It’s estimated that nearly 7 in 10 cancer patients experience chapped lips. But little is said (or done) about this common side effect of cancer and chemo.
Colon cancer patients can often be malnourished and dehydrated because they go off their food or may experience dehydration due to diarrhoea – all of which has an effect on skin generally, and delicate lip tissue in particular. Chemo can damage basal cells in the vermilion border of the lips, which causes dryness, cracking, soreness, bleeding and infections. Hospitals are often overheated and in themselves dehydrate delicate lip tissue.
In the scheme of things, chapped lips can seem like a minor inconvenience. But they’re uncomfortable and remind you that you’re not well. So what can cancer patients and their families do about this issue?
There are two main approaches to alleviating dry, chapped lips. The first is to make sure the patient is sufficiently hydrated – so ensure they are drinking enough fluids and at regular intervals. The second strategy is to use a lip balm. However, while this might seem straightforward, my experience is that you need to be a little picky about what type of balm you use. Research has shown that 8 out of 10 cancer patients who use a lip balm don’t see any benefit.
I did a bit of experimenting while I was ill and I discovered that lip balms containing petroleum jelly do not seem to work and in fact made my sore lips worse. I found that natural balms – those using ingredients such as coconut oil, beeswax and shea butter combined with essential oils – were much more successful at alleviating lip dryness. Having observed this myself, I experimented with a few friends which confirmed my findings. I then did a bit of digging and found out that research has shown that patients who use natural oils on their lips are far more likely to perceive their symptoms to be alleviated (1 out of 10 for those using petroleum-based products versus 6 out of 10 for those using natural oils).
Thus as a friend or relative of someone with cancer, why not research a nice lip balm for them as a small, inexpensive gift that will be well received. Just pay attention to the ingredients and avoid those containing petroleum products.
My top recommendation is Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm with Vitamin E and Peppermint. Not only is this really moisturising but the Peppermint is fresh and stimulating. Burt’s Bees do a range of coloured and uncoloured lip balms that are available for sale from Amazon and they all seem to work really well. So if the patient is a lady that likes to wear lipstick, you can find Burt’s Bees lipsticks that are less drying on the lips.
I also found plain old coconut oil works well, as did a lip product from Boots (Number 7 Protect & Perfect Lip Care).
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous you can also make a lip scrub at home using granulated sugar, olive oil and honey. You want to mix these until you have a paste. Roughly one tablespoon of sugar, one tablespoon of honey and one teaspoon of olive oil. You can also add to that essential oils or things such as vanilla extract, peppermint essence etc. Experiment and see what you like. Once you have the mix you gently rub the lips to remove the dry bits, rinse, pat dry and then put a lip salve on. The lip scrub will keep for a time in the fridge – just treat it as any other fresh foodstuff. (It’s actually really nice to use when it’s very cold!)
I hope this helps you avoid the pitfall of caring for lips while suffering from or being treated with cancer. Let me know which products you found helpful.