Dry, cracked lips are uncomfortable — and they may make you self-conscious of how you look and feel. They may appear red and swollen and may even bleed as a result of dryness. Learn more about what causes chapped lips — and how to treat them.
What Causes Chapped and Cracked Lips?
- Dehydration – When you’re dehydrated, your lips are more prone to dryness. Drink about eight glasses of water per day to stay properly hydrated.
- Malnutrition – Improper diet and nutrient deficiencies can make skin and lips drier than usual.
- Lack of protection – Just as you need to apply sunscreen to the rest of your body, your lips need protection, too. Coat them in a quality lip balm that carries an SPF rating. You should also apply lip balm in cold, windy conditions.
- Breathing through your mouth – Breathing with your mouth open causes more air to flow across your lips, which dries them out. Mouth-breathers are also prone to drooling, and dried saliva can lead to chapped lips.
- Some medications or chemicals – Medications, including Vitamin A supplements and lithium, can cause chapped lips. So can chemicals in some makeup, lotions, and lip balms. So keep ingredients like eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor away from your lips.
- Cheilitis – Cheilitis is a condition associated with infections and inflammatory diseases. Symptoms include severely chapped and red lips, lips with a lumpy texture, and lips that are cracked in the corners or have ulcers.
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Can a Vitamin Deficiency Cause Dry Lips?
- Iron plays an essential role in skin health. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, brittle nails, and dry lips.
- Zinc is necessary for digestion, immune function, and healthy skin. Lack of zinc can lead to rough, irritated lips.
- B vitamins are important for wound repair, including healing chapped lips. Because B vitamins appear in animal products, vegetarians tend to be at higher risk.
Can Chapped Lips Be a Sign of Something Serious?
Chapped or cracked lips are usually a minor problem, often caused by cold weather. But there are times when chapped lips can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as:
- Actinic cheilitis. This precancerous condition shows up as scaly, dry patches on the lower lip. Left untreated, it can lead to squamous cell carcinoma.
- Angular cheilitis. When saliva builds up in the corners of your mouth, it creates a moist, warm environment for yeast to grow. These yeast infections can lead to inflammation and crusty sores at the corners of your mouth.
- Crohn’s disease. This inflammatory bowel disorder can also cause skin problems. They include swelling and cracked lips.
- Thyroid problems. Dry skin and chapped lips can be early signs of low thyroid function.
How Do I Get Rid of Chapped Lips?
Healing chapped lips takes a bit of persistence, but it’s a problem you can often solved at home.
If your lips are bleeding, sore, or chapped for an abnormally long period of time, you should consult your dermatologist.
Here are a few suggestions for treating and preventing chapped lips at home.
- Apply lip balm liberally. One of the best ways to help your lips is to keep them moisturized with a balm or ointment. Be sure to choose one that won’t irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction. Apply several times throughout the day, even when your lips aren’t chapped, to prevent dryness.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier in your home to provide your lips with the moisture they need.
- Try a home remedy, like applying honey to your lips to soothe, heal, and moisturize them.
- Don't lick or pick at your lips. When you lick your lips, your saliva will evaporate alongside your lips’ lasting moisture, so apply a moisturizing balm instead. And when your lips are chapped, don’t pick at or bite them. The skin on your lips is thin and delicate, and picking at it only irritates it and prolongs the problem.
- Check your medicines, makeup, and toothpaste. An ingredient in one of these could be causing dryness, irritation, or an allergic reaction.
What to Do If Your Chapped Lips Won’t Heal
Give home remedies two or three weeks to work. Chapped or cracked lips won’t heal overnight, especially in dry, cold weather.
But if you’re not seeing any improvement in a few weeks, it’s time to see a dermatologist. Chapped lips that don’t respond to lip balm or home remedies could be a sign of a more serious condition.
When to See a Dermatologist about Chapped and Cracked Lips
If home treatments don’t work after a few weeks, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin care and can diagnose the cause of your cracked lips.
Be sure to pay attention to your lips, especially during the cold months and when you’re in the sun. Find more information from the UPMC Department of Dermatology.
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.