Chapped Lips in Children: Causes and Recommendations

Dry and chapped lips in children are a common problem. There are easy ways to care for their lips and to prevent and cure chapping.
Chapped Lips in Children: Causes and Recommendations

Last update: 19 July, 2022

The lips are one of the surfaces of the body most exposed to environmental aggressions. Because of this, it’s common to see dry and chapped lips in children. Weather conditions, the wind, cold temperatures, or dehydration of the body itself can cause dryness and cracking.

The causes of chapped lips in children

Two of the most common causes of chapped and dry lips are dehydration and mechanical irritation. However, here are a few more.

UV rays

Few people protect their lips from damage caused by ultraviolet rays and sun exposure. In fact, according to studies by Chronic Diseases in Canada, it’s been estimated that solar ultraviolet radiation accounts for about 93% of skin cancers and about half of lip cancers.

A young girl with dry, cracked lips.

The lips are composed of very sensitive, thin skin. At the same time, they lack the melanin pigment, which in the rest of the skin surface functions as a natural defense.

The side effects of drugs

Certain drugs can cause chapped lips in children and subsequent cracking as a side effect. Isotretinoin is one of them and its adverse effects are dose-dependent. In turn, xerosis and ocular dryness can be generated with this type of medication.

Underlying diseases, one of the causes of chapped lips in children

There are multiple diseases that present dry and chapped lips as a symptom. Some of them are the following:

According to publications of Quintessencce international studies, sometimes a simple skin manifestation, such as chapped lips, can be a sign of a skin disease.

Extreme climates, such as cold

In the winter seasons, where wind and cold abound, lips become too dry and, consequently, chapped. This is due to the lack of sebaceous glands in the lip mucosa, which makes it impossible to create the protective lipid mantle. Therefore, it’s vulnerable to the harmful effects of external agents.

Allergic reactions

Patients suffering from atopic dermatitis are more prone to develop cheilitis or dry lips.

There may even be allergic reactions to non-hypoallergenic cosmetics, which can be found in make-up kits designed for recreational use in children.

Dehydration, another cause of chapped lips in children

Contrary to popular belief, the constant moisturizing of the lips with saliva dehydrates them even more. As a result, they become dry and cracked. It can even cause discomfort, pain, or slight bleeding.

Recommendations to avoid chapped lips in children

There are care and prevention measures to prevent dry lips or their subsequent cracking. Some are more difficult to implement when it comes to children.

Don’t let them run their tongue over their lips

One of the habits observed in many children is licking their lips, even unconsciously. They may do so to keep their lips moist, but the result ends up being just the opposite.

Saliva, due to its composition, tends to evaporate more quickly and the lips become drier than before. In addition, the periorbuccal region suffers from dermatitis caused by repeated contact with saliva.

With dryness comes cracking, and the sensitive skin of the lips peels off in little skin flakes that children will nibble and pull off. This will aggravate wounds if you don’t act fast.

Another thing small children can’t avoid is putting toys or other objects in their mouths and chewing on them. Several factors come into play here that make things difficult: They may have dirt on them or further injure their lips and even their teeth.

Stay well hydrated

A healthy and varied diet, together with proper hydration, helps to keep the entire skin surface in good condition.

You should also drink about 8 glasses of water a day, without getting to the point of feeling thirsty beforehand. In fact, when you feel thirsty, it’s synonymous that the body is already in a state of dehydration.

Look at your child’s toothpaste

There are many toothpastes that contain a compound known as sodium lauryl sulfate, which causes foam. It’s even used in soaps and shampoos. This component removes the protective lipid layer of the skin. Consequently, not having this barrier on the lips causes intense irritation that can contribute to chapped lips.

A boy touching his chapped lips.

Breathing through the nose

In some cases, after a child has suffered from a respiratory condition that forced them to breathe through their mouth, they may continue to do so even when healthy.

After an allergy, a nasal obstruction, or a bad cold, children may not breathe properly through the nose. This leads to dry and cracked lips more easily.

Use lip balms

Lip balms containing shea butter, aloe vera, petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, or hyaluronic acid are recommended. There’s a wide variety of lip care and moisturizing products on the market. They even have sunscreens to avoid the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. Try to avoid flavored balms to avoid temptation and licking your lips.

Home remedies for dry and chapped lips

Take the precautions already suggested, avoiding the cold or decongesting the child’s airways so that they don’t breathe through the mouth. Also, increase  hydration and cover their dry and chapped lips with lip balms. As a result, the condition should subside within a few days.

At the same time, w ith little ones at home, it’s wise to have natural products on hand to solve minor problems and avoid complications.

Below, we’ll share some natural remedies that can help relieve dryness. Before applying them, use a clean brush to gently sweep over the lips to remove the dead skin. This will allow the remedy you apply to better fulfill its purpose.

  • Aloe Vera: Cut a branch of aloe vera and extract the gel, put a little on your fingers, and rub your child’s lips. Three times a day will be enough to restore moisture.
  • Sugar: Pour a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of honey into a container. Mix well and spread it gently on the lips describing circles. Wait a minute and rinse with warm water. This treatment removes dead skin cells and will restore softness to sensitive skin. Finish with a moisturizing balm.
  • Honey: Spread a few drops of honey on the lips and let it act for 15 minutes. Then rinse with water and pat dry with a washcloth. However, make sure to not give honey to children younger than 1 year.
  • Coconut oil: In a bowl, pour three tablespoons of coconut oil and two tablespoons of olive oil. If desired, add half a tablespoon of honey. Apply this ointment on chapped lips.

If you don’t get any of these solutions to relieve their lips in a day or two and it gets worse, you may need to take them to the doctor. Some underlying disease may be manifesting itself.

Final recommendations for chapped lips in children

One of the most important tips to avoid chapped lips in children is to keep them well hydrated and use moisturizing balms and creams. At the same time, as it’s a repetitive action in children, you should try to prevent them from biting their lips and wetting them, together with the periorbuccal area, as this injured skin could be a propitious ground for triggering impetigo.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hitz Lindenmüller I, Itin PH, Fistarol SK. Dermatology of the lips: inflammatory diseases. Quintessence Int. 2014 Nov-Dec;45(10):875-83. doi: 10.3290/j.qi.a32638. PMID: 25262747.
  • Gallagher RP, Lee TK, Bajdik CD, Borugian M. Ultraviolet radiation. Chronic Dis Can. 2010;29 Suppl 1:51-68. PMID: 21199599.
  • Busick TL, Uchida T, Wagner RF Jr. Preventing ultraviolet light lip injury: beachgoer awareness about lip cancer risk factors and lip protection behavior. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Feb;31(2):173-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2005.31040. PMID: 15762210.
  • Collet E, Jeudy G, Dalac S. Cheilitis, perioral dermatitis and contact allergy. Eur J Dermatol. 2013 May-Jun;23(3):303-7. doi: 10.1684/ejd.2013.1932. PMID: 23568570.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.