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Skin Care and Diseases

Chronic chapped lips!



I am a 32 year old woman who has spent most of my life with the problem of frequent chapped lips. I have to carry lip balm with me constantly, and apply it up to several times an hour. If I go without lip balm, my lips start to burn, and then are dry and painfully chapped within an hour or so. I do not smoke, have no excessive exposure to cold, wind, sun or dry air, no history of skin disorders (though my skin is very fair and somewhat sensitive), do not lick my lips and do not take any medications which would cause this problem. As young as the second grade I remember having to call my mother to bring chapstick to school, because my lips were chapped and painful from being there a few hours with no protection. I cannot wear lipstick without lip balm under it, or my lips began to burn immediately, and dry out within minutes. Certain foods (like mangoes) touching my lips will cause large scaly patches to appear, which take weeks (and multiple tubes of lip balm!) to get rid of. I am getting tired of having to keep lip balm attached to me wherever I go, and wonder if there is any treatment for this condition? Is this a particular skin disorder? A nutritional deficiency? Any advice would be much appreciated!


Your description of your problem with longstanding fissuring and cracking of your lips since the second grade is unusual. It does suggest that you may have a mild contact dermatitis to some of the preservatives in the chapstick or other lip balms and that can be determined by patch testing from your dermatologist. The fact that mangos, which do contain psoralens, cause problems further suggests that you might have other contact sensitivities. The problem with chronic fissuring and scaling of any part of the body may require small biopsies to see if there are underlying difficulties. A complete skin exam would be indicated in your case to be sure that you do not have other disease processes which might give photosensitivity as well as probable contact dermatitis. I urge you to see your board certified dermatologist for a careful evaluation.

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Response by:

Charles L Heaton, MD
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati