Overview of Eczema on the Lips

Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause itchy inflammation of the skin. This condition damages the skin barrier function, which makes your skin more sensitive and more prone to infection and dryness.

Eczema can affect any part of the body, including your lips. Eczema on your lips is also known as lip dermatitis and eczematous cheilitis. Eczema typically causes dry patches of skin and scales, and eczema of the lips may cause your lips to become itchy, dry, scaly, red, or peeling.

a boy with dry, itchy lips scratching his face

Elena Slepitskaya / Getty Images

Types

There are two major groups of lip eczema based on the cause:

  • Endogenous: This means that the lip eczema is due to your inherent characteristic. One example of this type of lip eczema is atopic dermatitis, which is more common among people who have a family history of the condition.
  • Exogenous: This type of lip eczema is caused by something outside of the body.

Within the exogenous group, there are more specific categories based on the cause:

  • Allergic contact cheilitis: This type of lip eczema occurs due to an allergic reaction to products you use, such as lip balm or lipstick, toothpaste, medications, and foods. An allergy is found in at least a quarter of cases of eczematous cheilitis. A dermatologist can perform patch testing to help you identify which allergens to eliminate.
  • Irritant contact cheilitis: Irritant contact cheilitis may present similarly to allergic contact cheilitis but is due to an irritation instead. Lip licking is a major cause of this type of lip eczema. Chronic exposure to an irritant such as cosmetics, food, and environmental factors can also result in this condition.

Symptoms

The symptoms of having eczema on your lips include:

  • Dry lips
  • Inflammation or redness
  • Scaling, peeling, or cracking
  • Itching and burning
  • Skin or mucosal lesions, which refers to any abnormal skin tissue

The perioral skin (skin around your mouth) and vermilion margin (where the red mucosa meets the skin) are the most commonly affected parts of the lips. The angles, or corners, of the mouth can also be affected.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience unusual symptoms such as a fever, chills, diarrhea, or spreading of the rash, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Triggers

The major causes of lip eczema are atopic dermatitis and irritant or allergic contact reactions. The triggers may not be the same for everyone. Lip eczema can be triggered by different things, including external conditions such as the weather, behaviors such as lip licking, allergens, and nutritional deficiencies.

Diagnosis

You should consult with a dermatologist for this condition. Your dermatologist will examine you, take note of your symptoms, and ask you questions about your personal and family health history, such as the duration of your symptoms, other conditions you may have, allergies, and any new products you started using recently.

Your dermatologist may also order tests like patch testing, swabs to check for infection, or biopsies.

Eczema vs. Dry Lips

Eczema is different from simply having dry lips because of the itchiness and extreme irritation the condition can cause. Dry lips are also not usually triggered by allergens.

Treatment

Eczema of the lips is treated by identifying and eliminating or managing the cause of the issue. Therefore, treatment varies depending on the type of lip eczema you have.

For irritant or allergic types of lip eczema, the treatment will involve identifying the cause of the irritation or allergy and discontinuing use of a product or limiting contact with the trigger.

For lip eczema related to atopic dermatitis, managing the condition should help alleviate the symptoms of lip eczema.

For all forms of eczematous cheilitis, topical corticosteroids along with a lip balm or emollient can help calm down your lips and reduce any itching sensations.

Management

You can manage your eczema if it’s a chronic condition by easing symptoms and avoiding triggers through lifestyle changes. Eczema is affected by environmental factors and stress, both of which you have some control over.

Consider these treatment tips if your lip eczema is related to atopic dermatitis:

  • Use a humidifier if dry air makes your skin dry.
  • Moisturize your skin and lips. Apply lip balm several times a day, including after you bathe or shower. Use lukewarm water to wash your face instead of hot because hot water can dry out your lips further.
  • Use mild skin care and dental products that are free of perfumes, dyes, and alcohol. Look for products labeled “fragrance free,” “hypoallergenic,” and “for sensitive skin.”
  • Avoid licking your lips too much. Make an effort to notice when you engage in this behavior and change it.
  • Take over-the-counter antihistamines for severe itching, and avoid scratching your lips.
  • The ultraviolet light waves found in sunlight have been shown to help certain skin disorders, including eczema. Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light, usually ultraviolet B (UVB), from special lamps that may help with your symptoms.

These tips can not only help you alleviate the symptoms of lip eczema but also prevent flare-ups of eczema in the future.

Outlook

Lip eczema may be embarrassing and difficult to deal with, but it's helpful to remember that not all cases of lip eczema are lifelong. Some cases can be easily treated through a simple lifestyle change after identifying the source. Even for lip eczema caused by atopic dermatitis, you can minimize or alleviate the symptoms of lip eczema by managing your chronic condition.

If you have atopic dermatitis, there may be times when your eczema disappears. This is known as a remission period. However, there are other times when you may have a flare-up, which is when your condition gets worse. The goal of treatment is to prevent flare-ups. Be sure to avoid triggers, moisturize, take your medicine, and do anything else your healthcare provider recommends.

If you find that your lip eczema is causing you a lot of distress, talk to a therapist and friends or family for support.

Summary

Lip eczema can be related to atopic dermatitis or triggered by an allergen or irritant. Often this condition can be managed by avoiding the trigger and following tips on keeping your lips moisturized and your stress under control. A dermatologist can diagnose this condition, and they may prescribe a topical corticosteroid for your treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat eczema on your lips?

Typically, lip eczema is treated with a topical corticosteroid and a moisturizer like a lip balm. If your lip eczema is related to atopic dermatitis, managing the condition will help with dry, itchy lips. If it's a result of an irritant or allergen, your doctor will identify the cause and recommend that you avoid contact with it.

How long does it take eczema on your lips to heal?

This depends upon many factors, including the duration of the initial symptoms and the extent to which the trigger can be removed. If your lip eczema is caused by atopic dermatitis, it is chronic and requires ongoing management.

How does eczema spread to your lips?

It's common for eczema to appear on one part of your body and then affect another part, including your lips, during flare-ups. Avoiding your triggers and managing your condition can help prevent eczema from spreading to your lips.

A Word From Verywell

Lip eczema can be troubling because it affects your appearance. However, regardless of its cause, there are ways to manage this condition. The best way to prevent this condition is to avoid your triggers, such as allergens or irritants. It also helps to steer clear of products that may be irritating to your skin, such as those containing alcohol and other harsh ingredients. If you know or suspect you may have lip eczema, it is best to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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