Many factors, both internal and environmental, can cause chapped, dry lips. Most of the time, dry lips are a nuisance but not a sign of a significant health problem. Occasionally, they can be symptomatic of the illness. Treating dry lips depends on the cause, though in most cases, simple lifestyle changes or additions can solve the issue.
One cause of dry lips is dehydration. The widely accepted idea that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day is inaccurate. Instead, individuals should consume one half to one ounce of water for every pound of weight (for example 160 lbs = 40 to 80 oz of water.) Athletes and pregnant women may require more. Dehydration can also occur from external factors such as a dry room or regular exposure to windy outdoor conditions.
Just like sunburn dries and damages the skin of the shoulders, face, and back, it can also affect the lips. In fact, lips are particularly susceptible to sunburn because they do not contain melanin. Though a lip balm with SPF might be a common go-to product in the summer, it is easy to forget that cold winter days can still lead to sunburns. Ideally, use a lip balm with sun protection every day.
Angular cheilitis often starts in the corners of the mouth as cracked skin but can spread and cause dry, painful lips if untreated. Many things can cause the condition, including vitamin deficiencies. It typically starts when the corners of the mouth are moist for an excessive period, commonly from the person over-licking their lips.
Everyone has yeast on their skin, but an overproduction of yeast can cause dry, cracked lips. This condition worsens when the person licks their lips, giving the yeast the warmth and moisture it needs to spread. While this type of infection can start anywhere on the lips, angular cheilitis is a common precursor.
Licking the Lips
Licking is a natural reaction to dry lips, but saliva dries out the sensitive skin even more, even destroying the thin layer of skin on the surface when it is particularly acidic. Saliva also evaporates quickly, which causes even more dryness, especially when outdoors in cold or windy conditions.
Having a cold can cause or exacerbate dry lips because nasal congestion prompts excessive mouth breathing that dries out the lips. Every exhale exposes the lips to warm, dry air that draws away necessary moisture. People who naturally breathe through their mouths, particularly when sleeping, can also experience chronic dry lips, whether or not they are sick.
People deficient in vitamins such as B2 and riboflavin can develop dry lips. These nutrients help maintain proper cellular function, and swollen, cracked lips can be an early sign of deficiency. Lacing vitamin B9 or folic acid can cause anemia, one symptom of which is cracked lips, particularly in the corners of the mouth.
Too Much Vitamin A
Dry lips caused by excess vitamin A can indicate a larger impending issue. The side effects of too much vitamin A include blurred vision, dizziness, headache, irritability, weight gain, and more. Peeling skin, including that of the lips, combined with any of these symptoms, should prompt a doctor’s visit.
Medication and Medical Procedures
Several medications can cause dry lips, including decongestants, certain asthma treatments, diuretics, and medications used to treat anxiety and depression. Dry lips are also a common and often severe side effect of prescription acne treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation can also cause dry lips.
Treatments for dry lips depend on the cause. Staying hydrated is essential to both prevention and treatment, as is applying lip balm with sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, no matter the season. Avoid licking your lips excessively and breathe through the nose whenever possible.