Our lips frame one of our most notable features – our smile. But if our lips are dry, cracked, chapped, or blistered, there’s not much to smile about.

Since lips lack a barrier of dead, but protective, cells and have fewer and thinner layers of skin than the rest of our bodies do, they tend to dry out easily and are especially sensitive to extremes in weather, including summer sun, autumn wind, and winter sun glare.

Fortunately, there are a number of protective products – in the form of balms, gels, salves, sticks, and tubes – to keep lips happy, and looking and feeling good. So pucker-up and kiss those dry, chapped lips goodbye!

Know your allergies to certain ingredients before you buy.

When buying lip products in any form, especially cosmetics, be sure to check the list of ingredients for those to which you are, or may be, allergic. A condition called cheilitis, dermatitis of the lips, is caused by an allergic reaction to lip products. Because of its thinness, the skin on the lips is especially susceptible to allergies and reactions to common allergens, such as lanolin and dyes. The symptoms include dry, cracked, chapped, and peeling skin on the lips. Avoiding products withperfumes or staining dyes may help clear up the problem.

Protection from the elements: indoors & outdoors

Indoors, heating systems and air conditioners, which create a low-moisture content in the air, are drying to lips. While outdoors, sun, wind, and dry air are our lips’ biggest enemies. Lips are especially susceptible to the sun because they lack sufficient melanin – a skin pigment that screens out ultraviolet rays – to protect them. The sun can cause damage ranging from serious – like setting the stage for squamous cancer cells which appear as a non-healing ulcer on the lower lip – to chapping, to first-degree sunburn.

Fortunately, many lip products now contain sunblocks and sunscreens. Because the sun is out year `round, be sure to use a protective lip product daily – preferably one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, but preferably 30 or 45, to protect lips from the damaging rays of the sun. Many of these products come in tasty flavors, too.

Adding some color to your lips – naturally

Lip color products are comprised of: 1) the pigment (or color); 2) the emollients (or oils), which serve as the carriers for the pigment, and take the form of creams, lotions, moisturizers, or skin softeners; and 3)the wax, for product shape. The amount of wax and/or oil depends on the product form. A tube or lip pencil will contain more wax, while jar products or lip glosses have more oil.

The colors come in mattes, which are not shiny and usually last longer; creams, with a mixture of oils that melt on contact with the lips and help soften them, have the widest variety of colors, and, although they apply more evenly, look best when freshly applied; glosses, which contain less wax and more oils for a shinier look; and natural stains, which give only a hint of color and wear off more naturally. Lip foundations or primers are also available in a natural color as an undercoat, and most have some sun protection.

Tips for applying lip color

Whether you use a tube or a small round jar of lipstick, if you apply it with a small brush, you will add more color and avoid contamination. Start from the center of the upper lip and move to the corners then repeat for the lower lip.

Lip liners serve two purposes: redefining the size of the lip and stopping lipstick from “bleeding,” or smearing off the lips. To redefine the lip shape, use the liner first by applying dots along the upper lip line and dashes along the bottom of the lower lip, then connect the dots and dashes. To stop lipstick from bleeding, apply the lipstick first and then use a lip pencil along the lip line as a boundary. Also, lip pencils can also be applied to fill in the lips as a matte color.

Keeping lips looking good

* A dab of honey across your lips provides a protective barrier and is rich in moisturizers.

* A blue-based lipstick, such as a burgundy or plum, will make the teeth look whiter. Orange-red and brown shades tend to enhance yellowed or discolored teeth.

* To determine whether your skin has pink or yellow undertones, compare to pink versus coral-colored lipsticks. If your skin color matches the pink, choose colors in that range; if closer to the coral, then you have yellow undertones and should choose Colors to match.

* Use brushes or spatulas to move lipstick from its container to your lips. Besides keeping bacteria out of the product, lip products brushed on will last longer.

* Never purchase lip products in applicators that may have been used by someone else and never share a lip product, even with the best of friends. This is just another way to contaminate the product.

* To make lips look fuller, use a dab of red or orange in the center.

