Frequently licking your lips can result in dermatitis, or skin irritation. This often looks like a red rash around your mouth. In most cases, you can treat it at home.

The skin around the lips can be sensitive to all sorts of external factors, like cold weather and irritating chemicals. But did you know that your very own saliva can irritate your skin?

Lip licker’s dermatitis, also known as lip lick cheilitis and lip licking eczema, is a condition where dry, red skin forms along the perimeter of the mouth. Symptoms include cracked and inflamed skin that results in pain and itching.

Lip licker’s dermatitis is directly caused by excessive licking and wetting of the area surrounding the mouth. It’s often a symptom of dry lips. The following factors contribute to this condition:

Dry lips

If your lips are dry or chapped, you might feel tempted to find temporary relief by wetting them with your tongue. Dry lips may also indicate dryness on the skin around the mouth.

Cold, dry weather

The weather has a huge impact on the moisture levels in our skin. Cold, dry weather breeds the perfect conditions for lip chapping. Because of this, lip licker’s dermatitis is common in the winter months.

Medications

Certain medications, whether taken orally or applied topically, make lips more prone to chapping. Consider making an effort to keep your lips extra moisturized when using new medications as a preventative measure.

Behavioral tendencies

It’s common for people to develop small ticks to help them manage anxiety, nervousness, or even boredom. Excessive lip licking can be linked to such ticks.

Lip licking may also be linked to cognitive impairment in adults and children.

Anybody can develop lip licker’s dermatitis. All it takes is excessively licking the area around the lips to develop eczema-like dermatitis.

Lip licker’s dermatitis is more common in children or people with cognitive impairments, as they may have more trouble regulating impulsive behavior like lip licking.

Additionally, some people may develop a lip licking habit as a way to remedy anxiety or nervousness.

People with the condition will likely have a ring on the skin around their lips that is red, irritated, and cracked. While lip licking behavior might not be observed during a visit to a healthcare professional, people with the condition might be able to personally attest to a lip licking habit.

There are a handful of other conditions that resemble the symptoms of lip licker’s dermatitis. A doctor might test for these conditions to confirm a diagnosis of lip licker’s dermatitis.

Allergic contact cheilitis

Allergic contact cheilitis is allergic contact dermatitis of the lips. Eczema-like changes might develop on the lips after exposure to an allergen. Possible allergens may include:

  • lip cosmetics
  • toothpaste
  • food
  • medication

Allergic contact cheilitis can typically be diagnosed with patch testing.

Periorificial dermatitis

Unlike lip licker’s dermatitis and allergic contact cheilitis, periorificial dermatitis is not necessarily related to skin contact with an irritant. It’s also not limited to the area around the lips.

In periorificial dermatitis, small red papules may form in clusters around the lower half of the face. While its exact cause is unknown, it’s thought to be related to:

Periorificial dermatitis can be diagnosed with a visual examination of the skin, and potentially a skin culture or skin biopsy.

The key to stopping lip licker’s dermatitis is to limit lip licking throughout the day as much as possible. To address the chapped skin around your lips, consider asking your doctor for a prescription-strength topical corticosteroid or ointment to decrease inflammation. You can also apply a gentle emollient or petroleum jelly to relieve and treat pain.

Changing this habit is made much easier by keeping the lips hydrated. Here are some simple suggestions to keep your lips moisturized:

  • apply a lip balm throughout the day with sun protection
  • apply an emollient like petroleum jelly, beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, or shea butter to your lips
  • exfoliate away dry skin with a homemade lip scrub
  • avoid picking at dry lips

If you believe you’ve developed a lip licking habit as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, consider these natural remedies for reducing anxiety.

Though licking the lips might provide temporary relief from dryness and discomfort, it can result in an ultimately more uncomfortable case of lip licker’s dermatitis.

Fortunately, lip licker’s dermatitis can be treated with some small habit shifts. Consider limiting lip licking and incorporating a regimen of keeping lips moisturized into your daily routine. The guidance of a dermatologist or primary care doctor will help you seek the best course for treatment and rule out any other potential conditions.