Common Lip Problems
From dryness to cold sores, even the least serious lip issues can be an annoyance. Below, we’ll walk through three of the most common lip problems and explain how to fix them so you can enjoy happy, healthy lips, all year round.
1. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that causes a rash or inflammation due to direct contact or the body’s allergic reaction to a substance. 1 There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.2
Irritant dermatitis is the more common type of contact dermatitis and occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with an irritating substance such as the following:3
- Alkaline substances like detergent or soap
- Fabric softener
- Other irritating chemicals
Depending on the strength of the irritant, your skin may react after one contact with the substance or it make take a longer period of repeated contact for a reaction to occur. 4 Irritant dermatitis can affect skin all over your body and can be caused by common substances like hair dye, rubber gloves, and shampoo. 5 If you’re experiencing irritant dermatitis on your lips, think about what substances that may have touched your lips recently—are you using a new lipstick or detergent to launder the towels you use to dry your face? One of these materials might be the cause of your newly-developed lip issue.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
The difference between this type of contact dermatitis and irritant dermatitis is reflected in its name: allergic contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with a substance that causes you to have an allergic reaction. 6 There are a number of common allergens that can cause this skin condition, but here are a few to look out for when it comes to contact dermatitis on the lips: 7
- Rubber or latex gloves
- Adhesives, such as those used to adhere false eyelashes
- Materials and dyes used in fabric and clothing
- Balsam of Peru, which is present in products and cosmetics like flavored tobacco, medicated lozenges, and medicated dental treatments, as well as food and drinks including beer, chocolate, ice cream, and wine8
- Nickel and other metals, which can be present in lipstick holders and powder compacts
- Preservatives in prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Fragrances, which can be present in moisturizers, soaps, and cosmetics
With allergic contact dermatitis, the allergic reaction typically doesn't happen at the first exposure, but an allergy may develop after regular exposure.9
While contact dermatitis is not life-threatening, it can be very annoying 10. There are a few home remedies and lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce irritation. The most obvious solution is avoiding the irritant. 11 If a new toothpaste or lip gloss is causing your lips to be itchy and enflamed, take a break and see if the rash goes away. You can also try applying a cool, wet compress to your lips, such as a wet washcloth. Apply the washcloth to your lips for 15 to 30 minutes and repeat as necessary. 12 If you need something a little stronger to conquer more severe itching, taking an over-the-counter oral corticosteroid or antihistamine may provide some relief. 13 If the inflammation and itching continues, talk to your doctor or dermatologist.
2. Cold Sores
Also called oral herpes and fever blisters, cold sores are another common lip issue. 14 There can be sore outbreaks in two areas. The first type typically causes cold sores on the mouth (or oral herpes) and the second type tends to affect the genital area, known as herpes sores.15
Cold sores are small fluid-filled blisters that may appear on or around your lips, typically clustered in patches. 16 When a blister breaks, it forms a scab that can last a few days. Even if the sores are not visible, HSV is still contagious—cold sores can spread by close person-to-person contact like kissing. 17
Cold sore symptoms tend to pass through three distinct stages: tingling and itching, the appearance of blisters, and oozing and crusting. 18 The blisters may last for several days and the scabs that form after the blisters break can take up to three weeks to heal.19
Although cold sores tend to heal on their own within two to four weeks, 20 you can use an over-the-counter cold sore ointment docosanol like Abreva cold sore cream to speed up the healing process. 21 To help get relief from cold sore discomfort, you can apply lip balms and creams to keep your lips hydrated, apply a cold compress to ease redness or a warm compress to ease pain, or you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever if you’re experiencing pain from the cold sore. 22
3. Chapped Lips
Whether it’s from spending too much time outside on a cold windy day or simply dealing with dry winter air, chapped lips are a common condition that we’ve probably all experienced at one time or another. The easiest way to prevent chapped and dry lips is to make lifestyle changes to protect yourself. This includes keeping the air in your home humid during the dry months, applying lip balm or lipstick before going outside in cold and dry weather, and avoiding exposing your lips to the sun without proper SPF protection.23
If you do find yourself with chapped lips, you can treat them with lip products that contain beeswax and petroleum. It can also be helpful to drink extra fluids, especially during the dry winter months, to keep your body extra hydrated.24
We hope this article has shed light on some common lip problems. For more helpful resources like this one, explore all articles on managing lip health from Abreva.
1. Contact dermatitis: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/contact-dermatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352742. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
2-7. Contact dermatitis. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000869.htm. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
8. Balsam of Peru. Allergic Contact Dermatitis Database. https://www.contactdermatitisinstitute.com/balsam-of-peru-myroxylon-pereirae-resin.php. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
9. Contact dermatitis. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000869.htm. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
10. Contact dermatitis: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/contact-dermatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352742. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
11-13. Contact dermatitis: Diagnosis & treatment. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/contact-dermatitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352748. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
14,15. Cold Sores. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/coldsores.html#summary. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
16-19. Cold sore: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
20-22. Cold sore: Diagnosis & treatment. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20371023. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.
23,24. Chapped lips. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002036.htm. Accessed 12/15/2020. Referenced text indicated in red on sourcing doc.