Eczema on the Lips (Eczematous Cheilitis)

Overview

What is eczema on the lips?

Eczema on the lips, also known as eczematous cheilitis, is inflammation or irritation on the skin of your lips. It’s sometimes associated with atopic dermatitis. It can lead to dry, scaly or painfully cracked lips. It’s a more severe form of chapped lips. Chapped lips are usually temporary, but eczema on the lips tends to be long term (chronic).

You can get lip dermatitis if you have an allergic reaction to a substance, such as toothpaste or lotion. Or people with lip eczema may also have atopic dermatitis elsewhere on their bodies. It isn’t contagious, so it can’t spread from person to person.

Are there different types of cheilitis?

The term “cheilitis” describes general lip irritation. Eczematous cheilitis is the most common form, but other common types include:

  • Angular cheilitis, which usually affects the corners of the mouth and is often the result of a fungal or yeast infection.
  • Infective cheilitis, which can be the result of the herpes simplex virus or bacterial infections such as group A streptococcal infections. Some forms are contagious.

Who gets eczema on their lips?

Eczema on the lips tends to be a common skin problem in children, but adults can get it, too. It may affect people who:

  • Have allergies.
  • Have eczema.
  • Have atopy (an inherited risk of developing allergies).
  • Use cosmetics or other products on their lips.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes lip eczema?

Potential causes of eczema on the lips include:

  • Allergens in the environment, food, lip products or medications.
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis).
  • Excessive lip licking, biting or sucking.
  • Irritants such as those found in lipstick, lip balm, toothpaste or mouthwash (contact dermatitis).
  • Loss of lip plasticity (hydration and elasticity), often due to age or exposure to hot, dry conditions.

What are the symptoms of lip dermatitis?

Lip eczema can affect your top lip, bottom lip or both. It may also spread to the skin around your lips. Rarely, it invades the inner mucous membrane of your mouth. Some people don’t have lip irritation for weeks or months, then symptoms flare up and get worse.

Lip dermatitis can make your lips:

  • Cracked or fissured.
  • Dry.
  • Itchy.
  • Red.
  • Scaly.
  • Sore.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is eczematous on the lips diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider evaluates your lips and checks for other areas of skin irritation or inflammation. They also review your health history, including any allergic reactions you’ve had in the past. Be sure to let them know if anyone in your family has a history of atopic dermatitis or other allergic skin conditions.

Your healthcare provider may perform tests to confirm a diagnosis of eczema on the lips:

  • Allergy testing, such as a skin patch test or skin prick test, to find out if a specific substance is causing your lip irritation.
  • Blood or urine tests to check for viral or bacterial infections.

Management and Treatment

How is lip eczema treated?

If you have lip dermatitis, try to stop habits such as licking, biting or sucking your lips. You should also avoid irritants such as lip balms or lipsticks. Your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Petroleum jelly or unscented, hypoallergenic moisturizer to soothe dry, cracked lips.
  • Steroid ointment to reduce inflammation.

In rare cases, people with severe lip eczema need oral steroids (taken by mouth) or a special prescription skin cream or ointment that prevents your immune system from overreacting to allergens.

Prevention

How can I prevent eczema on the lips?

You may not be able to prevent eczema from developing on your lips if you have atopic dermatitis elsewhere on your body, but you can reduce your risk by:

  • Avoiding lipstick, lip balm or other cosmetics that contain fragrances or dyes.
  • Cutting down on alcohol consumption.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Keeping your lips moisturized with petroleum jelly.
  • Not licking, scratching, biting or sucking your lips.
  • Selecting mouthwash and toothpaste without alcohol or harsh antiseptics.
  • Skipping very salty or spicy foods.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with eczema on the lips?

Eczema on the lips, like atopic dermatitis, tends to be a chronic condition. It can come and go, so your lips might be clear for a long time before you have a flare-up. In children, the condition tends to improve as they get older.

Living With

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have:

Call 911 immediately if you or someone else has shortness of breath (dyspnea) or trouble swallowing, which could be signs of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Eczema on the lips is a skin condition that can make them red, dry and cracked. Talk to your healthcare provider if your lip irritation doesn’t go away in a few days. They can make sure you don’t have an illness or infection. Lip ointment, moisturizers or steroids usually helps lip eczema.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/18/2022.

References

  • Bhutta BS, Hafsi W. Cheilitis. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470592/) [Updated 2021 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 4/18/2022.
  • Lugović-Mihić L, Pilipović K, Crnarić I, Šitum M, Duvančić T. Differential Diagnosis of Cheilitis - How to Classify Cheilitis? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6531998/) Acta Clinica Croatica. 2018 June;57(2):342-351. Accessed 4/18/2022.

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