Chapped Lips – How We Get Them and How To Treat Them.

For those of us that love the outdoors, chapped lips can be common, and not just in the winter months. Chapped lips can be very uncomfortable and sometimes painful. In this article, Dr. Edit Olasz Harken highlights some important information that is valuable to know and can be applied to everyone!

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 always exposed to the elements and can be damaged from sun exposure, or dry and cold weather conditions. This continued exposure can lead to inflamed and dry lips, known medically as cheilitis.

It may also occur from contact with an allergen or a medical condition. Excessive sun exposure to the lips can cause actinic cheilitis, similar to actinic keratosis of the skin.

What are the symptoms?

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, and spicy and salty foods.

Chronic sun exposure can cause actinic cheilitis which is a precancerous condition and has to be treated in order to avoid progression to skin cancer.

Sun can also induce cold sores that cause pain and blistering on part of the lips. They often can be recurrent and can be treated with preventative medications.

Who is most at risk?

Actinic cheilitis mainly affects those who live in high UV index regions, with fair skin. Those who spend a lot of time outdoors as well, including those who work outdoors, are at a greater risk. Water sports such as sailing require a large amount of time to be spent outside, where the weather conditions can be more than unfavorable.

Actinic cheilitis is three times more common in males than in females. Older adults also have a higher risk of contracting actinic cheilitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis to chapsticks, toothpaste, or drinks that come in contact with the lips can cause chronic redness, itching, and peeling lips.

How to treat and prevent chapped lips.

Chapped lips can usually be treated at home. The first step is to make sure that your lips have enough moisture. This can be accomplished by:

  • Staying hydrated and drinking more water.
  • Applying lip balm with SPF throughout the day.
  • Apply a thick layer of occlusive moisturizer such as vaseline at night.
  • Avoid linking, biting, or picking at your lips.
  • Wear a wide brim hat, to keep the sun exposure on your lips to a minimum.

Continued sun exposure and lack of treatment can increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, which is potentially life-threatening. Seek advice from a dermatologist if these tips don’t help.

~ Lip Tips ~

  • If your lip is peeling, scale and redness extends beyond red lip and itchy – think about allergy to things you put on your lip or perhaps a bad habit of constant lip licking.
  • If your lip is episodically painful, blistering, or cracks and bleeds, but heals completely – think about cold sore. Frequent cold sores in the same location can leave scars
  • If you spend a lot of time in the sun and your lip is dry, cracks easily, the border between the red lip and surrounding skin becomes less defined, becomes white in areas (mainly the lower lip) and white is extending to the wet lip (inside of your lip) – think about chronic sun damage, precancer (sailor’s lip or farmer’s lip).
  • If part of your lip becomes white, firm, or much thicker – think about skin cancer.

Chapped lips are temporary and can be easily treated at home in most cases. Awareness of your surroundings and the weather conditions will help to reduce the chances that you will experience long-term chapped lips. Be sure to keep lip balm or ointment in a convenient place, so you can apply it at the first signs of chapped lips.


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