Chapped lips are common, especially during the dry winter months. But when your chapped lips seem to be persistent, no matter what you do, you may be suffering from a more serious condition. By understanding the symptoms and causes of chapped lips, you can better prepare yourself to combat the problem and end up with smoother, younger-looking lips.
Chapped lips are more than just a dry, tight feeling around the mouth. You may experience cracked lips, bleeding, sensitivity, swelling and redness, notes the Skin Sight website. These symptoms can be persistent and embarrassing, as they are difficult to disguise using makeup or lip balms.
Mildly chapped lips can be the result of dry indoor heating, a day of sun exposure or even wind. But when your lips are severely chapped, you may be suffering form one of a number of conditions, including malnourishment or dehydration, or from dermatitis, a dry skin condition that can sometimes be exacerbated by irritation and the use of certain products. Prolonged sun damage can also leave your lips looking dry and cracked.
Chronic chapped lips can also be a symptom of serious medical problems, including chelitis and the herpes virus. Chelitis is a condition caused by excess sun exposure, where the lips form a whitish border and the demarcation between lip and skin pigment diminishes. Chelitis is premalignant and can lead to skin cancer, warns Medline Plus, so it should be examined immediately.
Herpes simplex virus-1 can cause red sores around the mouth accompanied by dry, peeling skin. The cold sores are very contagious, according to KidsHealth.org, so it is fairly easy to get a herpes cold sore through kissing or sharing cups with those who have the virus.
To prevent chapped lips, take care of your skin from the inside out. Ensure that you're eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water throughout the day, suggests Medline Plus. Avoid irritating your lips with new products. According to dermatologist Thomas Goodman, Jr., even toothpaste can irritate lips, so brush with a gentler formula or try using baking soda to allow your lips time to heal. Always protect your lips with sunscreen when you're out in the sun, winter or summer.
Beeswax is one of the oldest and most effective ways to treat severely chapped lips, notes the Mayo Clinic; it helps seal in moisture while creating a barrier to prevent further chapping. When possible, breathe through your nose to avoid the passage of air through your lips, which can sometimes exacerbate the problem.
If your chapped lips are the result of a medical condition like herpes or chelitis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If it's chelitis, you'll need to be screened for skin cancer and directed in the use of sunscreens to prevent the condition in the future. In the event of a cold sore, your doctor may prescribe benzocaine to protect the cold sore as it heals. If the cold sore doesn't heal on its own, oral medications like Valtrex can help shorten the duration of the cold sore and prevent another outbreak.