Preventing a Toddler's Lips From Getting Chapped

5 Easy Tips to Protect Them From the Elements

Mother applying lip balm to her daughter
L.A. NOVIA/Getty Images

When it comes to keeping your child safe from the elements, her lips may be one of your least concerns. By the time you bundle her up on windy, frigid days, thoroughly slather her with sunscreen on sunny ones, or even get her ready for bed, making sure your little one’s mouth is protected can easily fall by the wayside.

But there are very good reasons to take a few seconds to tend to your munchkin’s mouth.

The skin of the lips is thinner than that of other areas of the body and so is especially vulnerable to cold, dry air (indoors and out), wind, and even the sun’s rays.

Protecting Little Lips

If a child is still using a pacifier, it can exacerbate the risk of chapping. So can frequent moisture around her lips. It's OK for a kid to hang onto her binky until she's 3, according to the ​American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, so unless she's really ready to give it up don't push her for the sake of preventing chapping. But do be sure to wipe your tot's mouth clean after meals and snacks. Beyond that, there are other things you can do to keep your little one's lips healthy.​​

  • Fill her up with fluids. Children ages 1 to 3 need at least 5.5 cups of fluid each day, but all of it doesn't have to be water. Healthy beverages such as milk and fruit juice count, as do foods with a high moisture content, like watermelon and soup. (An important note about juice: The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting the amount of juice a toddler drinks each day to 4 ounces, and only serving juice that's pasteurized and has no added sugar.)
  • Hydrate your home. If the air inside is very dry, consider installing humidifiers, especially where your toddler sleeps and plays. Read the instructions about keeping any humidifier you use clean (moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold). Place the humidifier well out of your child's reach.
  • Stop the licking. When her lips are rough and dry, it will be an open invitation to your child to try to moisten them with her tongue. This is counterproductive. The constant cycle of wetting and drying leads to chapping. You can remind your child not to lick her lips if you see her doing it, but more importantly, take steps to take away the temptation to lick. If her lips are flaky, for example, use a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush to gently buff them smooth.
  • Slick on the lip balm. Be vigilant about keeping your child's mouth moist and protected from the elements. Choose a petroleum- or beeswax-based lip balm with sunscreen: Lips are particularly prone to damage from UV rays. And don't worry that your child (or you, for that matter), can become "addicted" to lip balm, as has been rumored by some beauty websites. The theory is that you'll feel your lips are dry and need balm even if they aren't, but experts say this is a psychological phenomenon, not a physical one. 
  • Soothe sore smackers. If despite your best efforts your little one's lips become dry, flaky, chapped, and sore, smoothe on a medicated balm or ointment—and then seal them with a kiss.

Sources:

Institute of Medicine, "Dietary Reference Intakes For Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate." 2005.

Melvin B. Heyman, Steven A. Abrams. "Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations." Pediatrics Jun 2017, 139 (6) e20170967; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-0967.

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