Chapped Lips

Chapped lips are the result of dry, cracked skin on your lips often due to cold or dry weather, sun exposure, frequently licking your lips or dehydration. You can treat chapped lips at home with the use of lip balm or ointment to ease any discomfort.


What are chapped lips?

You know the feeling — dry, tight, cracked lips. They may even be scaly or peeling. You’ve got lip balm stashed in your purse, car and house, ready to go when you need to provide your lips some TLC.

Chapped lips can happen any time of year, but wintertime can be especially brutal on your lips when the air is cold and dry. The skin on your lips is thinner and more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body. This is because your lips don’t contain any oil glands. As a result, they’re at risk of becoming dry and chapped.

This inflammation of your lips — also called cheilitis — has many possible causes. Your lips are exposed to the elements more than the rest of your body. They can become chapped from sun exposure, get irritated in dry or cold environments, react to chemicals in your lip balm and more.

Most people have experienced chapped lips at some point, but for some, cheilitis can be a more serious medical problem.

Types of cheilitis

When you think of chapped lips, you probably just think of the kind caused by cold, dry air. But there are many different types. The source of lip inflammation helps healthcare providers determine the type of cheilitis:

  • Actinic cheilitis: Frequent sun exposure.
  • Angular cheilitis: Fungal infection at the corners of your mouth.
  • Contact cheilitis: Allergic reaction.
  • Drug-induced cheilitis: Reaction to a medication, like retinoids.
  • Eczematous cheilitis: Flare-up due to eczema.
  • Exfoliative cheilitis: Continuous peeling of your lips caused by repetitive behaviors like lip-licking.
  • Infective cheilitis: Viral or bacterial infection, like herpes simplex.
  • Glandular cheilitis: Thickening of your salivary glands.
  • Granulomatous cheilitis: Persistent, painless swelling of your lips.


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Symptoms and Causes

The common causes of chapped lips
Chapped lips commonly occur in cold or hot dry weather. Others causes of chapped lips include sunburn, frequently licking your lips and dehydration.

What are the symptoms of chapped lips?

Some of the most common cheilitis symptoms may include:

Do chapped lips hurt?

They can. Chapped lips are dry and tight and can be very uncomfortable. Severely chapped lips may cause painful stinging reactions when eating, especially with citrus fruit, along with spicy and salty foods.

What causes chapped lips?

Different types of cheilitis have different causes. Chapped lips causes include:

What are the risk factors for this condition?

Chapped lips can occur in anyone at any age. Children and adolescents who lick their lips often are susceptible to chapped lips. They can develop a condition called lip licker’s dermatitis which results in a rash around their mouths as well as chapped lips.

People who live in an area where the weather is dry and hot or in a climate where the temperature is cold experience chapped lips frequently. Seasonally chapped lips occur in the winter and can be common in people who experience dry skin.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is it diagnosed?

A visual examination of your lips and the skin surrounding your mouth can help diagnose chapped lips. Your healthcare provider may request certain tests if they suspect a more serious condition is the cause. These tests may include:

Management and Treatment

How do you get rid of chapped lips?

Cheilitis treatment depends on the underlying cause of lip inflammation, but you can usually treat it at home. Cheilitis self-care involves:

  • Staying hydrated.
  • Using lip balm or ointment as needed throughout the day.
  • Applying lip balm with sunscreen when outdoors.
  • Avoiding licking, picking or biting at your lips.
  • Keeping foreign objects away from your mouth (pens, jewelry, metal objects).
  • Using a humidifier.

What type of lip balm is best for chapped lip treatment?

To treat your chapped lips, choose a lip balm with ingredients that are:

  • Fragrance-free.
  • Hypoallergenic.
  • Ointments (petroleum jelly, glycerin).
  • Oils (mineral oil or castor seed oil).
  • Moisturizing (ceramide, dimethicone).
  • Sun-protective (titanium oxide, zinc oxide).

Don’t use lip balm that includes the following ingredients, as they can irritate chapped lips:

  • Fragrances and flavoring.
  • Lanolin.
  • Menthol.
  • Eucalyptus.
  • Camphor.
  • Waxes.

If your lip balm causes a stinging, burning or tingling sensation, stop using that product.

How often should I apply lip balm or ointment to my chapped lips?

Lip balm seals cracks in your lips, and ointment keeps your lips hydrated for a longer duration based on the ingredients and thickness of the ointment. You can apply lip balms and lip ointments as needed throughout the day when you notice your lips are dry. Using lip ointment at night will keep your lips hydrated throughout the night. Always reapply lip balm or ointment after eating and drinking. While outdoors, apply lip balm or ointment with SPF 30 or higher about every two hours.


What do I do if my chapped lips are bleeding?

Bleeding occurs when the cracks (fissures) in your lips break and turn into cuts and sores (split lip). The skin on your lips is prone to cracking, and untreated chapped lips may bleed and cause pain and stinging. You can treat your bleeding lips at home with an ointment designed for lips, specifically. If the bleeding is frequent and at-home treatment doesn’t help, visit your healthcare provider. They can prescribe more advanced treatment.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

Applying lip balm regularly should ease discomfort until your lips have time to heal. Severely chapped lips may take longer to heal, but the average time is two to three weeks to recover completely. If you treat chapped lips as soon as you notice a problem, your lips will heal much faster and you can avoid potential complications like infection.


Can chapped lips be prevented?

You can prevent chapped lips by adding lip care to your daily routine:

  • Wear lip balm with SPF before you go outside.
  • Apply lip balm or ointment before you go to bed and when you wake up.
  • Keep lip balm handy to use when you need it (in your bag, on your nightstand, in your car).
  • Run a humidifier in your home to prevent dry air.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have chapped lips?

Chapped lips are harmless and could cause temporary irritation until treated. Persistent and severe chapped lips could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Why won’t my chapped lips heal?

If your chapped lips get worse or don’t heal after treating them, talk with your healthcare provider to find a more advanced treatment. They might also perform tests if they suspect your chapped lips are a symptom of a medical condition.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you treat your chapped lips and they get worse or don’t improve for more than a few weeks, visit your healthcare provider for advanced treatment options.

What questions should I ask my provider?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What’s causing my chapped lips?
  • Am I using the appropriate lip balm?
  • Could my chapped lips be a sign of another medical condition?
  • What else could this be?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

While chapped lips may be irritating, they’re temporary and can be easily treated at home. Awareness of your environment and the weather helps reduce the likelihood that you’ll experience long-term chapped lips, especially if you keep lip balm or ointment in a convenient location to use at the first sign of chapping. If your chapped lips won’t go away or get worse, see your healthcare provider for further evaluation.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/16/2024.

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