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What Are Common Dry Lips Symptoms?

By Jennifer Sobek
Updated May 21, 2024
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Common symptoms of dry lips, often also known as “chapped” lips, include roughness, peeling of the skin, or breaks on the surface. Inflammation of the lips and mouth, redness, and feelings of tingling and burning may also occur. There are many reasons why someone might get dry lips, including cold weather, sunburn, wind exposure, and excessive licking of the lips. Illness can also make dryness more likely, as can certain medications. Applying moisturizing gels or creams usually fixes things, and the condition is rarely serious. Lips that are dry for a long time, don't respond to treatment, and are accompanied by other unrelated symptoms may require medical attention, though.

Dryness and Peeling

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most common symptoms is a general feeling of dryness. People often complain that their lips feel like they’re made of sandpaper, which is to say that they don’t glide together when speaking and they often seem parched and tight. The lips may also feel hard to the touch, not plump and tender the way they normally do.

Peeling is another frequent symptom, and tends to go hand-in-hand with dryness. The skin on the lips is very delicate, and when not properly moisturized the top layer sometimes sloughs off. This tends to be uncomfortable and can leave the mouth feeling raw and exposed, since the skin underneath the peels is usually very sensitive.


Dry lips are also prone to cracking. Cracks are typically most common when conditions change suddenly: when a person travels from a moist climate to an arid one, for instance, or enters a very dry environment like an airplane for an extended period of time. Lips often crack first in places where the skin creases when smiling, eating, or speaking, and cracks can range from shallow fissures to deep and often very painful grooves along the surface. Cracked lips usually feel rough and textured when touched, and in extreme cases may also bleed. Bleeding is most common in the corners of the mouth, but can also happen in response to accidental biting; when the lips are dry they lose some of their natural resiliency, which means that clumsy eating or absent-minded lip chewing can actually cause damage.

Pain and Redness

Inflammation of the lips and outer mouth, including pain and redness, is another symptom of dryness. In most cases this is a reaction to the changing moisture levels in the skin. When the lips become dehydrated, the skin around the mouth tends to grow taught as the membranes and surface-level cells constrict. The result is often a rash-like redness that can feel raw and uncomfortable.

People who lick their lips too much or who eat a lot of very salty foods can also get a red ring around their mouth as a symptom of dryness. These reactions are mostly behavioral, which means that once the trigger stops, so will the condition, but a lot depends on the individual.

Other General Symptoms

Other general symptoms that are often associated with or accompany dry lips include a headache, a thirsty feeling, a rash of the face and mouth, or nasal congestion. Cracked or dry lips can also accompany other mouth problems like canker sores, cold sores, and dry mouth, a medical condition in which the body stops producing enough saliva.

Treatment Tips

Dry lips symptoms are usually pretty easy to treat at home. Lip balms and moisturizers are available in many places, often in convenient tubes or tubs. Regular application can both prevent dryness in the first place and help cure it once it sets in. Special products aren’t usually required, though; regular petroleum jelly will coat the lips and help seal in moisture, for instance, and in a pinch skin moisturizer, vitamin E oil, or aloe vera gel will also suffice. Anything with strong fragrances or scents can irritate sensitive lips, though, and products not intended for use around the mouth can sometimes have an off-putting taste.

Many lipsticks and glosses also contain moisturizers, but not always. Anyone who notices that their lips are particularly prone to dryness after using certain products should either stop using them or coat the lips first with a base layer of a neutral, moisture-rich balm.


If dry lips symptoms are severe enough, a medicated lip balm might be needed. Dry lips are commonly caused by a lack of moisture to the skin, so drinking plenty of fluids will also help keep a person hydrated. Other prevention methods include using a humidifier in rooms that get a lot of use, which will keep the air moist and can improve the health and elasticity of all of the skin. Quitting smoking may also help a person retain the natural oils in his or her lips. Additionally, using sunscreen on a daily basis, even in the winter, will help prevent skin damage that can lead to chapping.

Chapped lips also can be the result of a riboflavin deficiency. People with this problem who take a vitamin B-2 supplement can often alleviate the symptoms pretty easily. In some cases, though, dryness comes as a side effect of other medical conditions, diseases, or medications. There isn’t always a good way to prevent dryness in these cases; constantly applying moisturizing balms and jellies is usually the best way to stay comfortable if the trigger can’t be eliminated.

