Most people have experienced chapped lips at some point in their lives. Medically known as cheilitis, chapped lips are characterized by cracks or fissures in the lips (usually the lower one) and dryness. Environmental stressors such as wind, cold temperatures, and the sun can lead to chapped lips. Products you use, such as lipstick, lip balm, and even toothpaste, can also cause chapped lips, notes Stat Pearls. (1)
According to a June 2018 article in Acta Clinica Croatia, there are several kinds of cheilitis. The most common types are:
- Cheilitis simplex
- Contact, or eczematous cheilitis
- Angular cheilitis
- Actinic cheilitis
- Drug-induced cheilitis (2)
Causes and Risk Factors of Chapped Lips
The skin on your lips is thinner than on the rest of your body, so it's more susceptible to dryness and chapping. Generally speaking, common causes of chapped lips include dry or cold weather, overexposure to the sun, and licking your lips too frequently.
Here are the specific causes of each type of chapped lips:
- Cheilitis Simplex Frequent lip licking is usually to blame. Licking your lips too much removes the oily surface film that keeps moisture in and makes them more prone to dryness and cracking. On top of that, digestive enzymes in saliva may irritate lips by extracting moisture from them.
- Contact, or Eczematous Cheilitis The culprit of this type of chapped lips is irritating substances, like preservatives and dyes found in products such as lipstick, toothpaste, certain foods, and even pens.
- Angular Cheilitis This type of chapped lips is common in people who have deep wrinkles at the corners of their mouths and who lick lip corners frequently. It can also be caused by diseases such as celiac disease. It’s frequently found in diabetics and people with psychiatric disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
- Actinic Cheilitis Also known as “solar keratosis,” this kind of chapped lips is due to chronic sun exposure. It’s often found in people who work outdoors such as farmers, construction workers, and lifeguards.
- Drug-Induced Cheilitis Usually it’s caused by retinoids (used to treat acne or psoriasis) or other medications like topical antibiotics or local anesthetics. (2)
Duration of Chapped Lips
The length of time it takes to heal chapped lips depends on how severe your condition is. Less severe cases, such as cheilitis simplex, can be healed in two to three weeks. If your lips don’t feel better after a few weeks, see a board-certified dermatologist who can determine the proper course of treatment. (3)
Complications of Chapped Lips
Actinic cheilitis (the kind that’s induced by the sun) can lead to squamous cell carcinoma (lip cancer). In rare cases (usually glandular cheilitis and cheilitis granulomatosis), chapped lips can cause permanent swelling. (1)
Related Conditions and Causes of Chapped Lips
Some skin conditions and other chronic disorders can also affect the lips, leaving them feeling dry, cracked, or irritated. These conditions include:
- Lichen planus
- Lupus erythematosus
- Autoimmune bullous diseases
- Crohn's disease
- Certain nutritional deficiencies (1,2)
Resources We Love
American Academy of Dermatology
The AAD works to advance the diagnosis and treatment of conditions involving the skin, hair, and nails. This includes chapped lips; check out their recommendations from dermatologists on how to keep your lips healthy, including a list of ingredients that are beneficial and those that aren't. Tip: If you feel stinging, burning, or tingling when you apply a lip product, that's not necessarily a sign that it's working, but rather that it's irritating your lips.
The Mayo Clinic is one of Everyday Health's most trusted sources — and a go-to resource. Their website covers a wide range of medical and wellness issues, including advice on treating chapped lips.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Bhutta BS, Hafsi W. Cheilitis. StatPearls. August 2020.
- Lugović-Mihić L, Pilipović K, Crnarić I, et al. Differential Diagnosis of Cheilitis — How to Classify Cheilitis? Acta Clinica Croatica. June 2018.
- 7 Dermatologists’ Tips for Healing Dry, Chapped Lips. American Academy of Dermatology.
- Chapped Lips. MedlinePlus. August 2020.
- Gibson LE. Chapped Lips: What’s the Best Remedy? Mayo Clinic. November 29, 2018.