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Dry and chapped lips can signal serious health conditions. When should you worry?

Dehydrated lips can be the result of minor health problems, but sometimes they can signal serious allergic reactions or even skin cancer.

Drying and cracking of the lips can be triggered by many things and it is important to differentiate between minor problems and those that need to be investigated by doctors. Here’s what Dr. Day and Dr. Friedman, dermatologists interviewed by Women’s Health, say about dehydration of the lips.

Factors that may cause dehydration of the lips and signs of serious health conditions:

1. Salty or spicy foods

Salty foods can affect the skin. As Dr. Day explains, salt retains water, so it can absorb moisture from the lips. Spicy snacks may also cause skin irritation and water loss.

2. Frequent moistening of the lips

Saliva is made up of enzymes that break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates, which are also components of the skin on the lips.

3. Sunburn

Lips do not have a layer of skin that protects the tissues from UV rays, prolonged sun exposure without wearing a lip balm with SPF leads to dehydration of the lips. In addition, inflammation from a sunburn can lead to cracking and flaking.

4. Medication

Certain medications may cause severe damage to the lips. Dr. Friedman says that this is a common problem for many patients who use anti-acne medications. For example, dry and cracked skin is the number one side effect of Accutane, so patients should use a lip balm often if taking this medicine.

5. Actinic cheilitis

Actinic cheilitis is a premalignant keratosis of the lip caused by chronic exposure to solar radiation. In other words, according Dr. Friedman, the skin has been affected by sun exposure so much that it cannot repair itself. Actinic cheilitis is the most common in the elderly, and that’s why many cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the lower lip are diagnosed in the elderly.

6. Vitamin deficiency

Various vitamin B deficiencies can lead to dry, cracked, irritated lips, usually accompanied by a rash around the mouth.

7. Allergic reaction or irritating contact dermatitis

Dr. Day says that an allergic reaction will cause not only peeling of the skin, but also a diffuse redness and inflammation around the lips. An allergic reaction accompanied by itching and may be caused by ingredients in personal care products.

8. Lichen planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory skin condition. It usually appears as itchy purple bumps on the body, or sometimes on the lips.

9. Paraneoplastic pemphigus

This condition is a very rare autoimmune disease associated with cancer. Although it can appear as a rash, the characteristic sign is oral erosion: the lips will crack, causing pain, redness and inflammation around the mouth.

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