* “Warm up” any color by applying yellow eye shadow as a base.

* For lips that appear unbalanced, use a lighter color of lipstick on the smaller lip or use the technique below.

* If your lips are too thin, draw a new outline just outside the natural lips with a lip liner and then fill it in.

* If your lips are too full, use a concealer over the natural lip line and reshape just inside the natural line, then apply lipstick.

* To avoid leaving lipstick on a cup or glass, apply, blot away the excess, reapply, then blot again.

* Lipstick that bleeds may be caused by too moist a lipstick; use a drier matte formula.

Lips-smackin’ ingredients to look for in your natural lip products

A quick-reference guide to what’s in your lip-care products.

Acetate: salt of acetic acid used in perfumery and as a flavoring agent Acetic acid occurs naturally in a number of foods

Almond Oil: rich penetrating and lubricating qualities, used in body oils and lotions.

Aloe Vera: used for medicinal purposes, as it aids in healing; found in many natural beauty products.

Apricot Oil: high in vitamin A and helps with healing and rejuvenating skin cells.

Ascorbyl Palmitate: a salt of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), used as a preservative and antioxidant to prevent rancidity.

Avocado Oil: because of high fat content and vitamins A and C properties, it is used as an emollient.

Babassu Oil: an expensive nondrying oil from the kernels of the babassu palm grown in Brazil.

Beeswax: used as an emulsifier and practically insoluble in water.

Calendula: from the flowers of marigolds, used to soothe inflammation of skin

Candelilla Wax: from candelilla plants, used in emollients to protect the skin against loss of moisture.

Carnauba Wax: from the leaves of the Brazilian wax palm tree and used as a texturizer in makeups.

Caster Oil: used in more than half of the lipsticks in the United States. It is soothing to the skin and, when dry, it forms a tough shiny film.

Chamomile: an essential oil used for its color and pleasant odor.

Cocoa Butter: softens and lubricates the skin.

Coconut Oil: highly saturated fat that remains stable when exposed to air.

Honey: a coloring, flavoring, and emollient in cosmetics.

Jojoba Oil: the oil extracted from the bean of a desert shrub to create a liquid wax. Similar to human sebum, used as a substitute for petroleum-derived oils

Kukui Nut Oil: from a tropical tree and used to treat a wide variety of skin conditions.

Lecithin: found in all living cells, it is a natural antioxidant, emulsifier, and emollient.

Marjoram: essential oil believed to penetrate the skin easily.

Orange Wax: used as a flavoring and color.

Oregano: used as an antioxidant and flavoring.

Ozokerite: a naturally occurring waxlike mineral used as an emulsifier and thickening agent.

PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid): an acid found in vitamin B-complex and used in sunscreens. Some are allergic to this.

Panthenol (Vitamin B): from vitamin B-complex and used in emollients; good for human tissue.

Paraffin: a wax that is :harmless to the skin :ma pure form, but with :impurities can be irritating to the skin.

Peppermint Oil: essential oil used as a flavoring.

Propolis: a wax extracted from a resin found in beehives.

Propylparaben: used as a preservative to kill bacteria and fungus.

Rice Wax: wax from the broken coat of the rice grain.

Rosemary Oil: essential oil beneficial to skin.

Safflower Oil: used in creams and lotions to soften the skin; becomes rancid quickly upon exposure to air.

Sesame Oil: used as a skin softener.

Shea Butter: from the karite nut tree; used as a substitute for petroleum-derived products.

Soya Fatty Acid: from soybean oil.

Soybean Oil: from the seeds of plants, used in manufacturing soaps., shampoo, s, and bath oils. May cause hair damage.

Squalene (Olive Oil): penetrates deeper than other oils and is a natural bactericide.

Tea Tree Oil: a natural antibacterial, antifungal used for general antiseptic purposes.

Tocopherol (vitamin E): an antioxidant derived from the vacuum distillation of edible plants and used to protect fat in the body’s tissues from abnormal breakdown.

Wheat Germ Oil: high in vitamin E, used in emollients.