Canker Sores

This post has been a long time coming, having been a request from my roommate. Canker sores are really painful and seem to appear spontaneously. So what are canker sores and why do we get them?

What are Canker Sores?

Canker sores, also called aphthous ulcers, are shallow, open sores that can be formed on your tongue, on the inside of your cheeks or your lips. These sores are typically white in colour with a red border.

Don’t confuse canker sores with cold sores! Canker sores are inside our mouths while cold sores are usually on the outside of our mouths.

What causes Canker Sores and why do we get them?

To both questions, my answer is the same: I have no clue.

Science is still unsure of what exactly causes canker sores and why they form. There are a lot of different causes being discussed, seeming to work together. I’ve read about stress-induced sores, as well as sores that form as a result of a very citrus-filled diet (oranges, pineapples, tomatoes, strawberries). Some toothpastes and mouthwashes contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which is thought to contribute to the development of aphthous ulcers. Poor nutrition has also been linked to canker sores, specifically deficiencies in vitamin B12, iron, zinc and folic acid. These factors indirectly cause the formation of canker sores. Some doctors believe that hormones play a role too, as twice as many women as men get these mouth ulcers.

There are certain individuals that are more likely to form canker sores. There is a disease called Aphthous Stomatitis, where an individual has a weakened immune system, and can lead to canker sores being formed. There’s a theory that maybe the individual’s white blood cells irritate the lining of the cells, causing the sores.

There are also researchers who believe that there is a genetic component to aphthous ulcers that results in a higher predisposition of the sore in relation to others. If your parents or siblings had/have a lot of canker sores, then it’s highly likely that you’ll have a lot of them in your lifetime too.

Are Canker Sores contagious?

Luckily, canker sores are not contagious!! They just hurt… a lot.

How do we get rid of Canker Sores?

Canker sores usually disappear after a week or so on their own. The best thing to do to ensure that the canker sores do go away as quickly as possible would be to stay away from anything that may irritate the sores, like citric acids, spicy or crunchy foods, or sodium lauryl sulfate-containing toothpastes/mouthwashes. Also, stay healthy – make sure you are not deficient in any particular vitamins or minerals.

There needs to be more research done on canker sores to really understand what’s going on to cause them; but seeing as they usually don’t last long, aren’t contagious and pretty much heal on their own, it’s probably best that we have more people researching  other things.

American Dental Association. 2005. Canker sores and cold sores. The Journal of the American Dental Association 136: 415.

Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. 2013. Aphthous Stomatitis. <>. June 6, 2013.

Nemours Foundation. 2013. Canker sores. <>. June 6, 2013.

Tonn, E.M.. 2012. Dental health and canker sores. <>. June 6, 2013.

Glycerol and Lips

I’ve mentioned glycerol twice in regards to lips, so I feel like I should say more about it. Maybe moreso because I grew up with my mom telling me to use it when I got chapped lips.

Glycerol and glycerin are the same thing! It is great for your lips (and skin) because it’s inexpensive and it works with all types of skin. It actually works to attract moisture from the air to your lips, rehydrating it and it also reduces the amount of water evaporated from your skin. In fact, when you put some glycerol on your lips, it covers your lips cells and moves to the teeny tiny spaces between the cells to maximize water retention (emollients do this too!).

You can buy glycerol in bottles on its own but make sure that it’s a diluted form of the glycerol – concentrated glycerol can actually dehydrate your lips!

Props to my Ma for being right.

Lip Moisturizers

Last time, we looked at why we get chapped lips and if licking our lips was the best way to re-hydrate them. The answer was no, licking your lips doesn’t help. Lip chaps/balms are better, but which ones work the best? Before we can determine that, what are some different types of lip moisturizers and what are some of the key components of these products that help us have our soft, hydrated lips?

What are some types of lip moisturizers?

There are:

  • Moisturizing glosses
  • Moisturizing lipsticks
  • Natural and organic balms
  • Balms with essential oils
  • Scented and flavoured balms

And so many more… so which ones are better for your lips?

Best Lip Moisturizers?

The best lip moisturizer differs depending on what you want. I know, how generic, right? But there are a bunch of things that you should keep an eye out for to help you decide which moisturizer actually gives you what you want.

Colourful Lips

If you want a lip moisturizer with a little pizzazz, then you’re probably looking at lip gloss or lipsticks. Make sure it has glycerol/glycerin or some other moisturizing ingredient in it (we’ll talk about more right after this)! And stay away from matte or long-lasting lipsticks, because these offer little to no hydration and can actually dry your lips further.

Natural looking lips

Great no-colour lip moisturizes have emollients, which is basically the term for ingredients that hydrate or soften skin. These ingredients help hydrate and soften your lips by helping them retain water and softening cracks but allowing other creams and ointments to enter the skin to allow for more hydration. These include petrolatum, beeswax, cocoa butter and almond oil. But if you have easily-irritable skin or oily skin, you might want to focus on moisturizers that have glycerol/glycerin or more water-based emollients rather than oil-based.

