All About Chapped Lips

Chapped lips affect almost all of us at some point in our lives, and can be a real nuisance! Read on to learn more about why we get them, what to do about them, and if you really can get addicted to lip balm.

All About Chapped Lips

What are the causes of chapped lips?

Cold, dry and windy weather are common causes of chapped lips, explaining why we experience chapped lips more often in winter. Frequent lip licking, irritating ingredients in lip balms, lip sticks and lip glosses, certain foods, medications, sun exposure and dehydration can also cause chapped lips. 


Can chapped lips be caused by medications or other health conditions?

Absolutely. Cheilitis is a term which means inflammation of the lips, and this can make lips appear chapped. There are many causes, but common ones include irritants and allergens in things our lips are exposed to. These include ingredients in lip balms and lip sticks such as fragrances, flavourings and preservatives, as well as ingredients in toothpaste, fillings and other things that contact our lips and mouth. 


Eczema is a condition that can cause inflammation of the lips, as can certain medications such as isotretinoin, a medication used for acne. Other less common conditions to cause inflammation of the lips include nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease. Severe sun damage can cause scaling of the lips too, as well as skin cancer. 


My lips are chapped. Are there any foods I should be avoiding?

Anything acidic or spicy can aggravate chapped lips, such as citrus, tomato and chilli. Salty foods can irritate chapped lips too, and biting into rough food, such as a piece of toast, can cause minor abrasions or cuts on the lips which can aggravate chapped lips. 


Is it true that you can get addicted to lip balm?

No! This is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to chapped lips. From a physiological sense, this just isn’t possible! However, some people develop the habit of applying lip balm frequently, so miss it when they aren’t using it. In addition, some lip balms contain irritating ingredients, so applying these may make us feel the need to put lip balm on more often. 


My lips are chapped! How can I fix them? 

Identifying the cause is the most important factor when it comes to treating chapped lips, and avoiding products that may be irritating the lips. This includes looking at the products that are being applied to the lips as well as the skin around them, including lip balms, lip glosses and lip sticks, as well as our skincare. It’s particularly important to avoid the use of products containing fragrance, as well as essential oils and flavourings. Menthol and lanolin are ingredients commonly found in lip products which can irritate the lips in some people. 

Skincare actives such as retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids can contribute to the development of chapped lips if they transfer onto the lips, so taking care when applying these products or having a break from using them completely until your lips heal may help. Identifying whether any foods are aggravating the lips and avoiding them until it has settled can also be helpful. 

Check to see if you are a frequent lip licker (sometimes asking a friend or family member is useful), as licking the lips can cause or aggravate chapped lips, and often we aren’t aware we are doing it. 

 When it comes to treating chapped lips, people often think they need to scrub off dead skin with a scrub or even a toothbrush. This really isn’t necessary, as the lips will naturally shed dead skin cells themselves. Scrubbing them can actually damage the delicate skin on the lips, causing more problems. 

Once potential causes have been eliminated, frequent application of a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic lip balm containing hydrating ingredients such as urea or glycerine is the best thing to do. Staying well hydrated and wearing a lip balm with SPF when outdoors is important too. If your chapped lips don’t improve with these measures, it may be worth chatting to your doctor.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…