When to Get Help

Dry lips in and of themselves are rarely serious, but people should take note if the symptoms do not disappear after treatment, if they get worse, or if they’re accompanied by other things like headaches, dizziness, or nausea. Chronic dehydrations is one of the leading causes of persistent lip dryness, and when left untreated it can lead to electrolyte imbalances, shock, coma, or, in extreme cases, even death. Certain cancers of the mouth and throat can also cause intense dryness. Anyone who is concerned about lips that just won’t seem to heal should seek medical attention.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon352856 — On Oct 25, 2013

The best chap stick brand is Medicated Blistex. It is a blue stick.

By anon319281 — On Feb 11, 2013

I did watersports over the weekend and my lips aren't dry, but they are slippery, sort of, and really hurt. What do I do?

By anon312552 — On Jan 07, 2013

I have very dry lips and the skin is constantly peeling which I can't help but pick, which, in turn, leaves raw red patches on my lips and I end up in a vicious cycle of raw lips and dry patches. Few lip balms I have used have been effective, I particularly dislike petroleum jelly, personally, I feel that this forms a very short term barrier but has no moisturising properties. The Burt's Bees lip balm in the round yellow tin was probably the best of the lip balms I have tried but still not very effective.

Recently, I found a lip gloss which I got free when I bought some products and put some on, to my surprise, it was super moisturising. I really don't like lip gloss normally because it's sticky but after wearing for a few days, the dry patches of skin that I normally peel have gone. The lip gloss I'm using is a Lancome juicy tube, it says it's a hydrating lip gloss on the tube and I have to agree. Honestly, it's better than any lip balm I've ever used by far! It's a bit annoying because it's so sticky and too shimmery for my liking but it's allowed my lips to recover so I'm sticking with it.

By julies — On Nov 17, 2011

@bagley79 - I also struggled with dry lips in the winter and found myself constantly applying lip balm, but nothing seemed to work very well.

I finally decided to make my own and see if that would make a difference. It is very easy to do and all I needed to do was get some lip balm containers from a health food store or a soap supply company.

My lip balm contains olive oil, beeswax, a little bit of honey and a couple drops of Vitamin E. Since I raise honeybees, I use my own beeswax. You can usually get beeswax from a local beekeeper or buy it the same place you buy your lip balm tubes.

This only takes a few minutes to melt and works better than anything else I have ever used at keeping my lips from getting dry. I don't have to apply it nearly as often, and I went all winter without my lips cracking like they usually would.

I also like to add a few drops of peppermint essential oil for a nice crisp, minty flavor.

By bagley79 — On Nov 16, 2011

One thing I can't stand is dry lips. I always said if I was stranded on an island, I would somehow have to have my lip balm with me.

This is something I always have in my pocket, my purse, in my desk drawer, and by my nightstand. I apply lip balm many times throughout the day and feel naked if I don't have it on.

In the winter I have to do this more often because they get so dry. I find myself licking my lips if they get too dry, and this only makes them worse.

Even with applying the lip balm several times a day, they can still get dry and cracked in the winter. Does anybody have a good solution for this?

By cloudel — On Nov 15, 2011

@shell4life – It sounds like you may need to exfoliate your lips. If you are putting a product on top of dead skin that needs to be removed, that could be the reason for the white lumps.

You can use your fingernail to scrape across your lips before applying anything. Wash off whatever gets trapped under your nail and scrape them again. When nothing else comes off, you can then apply a lip moisturizer.

Just like the skin on my face, sometimes, my lips need exfoliating. I have discovered that doing this regularly makes using a lip moisturizer so much easier, and it can be more effective, too.

By shell4life — On Nov 15, 2011

Am I the only one who has noticed that most types of lip balm in tubes actually exacerbate the symptoms of dry lips? Any time I use the solid, waxy stuff, my lips seem to peel even more.

I guess it is the actual product lumping up and peeling off of my lips, but this is no good, either. If it won't stay on there, how can it help me?

I have switched to gooey lip gloss. It is kind of sticky and messy, but at least it doesn't form white patches that have to be scraped off with my fingernail.

By wavy58 — On Nov 15, 2011

@burcidi – I know plenty of guys who wear some sort of lip conditioner. Like you, they stick to the plain ones and avoid scented or colored ones.

My friend at work always wore a certain type of lip conditioner. His mother worked at a pharmacy, and she would often buy it for him and bring it to him.

One day, she accidentally brought him the shimmery kind. It looked just like the other in the tube, and it wasn't until he opened it that he discovered the glittery purple product inside.

He gave it to me. I loved it. My lips are continually dry if I don't use something, and this product was perfect.

It was mint flavored, tinted, shimmery, and wonderfully moisturizing. I was glad that his mother made that mistake, because I now have a new favorite lip conditioner!

