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Mouth Diseases

Very Small Red Patches and Bumps on Lips

07/05/2011

Question:

About a month ago I thought I was experiencing a severe sunburn on my lips. They were red, swollen, had dry patches and VERY small bumps on them. They burned a bit and felt like sandpaper. I used vaseline and drank even more water than usual and about a week later they were fine. I purchased an spf 45 banana boat lip balm thinking it would prevent it again, but now I`m not so sure it was the sun. The tiny red bumps are back, I have deep red patches on my lips and they burn. I`m certain they aren`t cold sores (bc they are so tiny, so many of them, and they are simply little bumps) but I don`t know how to treat it! Is vaseline hurting them or helping? Any help would be appreciated!

Answer:

This is a very interesting problem and could be the result of a couple of things going on at the same time.

It is likely that the "little red bumps" you observed were actually minor salivary glands that are present on the mucosal or intraoral aspect of the lips. You probably experienced significant sun/UV exposure that resulted in an acute inflammation, edema, redness, and enlargement of the minor glands. Thus, you had pronounced "bumps" and "sandpaper feel"  because of the swelling and dryness or mucosal dehydration.

You treated the problem with hydration (drinking fluids, and applying an emollient--Vaseline-- that was inert--no flavorings, additives or colorings). The next time you used a product with SPF formulation and again experienced the "red bumps", you may have an allergic response to the lip balm, or it washed off and you were not protected as you anticipated.

Finally without examining you I can only speculate that the red bumps are minor salivary glands and not herpetic vesicles. The latter are fragile fluid filled vesicles that rupture almost as fast as they arise but then can leave a roughened burning surface feel that lasts for 10-14 days and lip balms will not reduce the occurrence. I would strongly suggest that you have this evaluated by either your dentist or primary care provider.

UV/Solar damage to the lips and face is something not to ignore and not an enjoyable summer experience. I use a Zinc oxide lip balm with SPF 50 and apply constantly when I am out on the water or playing golf. But, I advise that you rule out a herpetic outbreak or contact allergy to the chap stick and avoid over exposure.

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Response by:

Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD Richard J Jurevic, DDS, PhD
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University