Anyone who's experienced chapped lips knows how uncomfortable they can be. Your lips feel tender and might crack or peel easily. Without the right care, chronic dry lips can become a person's reality. Knowing what causes persistent chapped lips is the first step to understanding what you can do to treat and soothe them.
What Causes Dry Lips?
Most people experience dry or chapped lips from time to time. The issue is common because lip skin is thinner and dries out 10 times faster than the skin on the rest of the face, as the Cleveland Clinic explains.
Common causes of dry lips include an allergic reaction to a substance that's come in contact with the lips, such as lipstick, trauma to the lips (including chewing on them), frequently licking the lips and vitamin or other nutritional deficiencies.
While most people develop dry lips from these everyday circumstances, the source could also be certain kinds of medicine or a chronic illness. See which medications can cause dry mouth, as those may also dry out the lips. Dry lips, mouth sores, skin rashes and sun sensitivity are also often associated with lupus, an autoimmune disorder.
Dry Lips and Cheilitis
Dry lips are related to cheilitis, the cracking of the corners of the mouth. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, cheilitis is frequently caused by wind and cold air, which dry out the lips and lead to cracking of the skin.
Sun exposure can lead to a specific type of dry, chapped lips known as actinic cheilitis. The Journal of Indian Academy of Oral Medicine and Radiology states that chronic actinic cheilitis develops after prolonged sun exposure, such as working a job that requires being outdoors most of the time.
Excessive moisture at the corners of the mouth can cause angular cheilitis. Once the saliva disappears, dry patches form at the corners of the lips, and bacteria can infect the cracked skin. Thumb-sucking and wearing poor fitting dentures can increase your chances of developing angular cheilitis.
Dry Lips Treatment
Although dry or chapped lips can be a pain — and painful — to deal with, you can treat them and find ways to prevent dryness. If you have chapped lips, a lip balm may help hydrate them. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a lip product that contains petroleum, also referred to as petroleum jelly or mineral oil.
In the winter, it's a good idea to take extra steps to protect your lips from the cold air and from the sun and wind. You should apply a lip balm that has a SPF of at least 15 before venturing outdoors. If it's especially windy out, cover your lips with a scarf to protect them from the drying effects of the wind. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially when outside, will help you maintain healthy, hydrated lips no matter the time of year.
If the air in your home gets dry, a humidifier can add moisture to the air and reduce the chance of chapped lips. You'll also want to avoid licking your lips as much as possible. Although licking the lips may seem like a way to instantly moisturize them, it's actually very drying. Once the saliva evaporates from the surface of the lips, it leaves them drier than before. Saliva also irritates the lips, making your symptoms worse.
If lip balm, avoiding the sun and wind and other attempts to hydrate your lips don't seem to help, it's a good idea to ask your dermatologist or doctor about your chronic dry lips. Your doctor can evaluate any chronic conditions that might be drying out your lips and help you find a path to relief.