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What is eczematous cheilitis?

Eczematous cheilitis is an inflammation of the lips that causes redness, dryness and flaking of the lips and the surrounding skin.

What causes eczematous cheilitis?

Eczematous cheilitis can be caused by a person’s biological makeup (known as endogenous causes) or external causes (exogenous causes). Sometimes it can be caused by a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors.

In some cases, the condition can have no identifiable cause.

Endogenous causes

Atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is the most common endogenous cause of eczematous cheilitis.

Exogenous causes

External factors that can lead to eczematous cheilitis include:

  • repeated contact with substances that irritate the skin - this causes a type of cheilitis called irritant contact cheilitis
    • licking your lips a lot is a key cause of this type of eczematous cheilitis
    • makeup, foods and environmental factors (eg pollution, alcohol, smoking and obesity) are other causes
  • an allergic reaction to substances, such as lipsticks, lip products, toothpaste and dental materials, foods, medications and nail varnish. This causes a type of cheilitis known as allergic contact cheilitis

What are the symptoms of eczematous cheilitis?

Eczematous cheilitis usually causes skin changes around the lips. These changes include:

  • dryness
  • redness
  • cracking
  • scaling

How is eczematous cheilitis diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose eczematous cheilitis after examining your lips, inside your mouth and your skin in general.

They may also ask you questions about your general health, conditions that run in your family, medication you take and if you have been in contact with certain substances.

If your doctor suspects your symptoms may not be due to cheilitis, they may recommend a swab for infections including candida, or a skin biopsy to exclude other conditions.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a patch test to try and identify if a specific substance is causing your symptoms.

What is the treatment for eczematous cheilitis?

If you have eczematous cheilitis, the treatment you need will usually depend on the cause.

If your symptoms are caused by exposure to an irritant or allergen, removing that substance will usually be recommended.

Your doctor may tell you to avoid using lip products that contain potential allergens, such as:

  • flavours
  • preservatives
  • propolis
  • lanolin

In some cases, you may be given a steroid cream or ointment to apply to the affected skin for 1 to 2 weeks.

Steroid creams and ointments can thin the skin if used for too long, so your doctor may prescribe other creams if you need ongoing treatment to manage your symptoms.

You may also be told to use simple moisturisers (emollients), such as petrolatum, on the affected skin.

Related articles

Dry lips

Look after your skin

Get an allergy test

Topical corticosteroids

Stopping smoking: 10 health benefits

Date of last review: 26 June 2020

References

Cheilitis [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Eczematous cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Actinic cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Angular cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Exfoliative cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Glandular cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Granulomatous cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Cheilitis - Approach to the Patient [Internet]. Dynamed.com. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Cheilitis | DermNet NZ [Internet]. Dermnetnz.org. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

Actinic cheilitis [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 3 March 2020]. Available here.

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