Dry Patch on the Lip

By , Category : General Health

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Dry Patch on the LipA dry patch on the lip may seem like a minor issue, and compared to something as important as, say, congestive heart failure, it is. But that doesn’t mean the topic isn’t worth addressing.

A persistent dry patch on the upper lip or dry patch on the lower lip can be a significant annoyance and source of stress, particularly if you are in a situation of heightened self-consciousness like on a date or at a job interview.

Fortunately, even if it seems like your dry patch just won’t go away, there are treatments that can help.

What Causes a Dry Patch on the Lip?

There are three common reasons behind dry lips: dryness, eczema, or a cold sore. Depending on the environment and behavioral factors, it’s possible for any of these to be present and cause a dry patch on the lip that won’t go away.

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1. Dryness

The skin of the lips is naturally exposed to both the external environment and the environment inside your mouth. This creates a combination of factors that makes some people’s lips more prone to developing dry patches than others. Exposure to cold, wind and strong sunlight can dehydrate and dry out the lips, causing them to crack and become chapped.

Alternatively, certain things like breathing through your mouth or routinely licking your lips can hasten their drying out. Certain nutritional deficiencies can also dry out your lips, and dehydration is, of course, another culprit.

2. Eczema on the Lip

Eczema, the skin condition that makes certain areas prone to dry, itchy patches, can occur on the lips. In these cases, the dry patch may be located only on certain parts of the lip.

This could mean the patch is only on the upper lip, only on the lower lip, or confined to a single splotch. This last manifestation can be particularly annoying since it results in a dry patch on the lip that feels like the tape is stuck to your face.

3. Cold Sore

It’s also possible that the dry patch on your lip is a cold sore or at least the initial signs of one. A cold sore tends to be accompanied by more than just a dry patch, however. The affected area will likely itch, burn, and/or tingle for a day or two before a series of blister spots appear.

Although harmless, cold sores have the visually unpleasant tendency to burst and crust over on their own. Additionally, if this is your first cold sore, you may also experience a few other symptoms like a sore throat, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, or fever.

Is a Dry Patch on the Lips a Serious Health Problem?

Normally? No.

Even the most difficult cold sore is going to do little more than cosmetic damage until it heals. There are, however, a few diseases that can cause dry patches to appear on the lips. Anything that causes congestion and increases the amount of mouth-breathing you undertake can create dry patches, for instance.

Although there are more serious diseases and health conditions that can cause a dry patch on the lips, they all come accompanied by other key symptoms. The main takeaway here is that if you are only experiencing a dry patch, you have nothing to worry about.

Possible Symptoms Associated with Dry, Flaky Patches on the Lips

Now, having said all that, it’s time to get into what symptoms you should watch for to know if you might have one of the less-than-benign causes of a dry patch.

1. Kawasaki Disease

This is a non-contagious illness that most often affects children under five. No one knows the exact cause, but it results in inflammation of various arteries throughout the body and also affects the lymph nodes and the mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose, and throat. The lips of someone with Kawasaki disease will be red, dry, cracked, and also have an extremely red and swollen tongue (or a “strawberry tongue”).

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever over 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen red skin on the palms and soles (these patches will peel in the second phase of the disease)
  • Rash along the trunk of the body and sometimes on the genitals
  • Joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting, and
  • Abdominal pain.

2. Pellagra

Pellagra is a potentially fatal condition that results from a niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency. It can result from dietary deficiencies or if another condition, like ulcerative colitis, is impairing your body’s ability to absorb niacin. The lips and gums of someone with pellagra will be thick, dry, cracked, and possibly bleeding. Pellagra’s other symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Delirium (mental confusion), and
  • Dermatitis

3. Angular Cheilitis

This is an inflammatory condition that focuses on the corners of your mouth. It’s commonly brought about by a mix of different factors like recurrent chapped lips, saliva dribbling, or getting cold sores and similar infections frequently. Those with sensitive skin or malnourishment are more at risk. Angular cheilitis causes the following symptoms:

  • Cracked, bleeding lips, particularly around the corners
  • Blisters, and
  • Redness

4. Dehydration

You do not need to be dying of dehydration to develop dry patches on the lips. It can take only mild or moderate dehydration to develop some of the initial symptoms, and this is a category more people fall into than you might realize. Aside from dry lips, mild to moderate dehydration can cause the following:

