Why are my lips so dry – Common lip skin problems and how to take care of your lips

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Our lips are particularly prone to dryness and most of us suffer from dry and cracked lips at some point. Dry and cracked lips are uncomfortable, sometimes painful and – because our lips are always on show – they can make us feel self-conscious too.


This article outlines common lip skin complaints, identifies their causes and explains why lips need special care. It also covers how to soothe and repair dry and cracked lips and how to protect lips that are prone to dryness and cracking.

What are the most common lip skin concerns?

The most common lip skin concerns are:

  • Dry and/or cracked lips
  • Cheilitis
  • ‘Lip-licking’ eczema

Dry, cracked lips

The symptoms of dry and cracked lips are well known as most of us experience them at some time or another. Lips feel dry, tight and uncomfortable and – as the condition worsens and they dry out further – they can become cracked and painful.


Cheilitis is the term used for inflammation of one or both lips. Inflammation of the facial skin area which surrounds lips is called perioral dermatitis Lips appear redder than normal. There are several different types of cheilitis and cheilitis simplex is more commonly known as chapped lips. People with underlying dry skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis are more prone to cheilitis than others. Cheilitis can also be caused by weather conditions and by allergic reactions to certain ingredients in products such as lipsticks, toothpastes or food or as a side effect of certain medications.

Lip-licking eczema

As our lips dry out it is tempting to lick them to try and keep them moist. For some people this licking becomes habitual and can cause inflammation. Lip-licking eczema (or lip-licking eczema) are the more common name for a type of cheilitis known as ‘irritant contact cheilitis.’

What causes dry, cracked lips?

There are several different underlying causes and triggers for dry, chapped or cracked lips. These include:

  • Skin type and condition
  • Lip skin structure
  • The environment
  • Certain medication

Skin type and condition

As some people are more prone to dry skin than others, so some are more susceptible to dry and cracked lips. 

Those with an underlying dry skin condition such as atopic dermatitis are more likely to suffer from dry and cracked lips. And some of us also lick our lips more frequently than others. This can cause lip-licking eczema or just make dry lip symptoms worse.

Lip skin structure

The structure of skin varies on different parts of the body. The skin on our lips is thinner than elsewhere on our face making it more sensitive to the environment. 

Lip skin doesn’t have any sweat or sebaceous glands. These glands, present in most skin on our bodies, are responsible for producing the protective oils that help skin to regulate its moisture levels. The absence of sweat and sebaceous glands in our lips means it’s harder for them to attract and retain the moisture they need and they are prone to drying out.

Lips are prone to age-induced dryness.

As we age, lip skin changes: it gets thinner and is less able to retain moisture, making our lips even more prone to dryness.

Lip skin also contains fewer melanocytes. Melanocytes are the melanin-producing cells that give skin color and help to protect it from the sun. Both these structural factors make lips more sensitive to the environment.


Many of us suffer from dry, cracked lips in the winter

Our lips are constantly exposed to the environment. Changes in climate and weather conditions are a significant trigger of dry, cracked lips.

During the dry hot summer months both time in the sun and time indoors with drying air conditioning may cause lips to dry out. Symptoms can be bad in the winter too: cold outdoor temperatures and icy cold winds, low air humidity indoors due to heating and moving regularly from the warm indoors to the cold outdoors all speed up moisture loss.

People who spend a significant amount of time outdoors – either due to leisure pursuits or because of their jobs – are likely to suffer more than others.

Certain medications

Some oral acne medications can dehydrate lips

Some medications can cause skin and lips to dry out and crack. People applying topical retinoids such as Tretinoin or Adapalene or taking oral Isotretinoin as part of their medical acne treatment sometimes experience dry and cracked lips as a side effect.

How should I care for dry, cracked lips?

Prevention is always better than cure. The best way to keep your lips soft and smooth is to:

  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid habitual lip-licking
  • Apply a moisturizing lip balm at least twice a day but ideally more often
  • Keep your lips covered as much as possible in cold and windy conditions

Be on the look-out for things that seem to trigger symptoms for your lips and do your best to avoid them. Once your lips are dry and/or cracked choose a moisturizing lip balm that is clinically and dermatologically proven to soothe and protect your lips and that is suited to your skin type and particular needs. 

Regularly apply a lip care product that strengthens, soothes and protects

Lip care products from Eucerin

Eucerin offers a range of lip care products to suit all needs.

Daily care for sensitive lips

Eucerin Lip Active is a daily moisturizing stick specially formulated to keep sensitive skin smooth and hydrated. The formula, with Dexpanthenol/Panthenol, Vitamin E and SPF 15 effectively moisturizes and protects lips from environmental factors such as wind and sun.

SOS repair for dry, cracked lips

Eucerin Aquaphor SOS Lip Repair relieves dry, cracked lips in 60 seconds. Enriched with Glycerin, Panthenol, Bisabolol and Vitamins C and E, the balm creates the ideal environment for lip skin regeneration and repairs, protects and soothes dry, cracked lips making them soft and supple again. It comes in a handy applicator tube so it’s easy to apply.

Soothing care for lips with atopic eczema, cheilitis, lip lick eczema or those undergoing acne medication

Eucerin Acute Lip Balm has been specially formulated with soothing Licochalcone A to bring relief and reduce redness for people with lips that needs intensive care as a result of atopic dermatitis, lip lick eczema, cheilitis or dryness and cracking as a side effect of medical acne treatment. It comes in a handy applicator tube so it’s easy to apply.

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