Heal Dry Chapped Lips
By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Tue, Mar 31, 2020
How to heal dry chapped lips sometimes seems impossible. That's because the 'chapping' may be due to something you are doing - like using a lip balm that you are 'addicted' to or something you are eating. Yep, it's true! Learn how to figure out if you lip chapping is something more.
Do you suffer from cracked, dry lips? Chapped lips are painful, unsightly and can be hard to heal. What’s worse, some “healing” lip balms can exacerbate the situation and cause further dryness.
The key to healing dry lips is to understand the reason why they’re chapping.
Most common causes of dry chapped lips:The skin on your lips is uniquely fragile and requires special care. Once you understand the reason behind the problem, you can finally heal your dry lips for good! Chapped lips have four main causes:
- Environmental chapping from harsh weather and wind.
- Irritation from excessive lip licking.
- Harsh ingredients in skin care products such as anti-aging skin care products or acne products that migrate to the lips.
- Allergic reactions to foods, beverages, lip balms and dental products that come into contact with your lips.
Get my dermatologist-recommended information and tips for your dry chapped lipsIf your dry, chapped lips won’t heal, here’s what to do:
How to heal dry chapped lips due to harsh weatherExposure to harsh weather and wind pull moisture out of your skin, including your lips. The solution is to moisturize your dry lips with a simple, high quality lip balm. The two tried and true products that I use in my practice are my Natural Lip Balm and Vanicream Lip Protectant SPF 30. Both are deeply hydrating and will soothe chapped lips. They both come in convenient tubes so that you can easily carry them with you and use them throughout the day.
The Natural Lip Balm is ideal for anytime use. When you are outdoors in the sun, use the Vanicream Lip SPF Protectant because you need to protect your delicate lip skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Unless you are constantly out in harsh weather (think fishermen and skiers), your lips should respond quickly once you are using the right lip balm. These two products are the best lip balms to care for your lips!
How to heal chapped and dry lips if constant lip licking is causing your cracked lips:Lip licking is a chicken and egg question; do you lick your lips because they are dry, or is your licking actually causing the dryness? If you lick your lips frequently, try keeping your lips constantly covered with the Natural Lip Balm or Vanicream Lip Protectant instead of licking your lips. You should see improvement within a month.
How to know if your dry chapped lips are due to your skin care products or lip balm.If you’re using anti-aging, acne treatment or exfoliating products, they may be migrating to your lips and causing dryness. Apply the Natural Lip Balm or Vani Lip Balm to your lips before applying these skin care products. Try to keep these products away from your lips and use a wet washcloth to clear off any excess. During the day, apply the Natural Lip Balm or Vani Lip Protectant to help create a protective barrier so that drying product ingredients don’t migrate to your lip surface.
An allergic lip rash is called allergic cheilitis or contact eczematous cheilitis. Here are the most common causes.If your lips don’t heal with consistent use of a good lip balm, you could be allergic to a food or to your lip care products. I see a lot of patients whose chapped lips are due to an allergic reaction. Before they've seen me, they’ve tried numerous chapped lip remedies, all without improvement. The lip chapping that happens from an allergic reaction is called allergic cheilitis (cheilitis means an inflammation of the lip skin). The key is finding the allergen that causes your lips to dry and chap. In my practice, the most common causes of allergic lip chapping are:
Citrus: Even small amounts of citrus can have a huge impact on your lips. This includes the twist of lemon in your beverage, drinking orange juice, eating an orange etc. I’m allergic to citrus so I get to live out this rash every time I squeeze lemon in my water or use it generously on food. You can lessen the chapping by applying a fresh coat of my Natural Lip Balm before you eat or drink citrus, using a straw if you’re drinking the citrus and washing your lips soon after the exposure. This doesn’t entirely prevent the rash, but it helps a little.
Mint: Mint is in many products including gum, breath mints, dental products etc. One of my patients developed chapped lips from regularly drinking mint tea.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon products are less common but there is cinnamon in some dental products, teas and beverages. Another one of my patients developed dry lips from the cinnamon in Good Earth’s Original Sweet and Spicy herb tea, which is loaded with a delicious amount of cinnamon.
