Health

9 Sneaky Culprits Behind Your Chapped Lips

When your lip balm isn't cutting it.

9 sneaky reasons behind your chapped lips.
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Whether it’s due to winter wind or summer sun, parched lips can be a constant struggle. And while you may chalk up your dry, cracked pout to the weather or forgetting to use your lip balm on the reg, there are other causes of chapped lips that could be a sign of something more serious than dehydrated skin.

The typical culprit of chapped lips is licking your lips too often, but that's not always the reason for your rough skin. Your peeling and cracked dry pout could be a symptom of other health conditions, from dehydration to a vitamin deficiency. But how can you tell the difference between typical chapped lips and something more serious? If it seems like they're impossible to hydrate, cause you pain, or don’t heal despite regular care, then you might have a bigger problem on your hands, says dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar.

Luckily, the experts are here to help. If you find yourself wondering, “why are my lips so chapped?” on the regular and suspect it’s something more serious, read on to explore nine common but more alarming causes of chapped lips.

1. A Yeast Infection

Though you may think of yeast infections as a gynecological problem, you can get this unpleasant fungal overgrowth in your mouth, too — and cracked lips may be a symptom. This is especially true if you have cracks around the corner of your mouth or notice other symptoms like white patches in your mouth, a cotton-like feeling in your mouth, or pain while swallowing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"When you lick your lips excessively, the warm, moist saliva encourages yeast to grow, especially when the saliva builds up in the corners of the mouth," says Dr. Michele Green, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. She says the best remedy is to hydrate — drink lots of water and avoid licking your lips. It can also help to use a moisturizing barrier like beeswax balm or Vaseline to stop the buildup of saliva, according to Green.

2. An Allergic Reaction

If your lips look like you just came back from a filler appointment, this may be an allergic reaction to food, says Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. It could also be a reaction to common ingredients in lip-plumping products like cinnamon and chili powder, she adds.

If you’re regularly dealing with puffy, sore lips, Jaliman recommends taking note of what foods you're eating and which products you’re using to help zero in on what’s triggering your reaction. And if you notice more severe allergic symptoms like wheezing or a skin rash, work with your doctor to get treatment and determine the source of the problem.

3. Salty Or Spicy Foods

Allergic reactions aren’t the only food-related cause of chapped lips. Too much salt or spice can irritate your skin, leading to red or dry lips, says Aguilar. This is especially true when there’s high contact, like if you’re sipping a margarita with salt on the rim, she adds. If you notice your lips get inflamed when they’re exposed to salt or spice, try to consume that food or drink with as little contact with your mouth as possible.

4. Dehydration

Ever find yourself wondering, “why are my lips so dry?” more often than usual? Dehydrated skin may be to blame, which can cause dry lips, eyes, and mouth. The obvious solution is to stay well-hydrated, says Jaliman. While the old “eight cups a day” rule might not be the best amount of water for everyone, a general rule of thumb is to drink enough water that you never feel thirsty. She also suggests battling a dry pout with lip balms rich in hydrating ingredients like jojoba oil or shea butter.

5. Sun Damage

Sunburn can make your skin dry and damaged, and the same is true for your lips, according to Green. "Long-term sun exposure can cause the lips to become dry and stiff, resulting in cracking or splitting," she tells Bustle. And not only that — the sun’s UV rays can also lead to inflammation, she adds. The solution? Make sure to use a lip balm with SPF in it, even on the coldest winter days.

6. A Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamin B is essential to keep your body functioning its best, Green tells Bustle. It gives you energy, helps your immune system fight off disease, and contributes to healthy skin. That’s why a lack of vitamin B can lead to skin issues like dry lips, she adds. To avoid a deficiency, eat plenty of vitamin B-rich foods like eggs and lean meat.

7. Too Much Vitamin A

On the flip side, dry lips could mean you're getting too much vitamin A. This can happen if you’re taking a supplement on top of consuming the nutrient naturally through your foods, says Green. "The excess amount of vitamin A is stored in the liver, and it accumulates over time, causing a variety of symptoms such as excessive cracking on the corners of the mouth, dryness, and peeling of the skin," she tells Bustle.

To get rid of vitamin A-induced lip chap, Green recommends relying on your diet to get your daily dose through foods like carrots and spinach.

8. Medication

Dry, cracked lips are also a side effect of certain medications, including high blood pressure meds and antidepressants, says Jaliman. These drugs can decrease the amount of saliva you produce, which can dry out your lips and mouth. Consult your doctor if you think a medication is the reason behind your dry lips to find a solution that works best for you and your health considerations.

9. Bad Lip Balm

If you’re applying tons of balm to no avail, then the product itself may be to blame, Aguilar tells Bustle. Lots of balms are made of fragrances, menthol, or alcohol, all of which can irritate your pucker. She recommends opting for products without those ingredients to keep your pout happy and healthy.

Studies referenced:

(2020). Vitamin A. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548165/

Lopes, D. (2016). Ultraviolet Radiation on the Skin: A Painful Experience? CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4833175/

Pankhurst, C. (2013). Candidiasis (oropharyngeal). BMJ Clinical Evidence, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3821534/

Pflipsen, M. (2017). Nutrition for oral health and oral manifestations of poor nutrition and unhealthy habits. General Dentistry, https://www.agd.org/docs/default-source/self-instruction-(gendent)/gendent_nd17_aafp_pflipsen.pdf

Sheetal, A. (2013). Malnutrition and Its Oral Outcome – A Review. Journal Of Clinical And Diagnostic Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3576783/

Experts:

Natalie Aguilar, RN, dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician

Michele Green, MD, New York-based dermatologist

Debra Jaliman, MD, New York-based dermatologist

Additional reporting by Eden Lichterman and Kathleen Ferraro.

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