There are many degrees of severity when it comes to chapped lips, beginning with your regular dryness that a quick swipe of lip balm solves. And then there are the more severe chapped lips, which may include skin peeling, deeper cracks, and even bleeding.
You may also have heard of chapped lips being referred to as cheilitis (or angular cheilitis, referring to the corner of the mouth), which is the medical term for chapped lips. It’s essentially inflammation of the area, peeling, cracks, and severe dryness — all of which can be really uncomfortable and take a few weeks to clear.
What are the major causes of chapped lips?
There are actually a ton of reasons why your lips get chapped, below are the most common causes (and we’ll get onto how to treat them later).
Of course, external factors can be to blame for dry, chapped lips. Freezing temperatures, increased wind speeds, sun exposure (yep, even when it’s cold out!), and indoor heating are all culprits. Keep some lip balm handy in every coat pocket to protect your lips.
Bad habits might be the reason for your chronically parched lips and you might not even know about them. “Avoid excessive licking and try not to pick at the lips themselves,” says Dr. Zeichner, and can be a cause for dryness, so is something to be mindful of. Not sure if you do this? Set your phone on time lapse for 15 minutes to see how often you’re licking, touching, or picking at your lips so you can be conscious to avoid it.
Another factor to be cognizant of is irritation from a product or an allergy. This is known as contact cheilitis and is typically an allergic reaction due to pigments in lipsticks, fragrances, and flavoring agents in foods. If you think this is something you might have but are struggling to determine exactly what the culprit is, your dermatologist can carry out patch testing.
Chronically dry lips can, in some cases, indicate a vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as vitamin B12, so this is best to get checked out by your doctor if you suspect it may be a cause.
Yep, irritation can also be due to everyday skin-care products. “I find that when patients use acne products, they often inadvertently get some on their lips,” says Erum Ilyas, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pennsylvania. “These products are designed to exfoliate your skin to improve [breakouts]. If they get on your lips, you will find your lips are persistently dry and cracked.”