- Lip balms: Many ‘healing’ lip balms designed to treat chapped lips actually contain well-intended healing ingredients that are also allergens! The product I see the most problems with is Bert’s Bees Lip Balms, but there are many other products patients bring me that are loaded with allergens. The common lip product allergen ingredients include eucalyptus, mint, lanolin, non-mineral sunscreen ingredients, menthol, camphor and the fragrance and flavors in the lip products.
- Additional allergens include fragrance, Myroxylon pereirae resin (balsam of Peru - a tree bark extract with a vanilla and cinnamon aroma), dodecyl gallate and octyl gallate ( antioxidants and preservative found in cosmetics and dental products), and benzoic acid (a preservative in foods and cosmetics). Nickel (a metal that can be used in the casing of lipstick and also in items such as bobby pins, musical instruments, metal straws etc.) is another common cause.
Some of the allergens contact your lips in foods and drinks. Others contact your lips in items placed in your mouth or that touch your lips. For example: lipsticks, oral hygiene products (toothpastes), food (e.g., eggs, spices, herbs, the foods I listed above and crustaceans), fragrances, preservatives, antioxidants, dyes, dental materials, musical or occupational instruments, objects put in the mouth daily (e.g., nails, needles, pens), rubber, leather objects, nail polish substances (e.g., formaldehyde), metals (nickel, cobalt, gold). These are all common allergens and contact with them provides an opportunity for these allergens to cause allergic cheilitis. It's a broad list yet you would be surprised how often you can figure it out as you go forward and watch what potential allergens come into contact with your lips.
Can become addicted to lip balm?
Yes, when the balm is made with allergens your lips will appear chapped when they are actually suffering from an allergic rash. You apply more lip balm to heal your chapped lips, make the rash worse, and start a vicious lip balm addiction cycle that sells lots of lip balm. Keep your lip care products hypoallergenic and avoid lip balm addiction. Again, lip skin is very sensitive, ingredients penetrate readily and your lips are thus prone to allergic cheilitis.
Avoid lip balm and lipstick ingredients that include the top allergens. These include fragrances, flavors, eucalyptus, mint, lanolin, non-mineral sunscreen ingredients, menthol and camphor. Focus on the simple hydrating and protecting ingredients such as oils, waxes and dimethicone.
3 steps to tell if your dry chapped lips are due to an allergic reaction?
If your chapped lips are due to an allergy, they become chapped within a few days after exposure to the allergen, and can take a week or more to heal.
- If you think that you may have chapped lips due to an allergic reaction, try avoiding the allergens that I listed above for a month.
- Moisturize your lips with a simple, low allergen product. Again, my favorite hypoallergenic lip balm is my Natural Lip Balm. Other options include pure shea butter (L’Occitane has a nice Mini Pure Shea Butter tin with 100% pure shea butter and nothing else). You can also try plain Vaseline, but some people find it slightly irritating and unpleasant tasting.
- Once your lips have healed you can retest just one of the allergens. If your dry lips reoccur you may have your answer.
Lugović-Mihić L, Pilipović K, Crnarić I, Šitum M, Duvančić T. Differential Diagnosis of Cheilitis - How to Classify Cheilitis?. Acta Clin Croat. 2018;57(2):342–351. doi:10.20471/acc.2018.57.02.16
Suwirakorn Ophaswongse, Howard I. Maibach, Allergic contact cheilitis, Contact Dermatitis, 1995, 33, 365-370
Susan M. O'Gorman MB, BCh Rochelle R. Torgerson MD, PhD, Contact allergy in cheilitis, Volume55, Issue7, July 2016, Pages e386-e391
Please remember, the information presented on Dr. Bailey Skin Care’s Blog and web site, and any related links, is provided for general information and educational purposes only and are the opinions of Dr. Cynthia Bailey. Consult with your physician or health care provider for any specific medical conditions or concerns that you have. (This also applies to patients in her medical practice; the information here is not a substitute for, or an extension of, the medical care she provides for you). Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here.