Aug 23, 2022 · 7 min read
Dry, chapped, itchy lips that are caused by seasonal shifts in the weather or allergies can be uncomfortable. The good news? You can typically relieve lip irritation with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. Let’s dive into what can cause lip irritation, which ingredients to avoid, which lip balms to use, and if or when you should see a healthcare provider.
Itchy or inflamed lips, or cheilitis, is often the result of things like weather changes or seasonal allergies. But sometimes, irritated lips can be a symptom of an underlying health concern (more on that in a bit). Here are some of the typical causes of lip irritation:
Irritant or allergic contact cheilitis is one of the most common culprits of itchy lips.¹ It results from exposure or contact with an allergen or irritating ingredients found in products such as cosmetics, fragrances, sunscreens, toothpaste, mouthwash, and medications. Food allergies can also cause an allergic reaction on the lips. You can experience lower lip irritation, upper lip irritation, or both.
Prescription medications can have side effects that cause cheilitis. Isotretinoin, an oral retinoid and popular treatment for severe acne, has shown to have this side effect in some people.²
Extreme weather exposure to hot, cold, windy, or dry conditions for a prolonged time can also cause lip irritation. Weather-induced cheilitis is common in people who live in extreme climates or work outside frequently. Cracked or bleeding lips may be associated with weather-induced lip irritation. (Check out some of our favorite lip balm recommendations for winter here.)
Frequent lip-licking can over exfoliate the sensitive skin on your lips and can lead to lip inflammation.³
Medical conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, fungal infections, diabetes, and nutrient deficiencies (such as some B vitamins and iron) can also create lip irritation.⁴
Most of the time, you can treat irritated lips at home. But how long it takes for your lips to heal can depend on the underlying cause behind their irritation. You can do some things to relieve irritated lips, including protecting them, limiting irritants, and using an over-the-counter lip balm. As tempting as it might be, one of the best things you can do to treat irritated lips is to avoid licking them (it may feel good at the time, but it can lead to even more dryness). If your lips feel dry, use a lip balm. Not only will it moisten your lips, but it can protect them too!
At Curology, we’re big believers in prevention. So, here are a few tips the American Academy of Dermatology recommends for preventing irritated lips.⁵
Use non-irritating ingredients on lips. Lip balms containing petroleum jelly, castor seed oil, ceramides, dimethicone, or mineral oil help to protect your lips.
Use lip balm in dry weather. The climate affects your lips and can cause irritation. Protect them from dry weather—wind, extreme heat, and cold—by wearing an emollient lip balm.
Use lip balm with SPF. The sun is another culprit to sore and irritated lips. A little-known fact? Your lips can get sunburned just as easily as your skin. So, lather at least SPF 30 on your lips to protect them from sun damage.
Avoid frequent lip licking. This one can be hard, but hold off on licking your lips when they feel dry. Reach for lip balm instead.
Drink up! Stay well hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your skin feels it!
Not all products are created equal. And we’d like to help you take the guesswork out of which products are best. So, here are a few expert-approved lip balms to help soothe your irritated lips...
The lip balm by Curology. We only add the good stuff! This lip balm was formulated to protect against chapped, irritated lips using jojoba oil, shea butter, and carnauba wax as its key ingredients. Bonus: if you find yourself outdoors most days or heading to a tropical destination, you can opt for the lip balm with SPF 30 protection!
EltaMD UV lip balm is a broad-spectrum SPF 36 lip balm that provides long-lasting, soothing relief to chapped and sun-exposed lips.
Akar Pure Lip Restoration is a bit on the pricier side, but it helps lock in hydration to heal chapped lips, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and protect from harsh environments.
Vaseline Lip Therapy provides advanced healing for chapped lips. It also seals in moisture, so lips feel better longer.
When you have chapped or irritated lips, there are certain ingredients you may want to avoid.
Synthetic pigments are used to tint lipsticks and lip balms. But some synthetic dyes may be irritating.
Added fragrance is typically smart to avoid if you’re prone to irritation.
Denatured alcohol can dry your skin, which is why we often recommend avoiding it in your skincare products.
Menthol, eucalyptus, and lanolin can also dry or irritate your lips.⁶ They’re common ingredients in lip balm, so check the ingredients list before purchasing lip balm.
When treating irritated or itchy lips, stick to ingredients that have been shown to protect and moisturize your lips.
Petroleum jelly provides a protective barrier to prevent water loss.
Shea butter is an emollient that seals in moisture and soothes dry lips.
Jojoba seed oil is non-comedogenic and deeply moisturizes lips.
Carnauba wax hydrates and helps lengthen the staying power of lip balms.
Most often, you can manage lip irritation treatment yourself. But there are times when you’ll need to see a healthcare professional for medical advice and further treatment. If you experience any of the following, you should make an appointment to see a professional:
Lip rash that doesn’t heal or continues to get worse.
Irritation that causes significant pain or itching.
Rash that’s recurring.
Rash that extends to other parts of your face.
Rash that may have been caused by an infectious disease.
Systemic symptoms, such as fever or fatigue.
Still left wondering how to best treat dry, irritated lips? Here are responses to some of our most frequently asked questions:
A burning sensation at the corners of your lips can be a symptom of a condition known as angular cheilitis. It causes redness and inflammation at the corners of the mouth where your upper and lower lips meet. You can get it on just one or both sides of your mouth.
One of the most common causes of angular cheilitis is a fungal infection caused by an overproduction of Candida. People who have braces, wear dentures, produce a lot of saliva, smoke, or are deficient in vitamin B, iron, and zinc are more susceptible to angular cheilitis. Certain medical conditions, including anemia, diabetes, immune disorders, and some cancers, can also increase your risk of angular cheilitis.⁷
Yes! Allergic contact cheilitis is a potential cause of lip irritation. It typically presents as a rash that is itchy, red or pink, and rough. It can be painful. The good news is that you can almost always remedy this by avoiding the allergen—once you’ve identified it, that is.
Common symptoms include fluid-filled blisters, ulcers, and little bumps. But the symptoms vary depending on the infection. If you suspect your lips are infected, you should reach out to your dermatologist or medical provider.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. It depends on the cause.
Dermatitis is skin inflammation and cheilitis is inflammation of the lips. Symptoms can include redness, dryness, blistering or peeling, and itching. A rash may develop.
Curology is led by dermatologists with a mission to make quality skincare accessible to all, which is why we create one-on-one relationships with our patients to help them navigate the often confusing world of skincare. Just take a short quiz, snap some selfies, and you’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers.
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Lugović-Mihić, L., et al. Differential Diagnosis of Cheilitis – How to Classify Cheiliits. Acta Clinica Croatica. (June 2018).
Rademaker, M. Adverse effects of isotretinoin: A retrospective review of 1743 patients started on isotretinoin.Australasian Journal of Dermatology. (November 2010).
Fonseca A., et al. Art of Prevention: Practical Interventions in Lip-licking Dermatitis. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. (2020, June 5).
Lugović-Mihić, et al. Differential diagnosis of cheilitis - how to classify cheilitis. Ibid.
American Academy of Dermatology. How to Prevent and Treat Dry, Chapped Lips. (n.d.).
American Academy of Dermatology. 7 dermatologist tips for healing dry, chapped lips.(n.d.)
Rderico, J.R., et al. Angular Cheilitis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasurer Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. (December 2022).
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Kristen Jokela, NP-C