  • Dry and sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Decreased urine production/output
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry skin, and
  • Dark yellow or amber-colored urine

Severe dehydration is considered a medical emergency and warrants immediate attention. It presents as a more advanced form of the above symptoms with a few additions:

  • Irritability or confusion (in adults) or extreme fussiness or sleepiness (infants and children)
  • Very dry mouth, lips, skin, and mucous membranes
  • Little to no urine production
  • Sunken eyes and shriveled skin that lacks elasticity
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Possibly delirium or unconsciousness, and
  • Fever

How to Reduce a Dry Patch on the Lip Naturally

Assuming you don’t have an underlying condition, banishing a dry patch from your lip can be accomplished with a few different natural remedies.

1. Moisturize

The first and the most basic remedy is to make sure your lips are getting enough moisture. This means ensuring that you get enough water. If you are in a dry environment, a humidifier may also be helpful as a way to restore moisture content to the air and prevent your lips from drying out as easily.

2. Cucumbers

Take a slice of cucumber and hold it to your lips for about five to 10 minutes and let the cool, watery vegetable rehydrate your lips. Afterward, you can eat the cucumber.

3. Aloe Vera Gel

Applying an aloe vera gel helps heal the cracks that occur in chapped lips and can also aid in relieving the pain it may cause. You can use the gel a few times each day in this manner.

4. Use a Scarf

The Wind and cold temperatures can rapidly dry out your lips, and a scarf can protect your mouth from both.

5. Natural Balms

Shea butter and coconut oil work best for keeping your lips moisturized. If you are using a lip balm, then it’s recommended that you look for products containing one or both of these ingredients.

6. Warm Water Compress

Soak a clean washcloth in warm water, and then squeeze out the excess. Place the cloth against your lips until it cools down. Repeat about three to four times or until the lips become softer and less rough, whichever comes first. Next, dip a cloth in cool water and hold against the lips for a few seconds before patting them dry.

A Diet to Follow for a Dry Patch on the Lip

Dry lips can result from a few different nutrient deficiencies as well as not getting enough water. Consequently, a good preventative measure is to eat a healthy and balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs and ensures you get an adequate intake of water. However, there are specific nutrients you should pay particular attention to for the way they can help your lips:

  • Vitamin A: This is used for skin repair and maintenance. It comes from foods such as milk, apricots, and carrots.
  • Vitamin C: This aids in skin and tissue repair, but also in promoting collagen production and sun protection. It can be found in citrus fruits and green vegetables.
  • Vitamin E: This helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles and general loss of structure in the skin. Nuts, leafy vegetables, and eggs are useful sources.

Tips to Follow for a Dry Patch on the Lip

  • Don’t eat citrus: While vitamin C can help, the acid in citrus juices can dry out your lips. If you’re determined to have citrus, do it in juice form and with a straw.
  • Don’t eat spicy foods: Like citrus, some spicy foods are acidic and the spice, in general, can irritate the lips.
  • Avoid exfoliants with salicylic acid: This ingredient can dry out your lips even as it helps the rest of your face.
  • Don’t lick your lips: Although it may seem like a good idea, it will backfire. When the saliva evaporates it will take other moisture with it, further drying out your lips.
  • Some medications can cause dry lips: If you think your medicine is the cause, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“How to Get Rid of Chapped Lips,” WikiHow web site, last updated March 19, 2016; http://www.wikihow.com/Get-Rid-of-Chapped-Lips, last accessed March 22, 2016.
“Kawasaki Disease: Symptoms,” Mayo Clinic web site, February 15, 2014; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kawasaki-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20024663, last accessed March 22, 2016.
“Dehydration: Symptoms,” Mayo Clinic web site, February 12, 2014; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/basics/symptoms/con-20030056, last accessed March 22, 2016.
Davis K., “What Health Problems Do Chapped Lips Indicate?” Livestrong web site, last updated November 2, 2015; http://www.livestrong.com/article/259744-what-health-problems-do-chapped-lips-indicate/, last accessed March 22, 2016.
“Cold Sore: Symptoms,” Mayo Clinic web site, May 15, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/basics/symptoms/con-20021310, last accessed March 22, 2016.
“Cracked, Chapped and Dry Lips,” Home Remedies for You web site; http://www.home-remedies-for-you.com/remedy/Cracked,-Chapped-and-Dry-Lips.html, last accessed March 22, 2016.


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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »