Causes of Dry & Cracked Lips


Chapped lips are more than just a hindrance. They can be painful, unattractive and the sign of a more serious problem. While most people experience dry lips when the weather turns cold and windy, which causes dehydration then cracking and peeling, chronic chapped lips (called cheilitis) can be brought on from an array of things. According to, the list includes certain diets, conditions, products and health conditions.

Woman rubbing lips
Woman rubbing lips (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)


If you have an allergy to one or more of the following items, it could be causing or contributing to your severely dried or chapped lips. Propyl gallate, found in lipstick, or phenyl salicylate (salol), found in lip care products, are likely offenders. Toothpaste containing guaiazulene or sodium lauryl sulfate could also cause a reaction. The red dyes used in mouthwash, toothpaste and candy are common causes of irritation on the lips. The same goes for cinnamates, which are used in candy, lozenges, gum, mouthwash and toothpaste. If you take the medications Inderal (for blood pressure) or Prochlorperazine (an antipsychotic often used to treat nausea and vertigo), you may experience an allergic reaction that might cause your lips to become dry or cracked. Finally, if you are allergic to the metal nickel, you should avoid putting paperclips near or in your mouth and wash your hands after handling anything made of nickel.

woman applying lip balm
woman applying lip balm (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)


Certain foods may also contribute to dry lips. Although they are considered healthy, they may be just the opposite for your lips. Figs or juice from citrus fruits can cause a phototoxic reaction. This means that rays from the sun will react with the chemicals and create an allergic reaction. Or cobalt from vitamin B12 supplements may be the culprit. Too much vitamin A may also be at fault. If you are getting more than 25,000 IU a day, this is most likely the problem.

Slices of citrus
Slices of citrus (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)


If you play the clarinet or saxophone, you are probably already aware that constant contact with a reed can be very drying. Also, licking your lips is an extremely bad habit for those prone to cracked lips. “Chapped lips are partly psychological,” says Alan Rockoff, Ph.D., of the Rockoff Dermatology Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, on “Just thinking about lips makes you want to lick them.”

Woman licking her lips
Woman licking her lips (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)


Try to be extra aware of licking your lips. Use a ChapStick or other type of lip balm to keep them moisturized, not saliva. To cure cheilitis, check the products you use and the vitamins you take. If you suspect they may be the culprit, stop using them for a while and see if your condition improves. If not, you may want to check with a doctor to rule out any health conditions that may be causing your dry lips.

Woman with chapstick
Woman with chapstick (Image: Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images)


If your dry and cracked lips don’t go away with treatment, you should see a doctor. You may be suffering from a more serious condition, as there are several illnesses that could cause chapping or cracking of the lips as a side effect. These include Down’s syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome and hypothyroidism. Diabetics are especially prone to perleche (usually due to a yeast infection). Cheilitis granulomatosa would definitely cause problem lips, but you will need a biopsy for diagnosis. Precancerous changes, known as actinic cheilitis, would also cause dryness. Finally, sleep apnea and enlarged tonsils or adenoids can lead to dry lips, because the continuous flow of breath over the lips causes dehydration.

Portrait of a doctor
Portrait of a doctor (Image: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images)

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