As the weather turns colder, many people prepare for moisturizer season by buying hand and body lotions to get their skin through the cold outdoor and dry indoor season. But the most delicate skin we have is sometimes overlooked. That’s the skin on our lips. Lips need special protection in winter from the cold, the dry air in heated homes and offices, and from our almost involuntarily attempts to lubricate them with our tongues, which actually does far more harm than good.

The best advice for avoiding dry lips at any time of year is “don’t lick your lips.” It can be difficult to stop yourself when your lips feel really dry and parched, but saliva contains enzymes and bacteria that don’t moisturize, and can cause damage to the lips’ delicate surface. The skin on the lips is thinner than the rest of our skin, so it needs special protection, and sometimes more protection than areas that we usually focus more attention on, like legs, hands and face.

Lips are also at a moisture disadvantage because they lack cells that protect against water loss. Because the skin everywhere else has these cells, the lips can lose moisture three times faster than the rest of the skin on the body. The next time you’re slathering moisturizer on your arms or legs, think about that and don’t forget your lips!

A good lip balm is one that contains oils and a sunscreen. The sun is always out there even in winter, so sunscreen is important all year. An oil or glycerin based lip balm locks in moisture and can help heal cracks and lines in the lips. Minty or eucalyptus lip balms may be appealing in winter, but these ingredients can actually have a drying effect.

If your lips are cracked or peeling, you should avoid the temptation to pull off the loose skin. Instead, put a heavy amount of good lip balm on them and let it do the work of healing. You should apply lip balm both day and night. Wearing lip balm when you sleep is helpful, especially for people who sleep with their mouth open.

When going outdoors in cold weather, try to cover your lips with a scarf or another article of winter clothing when possible. Indoors, a room humidifier can help to keep the air moisturized, which is good for both your lips and your skin. Even the presence of houseplants can help to create humidity. If you tend to get colds or nasal congestion frequently in winter, this can cause you to breathe through your mouth, which can intensify the problem of dry lips. Keeping your health in top shape can also help your lips to look and feel their best.