Lip Eczema May Be the Reason for Those Chronic Dry Patches on Your Lips

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t suffered from chapped lips at some point in their life. Ideally, of course, dry, chapped lips aren’t anything to stress too much about—once you identify your favorite combo of lip balms and exfoliants, you’re usually in the clear. 

That said, if you find yours are a little more severe and painful than you’d like to admit—for example, you’re dealing with chronic rough patches on your lips year-round and not just in the drier winter months—you might be dealing with a slightly more serious condition that needs to be addressed. Ahead, dermatologists Dr. Will Kirby and Dr. Susan Bard share how to tell if your chronic chapped lips are actually a form of lip eczema, plus how to treat the issue.

What Is Lip Eczema?

Lip eczema is a blanket term encompassing multiple types of lip irritation that causes chronic dry patches and chapped lips.

Lip Eczema Signs and Symptoms

While some dermatologists veer away from the term “lip eczema” since it’s a bit of a “layman’s term,” according to Kirby, the condition and symptoms are very real (and typically easily treatable). Do any of the reasons below resonate with you?

Over-the-Counter Balms Don't Make a Difference

If no amount of salves, sticks, or balms are working on your chapped lips, it’s time to consider whether you might be dealing with something chronic like lip eczema or contact dermatitis.

Dryness Appears as Flaky Patches

“Regardless of what you name it, this lip condition often shows up as irritation, dryness, sensitivity, and flakiness,” explains Kirby. “You could also have redness, itchiness, or even small, microscopic cracks or fissures.”

The Patches Are Painful

If this sounds like you—as in, your flaky lips are veering into painful, uncomfortable territory—you probably already know you’re dealing with something slightly more severe than a bout of chapped lips advertised in chapstick commercials, which is why those everyday balms aren’t working on you. 

Types of Lip Eczema

Interestingly enough, lip eczema is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are actually a few different ways eczema can show up. Read on to find out what each one looks like.

  • Angular Cheilitis: Often confused with cold sores, Angular Cheilitis tends to form at the corners of the mouth. Typically caused by a yeast infection from saliva buildup, this type of lip eczema can be especially painful when speaking or eating.
  • Irritant Contact Chelitis: This form of lip eczema directly results from irritation from lip products, the weather, or even picking at or over-exfoliating your lips.
  • Allergic Contact Chelitis: Unlike Irritant Contact Cheilitis, which is caused by irritation from a product (most commonly from its fragrance or overuse of the product), Allergic Contact Cheilitis is caused by an actual allergy to an ingredient in a product. This includes any product that comes into direct contact with your mouth area, including makeup, toothpaste, or even drinks.
  • Common Dryness: If none of the above seem correct, it's possible you are experiencing routine dryness. The best way to tell is to take account of the rest of your skin. If all of your skin is excessively dry (not just on your lips), you likely have a dry skin type which, in turn, adversely affects your lips. The same goes for eczema. Chronically dry skin does not always equal eczema, but eczema always causes dry skin.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Will Kirby is a board-certified, clinical and cosmetic dermatologist based in Los Angeles. He is also the chief medical officer of LaserAway.
  • Dr. Susan Bard is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in general and procedural dermatology in New York City.

Causes of Lip Eczema

Overuse of Lip Products

“The irony is that some of the products proclaiming to help heal this condition actually perpetuate it,” says Kirby. In fact, according to him, a number of things could be inflaming your lip eczema: lip balms, lip exfoliants, chapsticks, toothpastes, and more. 


If there's a history of dry lips in your family, you might do everything right and still "inherit" lip eczema.


Hormones rule the world, and if you've been particularly stressed out lately, it might worsen any existing dryness.

Cold Climate

If your skin is naturally sensitive to cold weather, then the harsh winds and low temperatures of winter aren't doing you any good. If dry patches on your lips tend to appear alongside cracked elbows and thirsty under eyes, there's a good chance the weather is to blame.

How to Treat It

Drink Three Extra Glasses of Water a Day

We already know that water has endless beauty benefits, so it should come as no surprise that moisture should help you out in terms of getting your lips quenched and ultra-hydrated—Kirby recommends drinking at least three extra glasses of water a day (on top of what you usually consume).

Use a Humidifier

Run a humidifier at night and at your desk during the day to mitigate a dry environment. Humidifiers like Hey Dewy are small and portable, so you can throw them in your bag before you head to the office. 

Apply Petroleum Jelly

Additionally, nightly Vaseline is known as a lip miracle salve for a reason—and both Bard and Kirby confirm that any type of petrolatum mineral oil jelly will work wonders for chapped lips and eczema. If you’re suffering from those pesky severe dry patches, apply a thick layer of your favorite brand to your lips at least three times a day. 

Try Hydrocortisone Cream

If none of these previous remedies move the needle, dermatologists suggest mixing 1% hydrocortisone cream with your petrolatum jelly and applying the 50/50 mixture to your lips three times in a 24-hour period, but don’t use the steroid cream for more than a week, says Bard. If the condition persists, “See your board-certified dermatologist so they can prescribe you steroid-sparing agents for chronic eczema treatment,” she says. “And they can also offer patch testing to elucidate the cause of contact dermatitis.” Again, before you can remedy the condition, it’s vital to identify and avoid anything that’s potentially irritating you. 

If All Else Fails, See a Derm for HA Injections

Finally (as a last resort), Kirby mentions that the hyaluronic acid (HA0 contained in common lip fillers (like Juvederm, for example), is hydrophilic, meaning it bonds with water molecules. (Studies show that hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.) So if nothing’s working for you—and you’ve recovered from any surface-level lip irritation—you could always try injectable treatments to keep your lips hydrated in the future. 

The best thing you can do if the symptoms recur is to see a doctor—not only to treat the problem but to nail down what’s causing it. The earlier you do, the quicker you’ll have softer, smoother, healthier lips.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. 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

  2. John HE, Price RD. Perspectives in the selection of hyaluronic acid fillers for facial wrinkles and aging skinPatient Prefer Adherence. 2009;3:225-230. doi:10.2147/ppa.s3183

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