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Lip Licker's Dermatitis

Lip dryness is, at a minimum annoying, and, at worst, painful. Dry lips may crack, become scaly and even bleed. One way to keep the lips moist is by licking them. The problem with this "treatment" is that, when done obsessively, it may result in more dryness, redness, thickening, and scaling of the skin around the lips.

This condition, called lip licker's dermatitis, is caused by habitual licking of the lips and the surrounding skin. It's actually an irritant contact dermatitis caused by saliva. The constant moisture along with certain chemicals in the saliva break down the skin, causing the dermatitis.

The most important treatment is for the child stop licking her lips. This sounds easy, but it is hard for children with dry lips. Regularly applying a bland moisturizer (one without perfumes, medications, etc.), as often as hourly, is necessary so the child won't feel the need to lick her lips. At bed time, a larger amount is needed to lessen lip licking while sleeping. In some cases prescription medications are required.

With proper treatment, lip licker's dermatitis goes away in a couple of weeks with no scarring or permanent skin damage. The best way to prevent it is by treating dry lips quickly. A non-medicated balm (Chap Stik and others) is best. But overuse of these products can lead to other problems - a suppression of the formation of the natural lubricants made by the lips which leads to constant lip dryness. To avoid this, discourage your children from routinely using lip moisturizers, saving them only when their lips are very dry and cracking.

Consultant, 2/05

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