Are My Dry Lips Dangerous?

Woman Applying Lip Balm In Snowy Winter

‘Tis the season for dry skin and those annoying dry lips that never seem to improve, no matter how much lip balm you use. How do you know if your dry lips could be something more serious?

The lip is a particularly high-risk area due to excessive sun exposure and lack of sunscreen application. It may be time to seek help from your dermatologist if your dry, chapped lips are not improving with emollients or mild steroids, such as Vaseline or hydrocortisone (my favorite medicated lip balm is FixMySkin). A few conditions such as actinic cheilitis, angular cheilitis, or various infectious conditions could be your culprit.

Actinic cheilitis is a pre-cancerous condition, most often affecting the lower lip, presenting as persistent dryness and cracking. If left untreated, it can lead to a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This type of skin cancer will develop in 10-30% of actinic cheilitis cases and has a greater likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body (metastasis) when on the lip. Prevention is the key. Wearing sunscreen containing lip balms is recommended daily, such as TiZo® Tinted Lip Protection SPF 45 Broad Spectrum. For patients with this condition, we offer a range of treatments from topical therapies to cryosurgery or even laser treatment options.

Angular cheilitis or perleche is another common condition that affects the lips. It is an inflammatory condition of the corners of the mouth due to a yeast (candida) or bacterial infection. Lips can have crusting, cracking, or even fissures, as well as maceration at the corners of the mouth. Patients who wear dentures or those with accentuated folds at the corners of the mouth are more at risk. Rarely, this can be a sign of an underlying disorder. Treatment typically involves topical therapy, but the condition can recur.

Lastly, there are a few infectious conditions that can affect the lips. Namely, herpes simplex virus (HSV), commonly called a fever blister or cold sore, can appear anywhere on the lip and typically presents as painful small vesicles with a red base that can form an ulcer. Lesions can be recurrent and get treated with oral antivirals, which work best when taken at the onset of symptoms. Impetigo is a bacterial infection that presents as honey-colored crusts. Facial lesions are common, but the condition can also affect other body parts. Treatment includes topical therapy for a limited disease but may require a course of oral antibiotics when widespread.

Your dermatologist can decipher between these conditions to give you the appropriate treatment. If your dry lips do not improve, please contact our office by calling or texting 847-459-6400 to schedule a visit.