How To Handle Eczema on Your Lips

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on February 17, 2017Written by Jennifer Purdie on February 17, 2017

What is eczema?

Eczema is a skin condition that can cause severe flare-ups on your skin. Symptoms can range from itchy rashes to painful blisters. It can start at any age and reoccur throughout your life. Flare-ups often only last for short periods of time.

Eczema on the lips is also known as lip dermatitis and eczematous cheilitis. You may notice redness, drying, and scaling on your lips. These symptoms may appear on your lips because of a genetic predisposition to eczema, or from an outside occurrence. This could be anything from licking your lips to using a lipstick that irritates your skin.

Identifying eczema on your lips

To determine if you have eczema on your lips, you should look for the following symptoms:

  • redness or a rash
  • dryness and flakiness of the skin
  • splitting
  • scaling
  • itching

You may notice these symptoms on both of your lips. They can also appear around the lips, especially the inner and outer part of the mouth. The area usually most affected is the skin surrounding the mouth and where the inner red part of the mouth meets the skin.

It’s also common to experience a change in pigmentation around the lips. Fair-skinned people may notice an appearance of reddish or brown skin. Darker-skinned people may see their skin turn lighter or darker.

What causes eczema to form on your lips?

The actual cause of eczema is often unknown. It’s usually linked to an irritant, allergy, or a family history of eczema.

Eczema on the lips can also come from other factors such as:

  • smoke
  • pollen
  • eating certain foods
  • having a sensitivity to heat or cold
  • getting an upper respiratory infection
  • coming into contact with animal dander

Eczema is an allergic reaction and it’s not contagious. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you think your skin rash is the result of an allergic reaction.

Your doctor may use a patch test, a common way to determine what is causing your allergy. In a patch test, a series of chemicals will be placed on your skin, usually on your back. These chemicals come in a sticky patch. They usually stay on your skin for about 48 hours to find out if you experience any reaction.

If patch testing doesn’t indicate reaction, prick testing may be used. This test is performed on your inner forearm. An allergist will add a drop of a chemical to your arm and then prick it, thereby allowing the chemical to be absorbed into your skin. Results are checked within 20 to 30 minutes. You shouldn’t feel nervous about receiving an allergy test. The amount of allergens used in the test is small and any reactions you experience should be limited to the test site.

Risk factors for eczema on the lips

You could be at risk of eczema on the lips if you have:

  • a family history of eczema, allergies, and asthma
  • skin defects that allows chemicals to enter more easily and makes you more prone to flare-ups
  • a job involving constant touching of materials, especially those that are itchy
  • a high level of stress
  • a cold or flu
  • sensitivity to hot or cold
  • changes in hormone levels, commonly in women
  • new products such as toothpaste or lipstick

How is eczema on the lips treated?

Eczema is treatable. Usually it’s the itching and dryness that bothers people the most. Keeping your lips moist with lotions, lip balm, and moisturizer can help manage the itchiness and dryness.

You should apply them when your skin is slightly damp already. Optimum time is right after a shower or when you wash your face in the morning and night. This will help your lips absorb the creams better. Products with 1 percent hydrocortisone can help lessen lip inflammation that makes it challenging to eat.

If your eczema is severe and over-the-counter medications don’t help, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to lessen severe itching and an antibiotic if the lip eczema gets an infection. Some prescription skin creams may also help heal the skin and prevent flare-ups.

What is the outlook for eczema on the lips?

There is no cure for eczema. However, you can learn to manage it with proper medical treatment. It’s best to keep a diary of when flare-ups occur and notice any emotional, environmental, dietary, and lifestyle changes you experienced at that time. This will help you pinpoint where the outbreak on your lips stem from and you can try to avoid them in the future.

Can eczema on the lips be prevented?

To keep lip eczema at bay, you can make some lifestyle changes:

  • Try to lessen stress. Stress can increase the body’s allergic response. Meditation, yoga, and learning calming breathing techniques can help you manage stress.
  • Moisturize your lips frequently. Use skin creams in the morning and at night. Keep lip balm in your purse or pocket to make it easy to access. Try to avoid licking your lips.
  • Avoid extreme weather. Keep out of the cold in the wintertime and the heat in the summer. Sweating can also cause flare-ups. Stay away from harsh, hot temperatures.
  • If your eczema is triggered by an allergic reaction, avoid any foods and products that contain that allergen. Make reading labels a habit.
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