What You Need to Know About Chapped Lips
When winter comes around, many of us experience chapped lips, which are irritated, dry, and peeling lips caused by disruption of the outer skin layer and inflammation, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. They are flaky and sometimes red or bloody, and they can be uncomfortable or painful. Chapped lips, also known as cheilitis, are very common, and they're most often caused by cold, dry, windy weather. While chapped lips are usually harmless, itâ€™s important to protect and hydrate them with the right treatment.
Common Causes of Chapped Lips: Wetness and Weather
Chapped lips are typically caused by environmental exposures that lead to irritation, including saliva and licking your lips, spicy foods, and cold, dry weather, says Dr. Zeichner. The common cold and sun damage can also cause chapped lips, he adds, as well as medication like cholesterol-lowering agents.
Allergic or irritant contact is another common cause of chapped lips, where exposure to an external product causes a true allergic reaction or a direct irritation to the skin, says Zeichner. But most of the time, chapped lips are caused by dryness, and wind is a prime culprit, explains dermatologist Clay J. Cockerell, MD, founder and medical director of Cockerell Dermatopathology in Dallas.
Health Conditions That Can Cause Chapped Lips
Chapped lips can also be associated with a variety of underlying medical conditions, including thyroid disease, vitamin deficiencies, and inflammatory bowel disease, says Zeichner. Low thyroid function may cause dryness of the mouth and lips, and B complex vitamin deficiencies or low zinc or iron levels have been reported to cause chapped lips, he adds. Crohnâ€™s disease can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract from the lips down to the anus, and if you have severe cracked lips that are not healing as well as belly pain, this may be a rare cause.
Angular cheilitis, or inflammation in the corners of the mouth, is another common condition that can cause dry or chapped lips. Itâ€™s typically caused by cold weather, yeast overgrowth, and/or irritation from saliva, and itâ€™s usually treated with anti-yeast medication, anti-inflammatories, or skin protectants overnight, says Rebecca Baxt, MD, a dermatologist in Paramus, New Jersey.
Actinic cheilitis is the term given to chronic chapped lips that develop as a result of sun damage, explains Zeichner. This is a precancerous condition that typically affects the lower lip (which faces upward toward the sun, so is at risk for sudden damage). If you have chapped lips that arenâ€™t getting better and youâ€™re concerned, see a dermatologist.
How to Treat Chapped Lips: Start With Lip Balm
Chapped lips can sometimes heal on their own, but if that isnâ€™t happening after a day or two, try using a lip balm, suggests Zeichner. Lip balms contain a combination of waxes and oils that form a protective seal over the skin, he explains. Your best choice is a basic lip balm with either a petroleum jelly or paraffin base that can keep moisture in your lips, protect them from the elements, and give them time to heal. Zeichner recommends Neutrogena Revitalizing Lip Balm with SPF 20 ($8.99). Vaseline is another dermatologist favorite. Dr. Cockerell advises choosing a formula with built-in sunscreen (look for an SPF number in the product name) and applying it frequently throughout the day.
Stay away from products that contain fragrance, camphor, menthol, and salicylic acid, because these ingredients can cause irritation of the skin, leading to disruption of the skin barrier and loss of hydration, which can make chapped lips worse, warns Zeichner. You also want to avoid exfoliating lips that are already dry and irritated because that can lead to more harm than good, he explains.
If lip balms are not helping, visit your dermatologist. You can also try 1 percent hydrocortisone to treat chapped lips if they are not improving on their own after a few days of using lip balm, says Zeichner.
If youâ€™re looking for a natural home remedy for chapped lips, Zeichner suggests trying coconut oil because it spreads easily without dripping. â€œThe same types of products you use for dry skin can often be used for the lips,â€ he explains.
What to Do When Your Child Has Chapped Lips
Kids are at risk for getting a superficial skin infection called impetigo, especially if they get open or cracked skin, and it can easily be spread to others, says Zeichner. He recommends touching base with your pediatrician if your child has chapped lips that donâ€™t go away in a day or two.
How to Prevent Chapped Lips: 3 Simple Strategies
Here are three simple ways to prevent chapped lips and keep your lips smooth and hydrated, according to Zeichner:
- Avoid licking your lips. People sometimes lick their lips to reduce the feeling of dry lips, but saliva actually worsens the situation.
- Pay attention to your lips. If they start to feel dry or itchy, apply a lip balm early.
- Skip spicy foods. If you have sensitive skin, try to avoid spicy foods, which can irritate the lips.
Additional reporting by Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman.
Picking at Your Psoriasis Scales? Do This Instead
Itâ€™s tempting to peel and pick at those itchy scales, but if you can help it, there are better ways to cope.
What Black Patients Need To Know About The Effects of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can look differently on darker skin than on lighter skin â€” and knowing how to spot the symptoms is an important first step of the treatment ...
Ways to Protect Your Eye Health â€” and Preserve Your Vision â€” With Psoriasis
How to keep the skin condition from negatively impacting your vision.
6 Health Issues You Could Be at Risk for if You Have Hidradenitis Suppurativa
HS is more than just a skin condition. It can affect your health in many other ways.