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Adults are familiar with chapped lips during cold, dry, wintery weather, but they rarely rise above the level of annoyance. For some children, however, chapped lips can be a more serious problem. Children experience chapped lips for many of the same reasons as adults, but some children experience chapping of not just the lips but the skin surrounding both the upper and lower lips, as well. This more severe condition is known as lip licker’s dermatitis and can last for months.

Children with lip licker’s dermatitis often have red, scaly, dry patches over the lips, the borders of the lips, and on the skin above and below. The condition typically waxes and wanes and can become so bad that the skin can crack, bleed, and become quite uncomfortable. These children often, but not always, have eczema on other parts of their bodies. The dermatitis is caused by the saliva irritating the skin and often starts with the child innocently licking their lips to keep them moist. Once the dermatitis starts, the child will continue to lick to relieve the itching and discomfort, making the problem even worse.

The key to conquering lip licker’s dermatitis is to liberally coat the mouth and skin with a gentle emollient. Vaseline® or Aquaphor® are good because they are gentle, thick, and won’t sting or taste bad. Avoiding stick formulations commonly found in the drug store is a good idea because most contain an alcohol-based ingredient that can burn or perpetuate the dryness. Apply the emollient as often as possible throughout the day, and coat especially well overnight so the skin has a chance to heal. Asking the child not to lick his or her lips just calls attention to the mouth and nearly always results in increased, not decreased, lip licking.

Occasionally, the child will require something stronger, such as a very mild topical steroid, antibiotic cream, or antifungal cream. If liberal use of emollients day and night does not help, or the rash suddenly begins to spread quickly, see your child’s pediatrician.

In addition, lip licking can sometimes be a sign of nervousness or anxiety. Uncovering the child’s source of stress can help decrease the severity and frequency of this behavior. Young children can be very hard to treat because they may be resistant to having products put on their mouths. Generally, as children age into the school years, this problem can be much easier to control.

Takeaways

  • Lip licker’s dermatitis is marked by chapped lips that extend over the lip borders and onto the adjacent skin.
  • Liberal use of a mild, alcohol-free emollient around the mouth and on the lips is the best way to get the rash under control.
  • The rash can sometimes require an antifungal medication because it can become infected with yeast.

References

  1. Pediatric Dermatology Expert Consult – Online (Cohen) 4th Ed. Pp.88f, 252, 252f

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Comments

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  1. My 4.5 year old boy has chapped lips, but it’s not so severe that it’s lip licker’s dermatitis. Are his lips chapped because he’s dehydrated? Is it okay that I give him regular chapstick or do I need to just use Vaseline or Aquaphor? It’s interesting that the dermatitis usually occurs in children with eczema.

  2. So I might be a bit of a hypochondriac, but after reading this article, I’m sure my son has lip licker’s dermatitis! His is not from licking his lips, though, and it’s not even on his lips. He has dry patches of skin around his mouth. I’m sure it’s from his pacifier. He still sleeps with one (only naps and bedtime), and I’m sure the moisture from that plus the rubbing of the pacifier on his face while he sucks it is causing the dry spots. It doesn’t help that we’re used to 100% humidity and now that it’s cooler, the humidity is lower. I wonder if his cool mist humidifier would help at all… I’ve been putting lotion on his face at night, and it has helped, but I think I’ll try something like Vaseline or lanolin and see how that helps.

  3. This is an interesting read. My girls don’t have lip licker’s dermatitis but I have noticed lately that my four year old’s are chapped. I have very chapped lips as well and think I will try Aquaphor on both of ours. I use Aquaphor for other dry areas of my body and have never even thought about using it on my lips!

  4. I also have it

  5. Recently I bought foderma serum to use on my two year old’s face. She gets horrible eczema around her mouth and chin. I like to use natural and organic and tried other homemade recipes, but nothing I tried helped it completely. After using foderma serum a few times the first day, it was noticeably better. And by the next night it appeared to be healed. We apply now morning and night. I like the light scent, too. I highly recommended foderma serum

    1. Thank you for the recommendation, Austin! I’m so glad the eczema is clearing up!