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 share how to tell if your chronic chapped lips are actually a form of lip eczema, plus how to treat the issue.
Meet the Expert
Signs You’re Dealing With a Form of Lip Eczema
While some dermatologists veer away from the term “lip eczema” since it’s a bit of a “layman’s term,” according to Dr. Kirby, the condition and symptoms are very real (and typically easily treatable).
- Over-the-Counter Balms Don't Make a Difference: If no amount of salves, sticks, or Glossier Bom Dotcoms 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,” he says. “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
- Angular Cheilitis: If your dry patches tend to form at the corners of the mouth, it could be this form of lip eczema, which can be caused by a yeast infection from saliva buildup.
- Irritant Contact Cheilitis: This form of lip eczema occurs as a direct result of irritation from lip products, the weather, or even picking at or over-exfoliating your lips.
- Allergic Contact Cheilitis: 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 all of your skin is excessively dry (not just on your lips), you likely have a dry skin type.
Causes & Irritants
- Overuse of Lip Products: “The irony is that some of the products proclaiming to help heal this condition actually perpetuate it,” says Dr. Kirby. In fact, according to Dr. Kirby, a number of things could be inflaming your lip eczema: lip balms, lip exfoliants, chapsticks, toothpastes, and more.
- Genetics: If there's a history of dry lips in your family, you might do everything right and still "inherit" lip eczema.
- Stress: 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.
Treatments & Remedies
- 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—Dr. Kirby recommends drinking at least three extra glasses of water a day (on top of what you usually consume.)
- Use a Humidifier: Running a humidifier at night, and at your desk during the day, for bonus points. (Humidifiers like Hey Dewy are small and portable so you can throw it 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 Dr. Bard and Dr. 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 Dr. 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, Try Injecting Hyaluronic Acid: Finally (as a last resort), Dr. Kirby mentions that the hyaluronic acid 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.
Petroleum jelly is composed of natural mineral oils and waxes. It helps seal in moisture, soothe cuts, and accelerate the skin healing process.
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.
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John HE, Price RD. Perspectives in the selection of hyaluronic acid fillers for facial wrinkles and aging skin. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2009;3:225-230. doi:10.2147/ppa.s3183