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 14, 2011

@Sara007 – That is a really inventive idea! I know that petroleum jelly is super moisturizing, so I bet your homemade lip balm does wonders for dry lips.

My lips are dry year round, so I always have to keep something on them. As soon as I get that chapped, uncomfortable feeling, I know it is time to reapply whatever I'm using.

If I happen to be wearing lipstick when my lips start to dry out, I apply petroleum jelly on top of the lipstick. This way, it has the same effect as a tinted lip balm.

I have found that most kinds of lipstick do make my lips dry after an hour or so. Petroleum jelly allows me to wear color on my lips without the unattractive peeling and cracking.

By popcorn — On Nov 14, 2011

My lips always get really dry in the wintertime and it can actually get painful to eat or drink anything, and smiling is out of the question. What I usually end up doing is buying some medicated lip balm from the pharmacy and keeping that on hand. The only problem I find though is that when I put on the medicated lip balm it stings like crazy. Does anyone know how to treat badly chapped lips without it hurting?

I like the medicated lip balm because it works quickly, and after the initial sting almost numbs my lips, so I can't feel the soreness anymore. But still, that initial application really hurts.

By Sara007 — On Nov 13, 2011

My husband is always getting dry lips and it makes him really uncomfortable. He doesn't like to use any kind of lip balm, but I have managed to get him to use some simple petroleum jelly in a small container.

What is interesting about the petroleum jelly is that you can also use it to make your own lip gloss at home to keep dry lips at bay. What I do is use some Kool-aid powder in a flavor I like and mix it with a bit of water in a dish. I add some food coloring until I get a shade I like then put in the petroleum jelly. It does wonders to help your dry lips and is an easy way to control what goes in your lip gloss.

By burcidi — On Nov 12, 2011

I'm a guy and I regularly use lip conditioning products as well. For some reason, people think it's weird or awkward for men to wear anything other than a mint flavored chapstick. But chapsticks don't always do a great job and I have a horrible habit of licking my licks very often.

If my lips are dry, red and cracked, I feel really uncomfortable. The skin peels off and it hurts when drinking and eating. It also looks very bad and unattractive and I don't think it's okay to go to work and talk to people with lips like that.

I think there is nothing wrong with a guy using a lip conditioner. It's a skin condition just like any other. Just as we use face creams and after-shave creams to keep our face moisturized, we can use lip products to keep our lips moisturized too. I do stay away from the ones that have fruity smells or a tint to them though because those are clearly made for women.

By serenesurface — On Nov 11, 2011

@icecream17-- That used to be the case but more and more brands seem to be making lip balms and chapsticks with SPF and UVA protection these days. You might have a hard time finding a good one at the pharmacy, but if you check out some of the more well known and more expensive brands, you'll see lots of options.

I think as doctors find out more and more about the risks and side effects of sun exposure, manufacturers are incorporating sun protection into more products. Lip care is especially important because our lips are the thinnest skin layer our body has. So it's the most vulnerable to rough weather conditions and dangerous sun rays.

By discographer — On Nov 11, 2011

My lips generally become very dry and chapped in wintertime. The cold air is really drying for lips. I usually don't realize how dry it is until my lips crack and bleed.

I wear a mouth guard at night to prevent clenching my teeth. That tends to stretch my lips out a little bit and if my lips are dry, I wake up with cracked lips that bled a little at night. My lips feel really tight and hurt a lot then.

That's why I've incorporated a lip balm in my night skin care routine. I always apply chapstick or lipbalm on my lips before sleeping. I try and keep one in my purse too so that I can use it outdoors as well.

By icecream17 — On Nov 10, 2011

@Cafe41 - I agree but what I don’t like about some of these lip balms is that many of them don’t contain sunscreen.

There are so many lipsticks that are formulated with sunscreen that I don’t understand why they can’t make lip balm that also has sunscreen. I just wear moisturizing lipstick instead of lip balm because I like to have color on my lips and I also like the sun protection.

By cafe41 — On Nov 10, 2011

I have woken up to dry lips. Sometimes if I don’t drink enough water, by lips will peel a little. Once I drink some water this goes away and my lips become smooth again.

I also use some Burt’s beeswax lip balm to moisturize my lips and it is the best lip balm that I have ever used. It really moisturizes your lips and it takes very little of the lip balm to really make your lips feel smooth.

This lip balm is really effective to counter chapped lips due to windburn which happens to me a lot in the winter. I just wish they would come out with a lip balm that had some color to it, like a lip tint. That would be great.

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