pick. If you can discipline yourself to leave them alone to heal, but the irritation persists, this may be an indication of a bacterial, fungal or viral infection, anemia from an iron deficiency, or a vitamin deficiency. It may also be a pre-malignant lesion for squamous cell carcinoma, so a visit to the doctor would be in order.
If your lips are healthy and you wish to protect and maintain their suppleness, beauty experts recommend the following steps for maximum results:
1) Exfoliate once a week with a gentle lip scrub (warning: conventional facial and body scrubs can be far too harsh for delicate skin in the lip area).
2) Use a lip balm with sunscreen daily and especially in cold, dry, windy conditions or in the hot summer sun, but be sure to read the ingredients. Some contain salicylic acid–great in acne products or to help expose new layers of facial skin, though it is extremely drying to sensitive lips. Fragrances and silicone can also draw moisture from this area. Instead look for ingredients like vitamin E, essential oils, beeswax, olive and coconut oils.
3) Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! While the adage about consuming eight glasses of water a day may be hard to swallow, be sure to drink as much as possible for soft, healthy lips and seek out foods high in water content such as fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, jicama, and beets.
4) Vitamins B and E are important for lip health, easily found in fresh fruits and vegetables including avocado, asparagus, pineapple, grapes, parsnips, sweet potato, berries, kiwi, mango, Swiss chard and dozens more varieties. Eat to your heart’s content for optimal health and quintessentially kissable lips!