Scents, ooh la la!

Okay, so now they have all of these scented lip balms. It’s great for impressing the people we fancy, maybe even picking them up. ‘Here, take a whiff of my lips, they smell like cherry blossoms. You seem like someone who likes kissing cherry blossoms.’ Whatever motives you have for using scented lip moisturizers, here’s the deal with them: the more fragrance they have, the less effective they’ll be in protecting your lips from drying out. Therefore, the less smell a lip moisturizer has, the better. Sorry, I guess another pick-up line will be in order. But a lot of fragrance can be irritating to your skin and has the potential to dry your lips out more, so go easy with the scents.

Sun Protection Factors

Okay, here’s the last tidbit I’ll give you. If you remember the post from two weeks ago, our lips lack a certain pigment called melanin. Melanin is a very important pigment as it helps protect our skin from UV rays from the sun. Our lips are now practically defenseless against the damaging rays emitted from the sun. But, alas, lip moisturizers (well, some anyway) come to the rescue with SPFs (Sun Protection Factors) and protects your melanin-lacking lips from cell damage, DNA damage and, ultimately, cell death. Take a look at your lip chap and check to see if it mentions anything about SPFs. I hope it does, if not, time to go shopping!

The ultimate moral of the story is: stop licking your lips and invest in some lip chap that will suit your lip needs. Love your lips, love yourself.

Fisher, G. 2009. Lip moisturizers 101. <; February 20, 2013.

Joy, D. 2012. Glycerin uses for skin. <; February 20, 2013.

NHS Choices. 2012. Emollients. <; February 20, 2013.

Chapped Lips

With all of this cold weather, our wonderful, helpful lips are likely to become chapped more frequently. But why do our lips get chapped? Should we use lip moisturizers or does licking our lips help when they’re chapped?

Why do our lips get chapped?

If you recall from the last post, our lips have a thinner stratum corneum layer in its composition of skin. This layer is usually hydrated by a gland called the sebaceous gland, which is located in the dermis of the skin. This gland is missing in our lips though! This means our lips rely on external sources of hydration, like our saliva or lip balm/chap. This also means that our lips tend to dry faster, or get chapped more frequently, than the rest of our skin.

Harsh weather, dehydration or like in vitamins can cause chapped lips! I’d hate to sound like your mom but, if it’s the latter two that’s the problem, drinking 8 glasses of water and eating fruits and vegetables will give your lips the attention they need. If the dry, cold wind is the reason why your lips are chapped, then you’ll need to moisturize your lips!

Lip Moisturizers or Saliva?

Sounds gross, but many people lick their lips as if saliva was our body’s natural lip moisturizer. But natural doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing ― does saliva actually help our poor, chapped lips?

Unfortunately, all you avid lip-lickers are going to need to stop if you want your lips to get better. Saliva contains enzymes, proteins that help carry out biological processes, which irritate your lips. Not to mention that, while saliva provides temporary relief to your lips, it actually dries your lips more because it causes evaporation of any moisture on your lips.

Looks like lip moisturizers are the way to go, but which ones are better? Find out in next week’s post on Lip Moisturizers.

Gallo, L. 2013. What are the causes of chapped lips? <; February 13, 2013.

Whitmore, Elizabeth. 2009. How are lips different from other skin areas? <;  February 06,2013.

Lips – Why are they a different colour than our skin?

Our lips are pretty fantastic; they help us say words with ‘p’ in them, like ‘pretty’ or ‘pizza’ or ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’. But, when you think about it, our lips are made up of skin cells… but they don’t look like the rest of our skin. In fact, our lips and our skin are different colours! Why is that? What are the differences between our lips and our skin that cause this colour difference?

Layers of Skin

Our lips and skin are composed of a three layer system. These layers, from exterior to interior, are:

  1.      Epidermis
  2.      Dermis
  3.      Subcutaneous Tissue

The layer that differs in size for different cells is the epidermis, which has 5 sub-layers, the top-most layer being the stratum corneum. This sub-layer is important for hydration of cells.

Differences between cells in lips and skin cells

In lip cells, the stratum corneum is thinner than in our other skin cells. Since this layer is thinner, the epidermis is thinner. This results in our blood vessels, which sit below the dermis (which sits under our epidermis!), being brought closer to the surface of our skin.

Our skin cells also contain a very dark pigment called melanin (which is important for UV protection!), which our lips don’t have much of. This lack of melanin coupled with the increased proximity of our blood vessels to the surface of our skin are the reasons why our lips are pink/red!

Next time: Chapped Lips

Whitmore, Elizabeth. 2009. How are lips different from other skin areas? <>  February 06, 2013.