Commonly known as chapped lips, cheilitis is a very common skin condition that causes low-grade inflammation and resulting dryness of the surface due to a loss of moisture in the lips.
In mild cases, the lips will become dry and sticky and will feel slightly irritated. In more severe cases, the lips can become too dry, causing painful fissures and cracks that may bleed.
Cheilitis can occur for a variety of reasons. Cold, dry weather is a common cause of chapped lips. Direct contact with products such as toothpaste and lipstick can also result in allergic reactions, triggering cheilitis. Prolonged and excessive sun exposure can damage the sensitive skin of the lips, causing dry, scaly white patches to form. Chronic wetness in the corners of the mouth, also known as angular cheilitis, can lead to cracked skin, swelling and sores. Yeasts and bacteria frequently overgrow in this moist environment. In many cases, cheilitis can be prevented by simply using a lip balm or moisturizing lip cream.
Common symptoms of cheiltis include:
- Dry lips
Cracked lips In severe cases:
- Bleeding and ulceration
- White thickened patches (leukokeratosis / leukoplakia)
- Skin discoloration
- Actinic chelitis can develop into squamous cell cancer
Cheilitis may be caused by a variety of factors including environmental conditions, medications, sun exposure, allergens, vitamin deficiencies or fungal infections. Chronic injury such as smoking using the same location on the lips can lead to changes that eventually lead to skin cancer.
Effective treatment of chelitis depends directly on the cause and symptoms. If drying is the chief cause of irritation, simply moisturizing with a lip cream may be sufficient. If the source is allergic, consult with a dermatologist to identify and avoid products that are affecting the skin. As an alternative, choose skin care and personal products that are allergen-free and made for sensitive skin. In all cases, exercise proper skin care and use a protective sunscreen daily.
The most effective way to prevent cheilits is good skin care and hydration. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure to use adequate sun protection. Lip balms that contain sunscreen are helpful in warding off sun damage caused by UV rays. Moisturizers help to restore and maintain the skin’s natural moisture levels. Frequent application of moisturizing creams can help soothe dry and cracked lips.
A doctor may prescribe topical antibiotics to treat cheiltis. For cases caused by a yeast infection, antifungal medications such as Miconazole, Ketoconazole, Clotrimazole, Isoconazole may be prescribed. These are often combined with mild corticosteroid ointments.For sun-exposure related changes, a doctor may prescribe topical Imiquimod.
Procedures such as cryotherapy and laser skin resurfacing can also be used to treat cheilitis caused by sun damage.