The Many Hidden Causes of Chapped Lips

There aren’t too many of us fortunate enough to escape some degree of chapped lips each winter. However, there are a surprising number of causes of chapping that have absolutely nothing to do with the cold weather and rather are the symptom of something else going on.

Posted on | By Audrey Kunin, MD | Comments ()
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There aren’t too many of us fortunate enough to escape some degree of chapped lips each winter. However, there are a surprising number of causes of chapping that have absolutely nothing to do with the cold weather and rather are the symptom of something else going on.

Chronic chapped lips can look identical to the everyday variety, but they never seem to get better regardless of how often you apply your lip balm.  While it is very helpful to have a dermatologist act as your medical sleuth, here are a number of possibilities you can consider.

Chapped Lip Causes: 

  • Check for periodontal disease or abscesses. There are reports that deep cleansing of the mouth performed by the dentist (possibly under anesthesia) may help solve the problem.
  • Clarinet players may develop chapping at the contact area of the reed.
  • The ingredient propyl gallate in lipstick may be causing a contact allergy.
  • Your toothpaste may be to blame if it contains guaiazulene or sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • A little-known (or seen) condition known as chelitis granulomatosa may require a biopsy for diagnosis.
  • Allergic reactions to nickel may surface on the lips too. Remember; don't put metallic items like paper clips in your mouth!
  • The juice from citrus fruits may cause both irritation as well as a sun-sensitive allergy that looks like chapped lips.
  • Eating figs can result in a light allergy.
  • An ingredient known as phenyl salicylate (salol) used in lip-care products may be your culprit.
  • You can develop an allergy to cobalt from taking vitamin B12 supplements. It may look like unexplained episodes of recurrent swelling and crusting of lips made worse by wind and sun exposure. And it is important to know that you may have a negative patch test to vitamin B12 despite the presence of the allergy.
  • The blood-pressure medication propranolol may cause chapping as a side effect.
  • If you've got vertigo and chapped lips, it may be due to the medication prochlorperazine.
  • Down's syndrome patients have a genetic predilection to having chapped lips. Treatment with thyroid supplement and potent topical steroid ointments may clear the condition.
  • All those years in the sun may have caused precancerous changes known medically as actinic chelitis. Treatment with a topical chemotherapy medication known as 5-florouracil may clear it up.
  • An allergy to red dyes used in candy, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc. may be to blame.
  • On the same note, cinnamates (the source of cinnamon flavor) used in candy, lozenges, gum, mouthwash and toothpaste may be to blame.
  • Do you snore? Enlarged tonsils, adenoids or sleep apnea may be to blame for those lips. That continuous flow of breath across your lips all night long can grossly dehydrate your lips. If you don't know if you snore, it may be worthwhile to have someone check on you periodically during the night to find out. Consider applying a protective barrier on your lips come bedtime.
  • Do you have psoriasis or lichen planus? Believe it or not, unusual cases of either may involve the lips. If the scale and crusting is particularly thickened, this could be the culprit.

Article written by Audrey Kunin, MD
Dr. Audrey Kunin is a board-certified dermatologist, author, clinician, educator and President of DERMAdoctor, Inc. Dr. Kunin...