Tips To Help Kick Your Lip Biting Habit To The Curb

Lip biting might seem like just a harmless habit you do while deep in thought or acting flirty on a first date. In reality, though, regularly biting your lips can lead to complications and health issues. According to Healthline, persistent nibbling can cause redness, inflammation, and painful skin sores. Moreover, dermatologist Dr. Roy Seidenberg told Allure that excessive biting can trigger infections and cystic lesions. "Biting of the lip can also cause rupture or blockage of a saliva gland, which manifests as a nodule in the lip called a mucocele," Dr. Seidenberg added. Some experts even believe that chronic chewing could be a risk factor for lip cancer, as noted in a 2021 research article published in BDJ Team.

Even if you never run into serious medical problems, you might find that habitual biting makes your pucker less smooth and hydrated (which could throw off your lipstick game). The American Academy of Dermatology Association warns that licking and biting your lips can dry out the skin, creating a vicious cycle of chapped lips.

All this evidence points to one conclusion: It's time to break up with your lip-biting habit. A good place to start is by treating your kisser with some TLC, but the remedy doesn't end there. To kick lip biting to the curb, you'll likely have to take care of your mind too.

Treat lip dryness

Chapped lips can be a nuisance, and one of the quickest ways to deal with them is by nibbling at the dry parts. Unfortunately, this rarely helps your pout in the end. "If your lips are dry, we're likely to lick them more often and maybe pull at them, but this can make our lips drier and more irritated," Victoria Schofield, Dermalogica's digital education executive, explained to Byrdie. If you constantly find yourself biting at your dry, scaly lips, prevention might be the best way to get the habit under control.

First, keep a hydrating lip balm on your lips throughout the day, touching up after eating, drinking, or washing your face. Keep in mind, though, that not all balms are created equal. Look for a product that contains rich oils and moisturizers such as castor seed oil, hemp seed oil, petrolatum, or shea butter, as per the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Be sure to also avoid irritating ingredients, including menthol, fragrances, and flavorings.

Just like the rest of your skin, exfoliation is crucial for keeping your lips healthy and flake-free. If you notice roughness, try a lip scrub to physically exfoliate dead skin. If you prefer chemical exfoliants, look for a lip peel instead. "The acids in a peel gently remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover without the harsh and sometimes harmful rubbing associated with a lip scrub," Dr. Dendy Engelman, a cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic, shared with Coveteur.

Focus on your mental health

Your mindless lip-biting might not actually be as mindless as you thought. Habitual lip biting is sometimes related to stress and anxiety and can become a coping mechanism during difficult times. "If somebody's biting their lip when they're anxious and there is a little bit of pain, it might actually distract them from their anxiety and that might be reinforcing," Dr. Barbara O. Rothbaum, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine and a board member of the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, revealed to Well+Good. "Anytime somebody is stressed or anxious, you usually see any kind of repetitive behavior increase, even if it's not a habit, you see people getting more fidgety and doing all sorts of things."

If you tend to notice more nibbling after you've had a tough day at work or an argument with your partner, consider it a sign to start coping with your stress in healthier (read: less damaging to your smoocher) ways. First, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests facing your stressors and preparing for them in advance, such as creating a to-do list on busy days or mentally practicing a tough conversation with your boss. When stressors feel out of your control, focus on caring for your mind and body in other ways. Try a quick mindfulness practice, spend time with loved ones, or go for a run to clear your head.

Swap lip biting with a new habit

Besides being triggered by stress, lip biting can also be associated with boredom. "[Some people who bite their lips] may experience boredom or dissatisfaction and find that biting and chewing offer sensory stimulation and sometimes promote focus on a task," Rebecca Berry, a psychologist, told Allure. While you might not always notice boredom-induced biting, filling your idle time with another activity or habit might be enough to prevent it from happening. The same goes for tasks that require concentration. "If you find [you chew your lips] while you're sitting at your computer and trying to get an important piece of work done, then switch your mindset and find something harmless to chew on," Dr. Anita Sturnham, a GP specializing in dermatology and founder of skincare range Decree, explained to Byrdie. "The most obvious choice could be sugar-free gum. Distraction therapy can work really well."

Researchers have also proposed alternative habits to try in place of lip biting and other body-focused repetitive behaviors, which can be found online on the UKE's Clinical Neuropsychology Unit website. According to their recommendations, when you notice yourself biting your lip or encounter a trigger (such as stress or boredom), stop and gently stroke your skin in a circular motion instead. Additional techniques can be found in a video on the website.

Let go of shame

Lip biting and similar habits can create feelings of shame and embarrassment, according to The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. You may try to hide your lips or avoid socializing with others. This can exacerbate stress and mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders.

Psychology Today notes that this shame may stem, at least partially, from the misconception that the behavior can be overcome with willpower alone. The truth is that lip biting can be a hard habit to kick, and struggling to stop doesn't signal a personal weakness or deficiency. In other words, lip-biting is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you're used to hiding your habit, consider opening up to a trusted friend or family member about it instead. You may even discover that your loved one has experienced something similar. After all, according to Medical News Today, many people nervously bite their lips at least occasionally, and at least 3% of the population is thought to engage in body-focused repetitive behaviors, states Psychology Today. 

Wear lipstick or another form of lip protection

Have you ever heard of the nail polish trick to stop a nail biting habit? The idea is that wearing nail polish could remind you to stop gnawing away at your nails, and a similar technique might work for your lips too. In this case, replace the polish with lipstick or lipgloss (because, of course, nail polish has no place on your mouth). As Dr. Anita Sturnham told Byrdie, "Knowing that [the lip product] will get messy if you start biting away can be a good deterrent, but don't use a gloss or balm that tastes nice!"

No matter what you choose to swipe on your lips, make sure it won't dry out the skin, especially if you're tempted to bite off the chapped flakes. Protective Vaseline or a similar petroleum jelly is one option that does double duty. "It helps to heal the skin and also discourages licking [or biting] because it feels greasy," dermatologist Mona Gohara shared with Allure.

Consult a professional

If you still find yourself nibbling at your lips, don't give up just yet. A dentist or mental health professional may offer additional solutions and coping strategies to help you beat the bad habit. Some people may be more likely to bite their lips (either intentionally or accidentally) due to conditions of the teeth and jaw, such as a misaligned bite, according to Healthline. A dentist can rule out these causes of lip biting or offer proper treatment, such as mouth guards or braces. If you suspect stress or poor mental health might be to blame, check in with a therapist. Besides being a form of stress relief, psychotherapy can also involve cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help you identify triggers, fight back against thinking traps, and develop new behavior patterns.

Finally, make sure to see a doctor or dermatologist if you've noticed any complications from lip biting or if you struggle with chronic dry lips. They can offer treatment for skin sores, chapped lips, and other issues, which might help squelch your temptation to chew.