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Cheilitis - Oral Mucosal Lesion
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Cheilitis - Oral Mucosal Lesion

Contributors: Carl Allen DDS, MSD, Sook-Bin Woo MS, DMD, MMSc
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Lips of patients with cheilitis appear dry and scaly and may have one or more fissures. Often the lips are painful, and there may or may not be associated edema and erythema.

Cheilitis is one of the more challenging oral problems to diagnose and treat. Many cases represent a factitial disorder related to lip-licking habits, and it can be difficult to convince patients that the vermilion zone of the lip should be dry (the "wet line" is the demarcation between the labial mucosa and vermilion zone).

Some cases of cheilitis are related to contact hypersensitivity reactions to compounds found in products that commonly come into contact with the vermilion zone of the lip, including cosmetics, lip balms, toothpastes, and sunscreens (oxybenzone [benzophenone-3]).

Other cases of cheilitis are due to candidal infection related to chronic lip-licking or to the use of petrolatum-based materials that are applied to the lips. The petrolatum seals in moisture, allowing the candidal organism to thrive in the moist keratin that results.

Retinoids (isotretinoin and acitretin) are also frequent causes for this problem. High doses of vitamin A, lithium, chemotherapeutic agents (busulfan and actinomycin), d-penicillamine, isoniazid, and phenothiazine have also been reported to cause cheilitis.

Related topic: actinic cheilitis, angular cheilitis, exfoliative cheilitis


K13.0 – Diseases of lips

7847004 – Cheilitis

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Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Updated:05/03/2022
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Patient Information for Cheilitis - Oral Mucosal Lesion
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Contributors: Medical staff writer


Chapped lips (cheilitis) are lips that appear dry, scaly, and may have one or more small cracks (fissures). Often, the lips are sensitive, and there may or may not be redness (erythema) and swelling (edema) present. Retinoids (isotretinoin and acitretin) are the most frequent drug-induced causes for chapped lips. Other drugs reported to have induced chapped lips include:
  • High doses of vitamin A
  • Lithium
  • Chemotherapeutic agents (busulfan and actinomycin)
  • D-penicillamine
  • Isoniazid
  • Phenothiazine
Other possible causes of chapped lips include high fevers as well as environmental conditions, such as cold weather, dehydration, and certain vitamin deficiencies.

Who’s At Risk

Chapped lips may be seen in people of all ages. However, lip-licking cheilitis is usually seen in 7-15 year olds and is typically seen as a scaling, pink band around the mouth.

Signs & Symptoms

Chapped lips involves scaling (with or without fissures) and mild to moderate swelling of the lips.

Self-Care Guidelines

To treat chapped lips:
  • Talk to your doctor before discontinuing a medication.
  • If medications cannot be discontinued, apply petroleum jelly as often as needed.
  • Avoid lip licking because this will only worsen the condition.
  • Avoid "medicated" lip preparations because they increase the risk of developing an allergic reaction.

When to Seek Medical Care

See your primary care physician or dermatologist if you notice persistent scaling of the lips.


Lip-licking cheilitis is best treated with avoidance of the licking behavior. With drug-induced cheilitis, if it is not possible to avoid the offending drug (discuss with your doctor), frequent application of petroleum jelly may help ease lip pain and irritation.


Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1090-1091. New York: Mosby, 2003.

Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed, pp.698. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
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Cheilitis - Oral Mucosal Lesion
A medical illustration showing key findings of Cheilitis : Erythema, Lip scaling, Lips
Clinical image of Cheilitis - imageId=2817180. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'Cracked, eroded, and crusted plaques on the lips.'
Cracked, eroded, and crusted plaques on the lips.
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