Chapped Lips: How to Treat Them?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 07, 2024
6 min read

Chapped lips are when your lips feel dry and cracked. If your lips burn, sting, or feel uncomfortable, they're probably chapped.

You may think of chapped lips as something that only happens in the winter. But unless you take special care, your lips can get dry, sore, and scaly any time of year, including in the summer when your lips are exposed to the sun. This is especially true if you have a habit of licking or biting your lips or use products that irritate and dry out your lips.


Cheilitis is the medical term used for chapped lips. It is inflammation of the lips that can be short- or long-term. Cheilitis can affect the skin on your lips, the area surrounding your lips, and inside your mouth. It can be caused by many things including contact with something that you're allergic to or that irritates your skin, or a lack of certain nutrients in your diet.

Symptoms of chapped lips include:

  • Dryness
  • Cracks, peeling, or flaking
  • Bleeding
  • Redness
  • Burning, stinging, tingling, or itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Ulcers or sores inside your mouth and/or on your lips
  • Scaly texture
  • Numbness 

Various things can cause chapped lips or make them more likely. These include:

  • Dry or cold weather
  • Dry air indoors
  • The fact that lips don't have oil glands
  • Not moisturizing your lips
  • Wearing irritating lipsticks or balms
  • Harsh or drying products like menthol, camphor, or salicylic acid
  • Too much sun
  • Excessive licking, touching, or picking your lips
  • Not drinking enough water or not getting enough vitamins and nutrients (like vitamin B and iron)
  • Holding metal with your lips
  • Taking certain medications (like antibiotics, diuretics, statins, retinoids, drugs used for chemotherapy, vitamin A, digoxin, and lithium)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Having certain medical conditions (such as an autoimmune or thyroid disorder or allergies)
  • An infection caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus

What do chapped lips mean?

Chapped lips are usually bothersome for a short time and don't pose a threat to your health. If your chapped lips last a long time and become severe, it could mean you have a medical condition.

Chapped lips can be treated at home if you:

  • Use lip balm. A good balm can buffer your delicate lip skin from the elements. Choose one high in emollients. Check the ingredient list for petrolatum, which locks in moisture, and dimethicone, which seals off cracks and splits in drying lips. Don't limit yourself to products with the word "balm" in them, either. Lip ointments are just as good a choice. And when you're in the sun, use one with SPF protection.
  • Drink enough daily. You know it has tons of benefits for your body. One of those is to fight the dehydration that leads to chapped lips.
  • Use a humidifier indoors. These devices provide the moisture your lips and skin crave. It's great to have one at work as well as at home, especially in the winter. Turn it on at night to replenish your skin while you sleep.
  • Don't lick your lips. While it might seem like a good idea at the time, running your tongue over your lips is the worst thing you can do for them. As your saliva dries, it takes more moisture from your skin. Reach for your lip balm instead.
  • Keep metal and nonfoods away from your lips. This can include things like pens and jewelry.

Best lip balm for chapped lips

To heal chapped lips, it's best to look for certain ingredients that have a high quality level. Choose lip balms that:

  • Are non-scented
  • Are protective from the sun (ingredients including zinc oxide and titanium oxide)
  • Have oils like castor seed or mineral oil
  • Are hypoallergenic, meaning its ingredients are less likely to cause an allergic reaction
  • Are lubricating or have ingredients like ceramide and dimethicone, which provide long-lasting moisture

During the process of healing chapped lips you should avoid lip balms that have:

  • Wax as a base
  • Certain ingredients like menthol or eucalyptus
  • Added flavor or scents

Choose the lip balm or ointment that's best for you based on your symptoms and weather conditions around you. Use a lip balm for temporary concerns or lighter coverage during the hotter months and ointment, which is thicker, for help with longer-lasting chapped lips

Your lips don't have oil glands, and they're almost always exposed to the elements. So if you don't take care of them, you'll pay the price. There are many things you can do to keep them safe, including:

  • Use healing lip balm and apply it early and often. Whatever type of product you choose, apply it before you put on lipstick or lip gloss, not after. To keep your lips protected, reapply frequently. You need about 6 to 8 coats during the day, so apply first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every couple of hours during the day. To make this easier, stash a tube in your purse, one in the car, a third at your desk, and another near the bed.
  • Protect your lips when you're outside. You cover your hands and feet when the temperature drops; do the same for your lips. Wear a scarf or a ski mask that covers your mouth when you go out in the cold. And remember to choose a lip balm with broad spectrum UV protection year-round.
  • Don't peel or bite flaky skin. The skin on your lips is thin and delicate. Picking at it can cause it to bleed and hurt, slow the healing process, and cause more irritation.
  • Don't exfoliate. It can cause further damage to chapped lips. Instead, apply plenty of balm or ointment and turn on the humidifier.
  • Listen to your lips. Some treatments can do more harm than good. Ingredients like eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor can dry or irritate your lips. Stay away from them, especially if you have dry skin. If you're allergic to plant-based oils and moisturizers like beeswax, shea butter, castor seed, and soybean oil, switch to a petroleum jelly-based product.

The skin on your lips is prone to cracking and untreated chapped lips may bleed and cause pain and stinging. You can treat your bleeding lips at home with an ointment designed for lips specifically. If the bleeding is frequent and at-home treatment does not help, visit your health care provider who could prescribe more advanced treatment and perform tests if they suspect your chapped lips are a symptom of a medical condition.

Call the doctor 

See a dermatologist if your problem persists. Chapping that doesn't heal, despite regular use of lip balm, can be a sign of infection or a more serious problem, like cancer or a precancerous condition called actinic cheilitis.

Longer term chapped lips could also be a sign of:

  • A form of cheilitis that's caused by infection (your doctor may recommend a biopsy or sample)
  • Angular cheilitis, which is connected to some autoimmune disorders (your doctor may do a blood test)
  • An allergic reaction (allergy testing may help)
  • Lack of nutrients (your doctor may use a blood test to confirm)

If you treat your chapped lips and they get worse or do not improve for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor.

Chapped lips are usually a short-term issue and can typically be healed at home. Using a moisturizing lip balm or ointment and protecting your lips during certain weather conditions can help with preventing chapped lips. Relief from chapped lips treated at home should come within a few weeks, depending on how severe the condition is. Talk to your doctor if your chapped lips persist after trying home treatments.

  • How do you heal chapped lips? Using a lip balm with moisturizing ingredients, getting enough water and nutrients, and avoiding licking your lips too much are all ways you can heal chapped lips at home. For more severe cases, a dermatologist may provide stronger treatment options.
  • What are common causes of chapped lips? Some common causes of chapped lips include cold weather, drinking alcohol, certain medical conditions or medications, or infections.
  • Does chapped lips mean infection? Chapped lips are common. If your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. They may recommend a sample or biopsy to check for funguses and bacteria.