What are chapped lips?
The skin on your lips is thinner and more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body because your lips don’t contain any oil glands. As a result, they are at risk of becoming dry and chapped. Your lips are exposed to the elements more than the rest of your body and can become chapped from sun exposure, dry or cold weather conditions. Chapped lips, known medically as cheilitis, can occur from contact with an allergen or a medical condition.
How common are chapped lips?
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 the mouth 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.
Do chapped lips hurt?
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, spicy and salty foods.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of chapped lips?
Symptoms of chapped lips include:
- Dry or scaling lips.
- Cracking skin.
- Peeling skin.
- Mild pain.
- Sores on your lips and in your mouth.
What causes chapped lips?
Causes of chapped lips include:
Diagnosis and Tests
How are chapped lips diagnosed?
A visual examination of your lips and the skin surrounding your mouth can help diagnose chapped lips. No tests are needed to diagnose chapped lips.
Management and Treatment
How do you heal chapped lips?
Chapped lips can be treated at home by:
- 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 lips?
To treat your chapped lips, choose a lip balm with ingredients that are:
- 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.
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. Lip balms and lip ointments can be applied 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 does not help, visit your healthcare provider who could 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.
How can I prevent chapped lips?
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.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you treat your chapped lips and they get worse or do not improve for more than a few weeks, visit your healthcare provider for advanced treatment options.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- What is causing my chapped lips?
- Am I using the appropriate lip balm?
- Could my chapped lips be a sign of another medical condition?
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the different types of cheilitis?
There are several types of cheilitis to identify the source of lip inflammation:
- 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 (retinoids).
- Eczematous cheilitis: Flare-up due to eczema.
- Infective cheilitis: Viral or bacterial infection (herpes simplex).
- Glandular cheilitis: Thickening of your salivary glands.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While chapped lips may be irritating, they are temporary and can be easily treated at home. Awareness of your environment and the weather helps reduce the likelihood that you will 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.
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