What Is Lip Licker's Dermatitis?

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Lip licker's dermatitis (also called lip dermatitis and eczematous cheilitis) is skin inflammation around the lips resulting from repeated contact with excess saliva.

This common condition occurs when dry or cracked skin on the lips prompts you to lick your lips. Licking temporarily alleviates the symptoms, but the saliva dries out your lips more, worsening the situation and perpetuating a cycle. Lip licker's dermatitis typically looks like dryness, redness/discoloration, chapping, and scaling in a ring shape around the lip area.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment of lip licker's dermatitis.

A woman with dry, chapped lips

Dima Berlin / Getty Images

Lip Licker's Dermatitis Symptoms

Skin irritation can happen all over the body, including on and around the lips. Dry and cracked lips are common in colder months and dry climates, but many people experience them throughout the year.

The main symptoms of lip licker’s dermatitis typically show up in a circular formation around the lips and include:

  • Dryness
  • Scaling
  • Chapping
  • Inflammation
  • Redness or discoloration
  • Peeling
  • Cracking
  • Crusting 

While these symptoms usually form close to the lip area, they can be visible as far as the tongue (and saliva) can reach.

Causes

The cause of lip licker's dermatitis is repeated skin contact with saliva, which has digestive enzymes that can harm the delicate skin around the lips.

Lip-licking is a natural response to any irritation on the lips. Many people don't realize how often they lick their lips throughout the day. It can become a vicious cycle often due to:

Chronic lip-licking can break the lips' protective barrier, creating a situation in which other inflammatory skin conditions (cheilitis simplex or angular cheilitis) can form.

Diagnosis

Lip licker's dermatitis can resemble other skin conditions around the mouth, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis.

A healthcare provider will want to rule out conditions like perioral dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, precancerous spots, or another underlying health condition.

They'll examine the area, review your health history, and ask questions about your symptoms. From there, it's possible to receive a referral to a dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin, hair, and nails) for further consultation or through patch testing or swabbing to check for allergies or infections.

Treatment

Treating lip licker's dermatitis involves alleviating the current symptoms and addressing the habits that lead the condition to form in the first place.

Healthcare providers will likely recommend strategies such as:

  • Applying a lip balm (containing ceramides, petrolatum, or shea butter) multiple times a day
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Protecting the lip area from harsh weather conditions
  • Using a prescription topical steroid ointment to help inflammation, if needed
  • Trying an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine if your lips feel severely itchy

To break the habit of licking your lips throughout the day, experts suggest applying lip balm or chewing gum instead. Certain habit reversal techniques may be recommended, such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lip licker's dermatitis is different from simply having chapped lips. If your lip irritation doesn't heal after two to three weeks of preventive measures, experts recommend checking with a healthcare professional.


Summary

Lip licker's dermatitis is dryness, redness, scaling, and itchiness on or around the lips triggered by repeated irritation from saliva contact. It's commonly experienced during dry or winter weather when there's a natural urge to lick dry or cracked lips. Most of the time, lip licker's dermatitis can be treated through simple lifestyle changes after a proper diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

After a diagnosis with a healthcare provider, lip licker's dermatitis can often be managed by keeping lips and surrounding skin moisturized and limiting the habit of lip licking. Speak with your healthcare provider if at-home treatments are not working. More severe cases may require prescription-strength ointment or behavioral therapy.

8 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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  8. American Academy of Dermatology. How to prevent and treat dry, chapped lips.

By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.