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Exfoliative Cheilitis

Walking about with peeled lips can be aesthetically challenging sometimes. Boys can manage to put up with this kind of medical condition but certainly, not the girls. Apart from the hairs, one other natural endowment girls cherish so much is their lip. So, when the lips peel off, this can easily dampen the self-esteem of the women and keeps them off public functions.

Though peeling of the lips otherwise referred to as exfoliative cheilitis is a bit difficult to treat, there are a lot of home remedies you can apply to lessen the symptoms and help to improve your physical look. In this post, we shall take a look at what is exfoliative cheilitis, how it looks like, symptoms, causes, treatment, home remedies, prevention, surgery, and diet.

What is Exfoliative cheilitis?

Cheilitis refers to a condition where the lips peel off, or are inflamed. Exfoliative cheilitis is a skin condition that involves chronic peeling off and chapping of the lips. It leaves the raw lip exposed which may cause a lot of pain and discomfort. The lips also feel itchy and occasionally have a burning sensation.

Picture of Exfoliative cheilitis

This condition is known to recur continuously over a long period of time. This makes it a very painful and embarrassing repetitive situation. Exfoliative Cheilitis occurs mainly in adults below the age of 30, in both males and females. It is, however, more common in girls.

The condition can occur on its own or it may be a result of other underlying body conditions. It is important to seek medical attention when it occurs, in order to establish an effective plan for treatment.

How does Exfoliative cheilitis look like?

A person who has exfoliative cheilitis has dry chapped lips that are always peeling. This condition may affect one lip or both, but most commonly affects the lower lip. Generally, it looks like the lips are shedding skin. The skin below the peels is bright pink and very sensitive. Sometimes there is some bleeding as open wounds are left where the lips peel.


Here are some of the most common symptoms of exfoliative cheilitis:

  • Continuously peeling lips
  • Dry lips
  • Formation of sores on the lips
  • Discoloration of the lips
  • Extreme sensitivity to pain
  • Irritation and burning sensation on the lips
  • Swelling of the lips
  • Cracking of the lips
  • Bleeding from cracks and sores
  • Overgrowth of the candida yeast that is characterized by a green or yellow substance on the lips.


Doctors have been unable to establish a clear cause of this condition. A few factors, however, are considered as major triggers of exfoliative cheilitis. They include:

  • Factitious damage – This refers to a self-induced disorder where a person deliberately fakes and produces signs and symptoms of a particular disease, afterwards resuming the role of the patient. It is a self-destroying habit that leads to damage on the skin. In factitious cheilitis, it is characterized by biting, sucking, picking and licking of the lips, and also breathing using the mouth. This gradually leads to exfoliative cheilitis.
  • Poor oral hygiene – If one does not brush their teeth or use mouthwash, bacteria in the mouth multiply and affect the body adversely. Chapped lips are one such effect, along with bad breath.
  • Dehydration – Lack of enough water in the body quickly leads to a dry mouth and consequently, dry lips. Dry lips peel off quickly if not moisturized fast.
  • Overgrowth of candida fungus or yeast – Candida yeast (Candida albicans) usually exists on the human skin as a normal flora without causing any harm to it. However, some factors such as hormonal imbalances or intake of some medicines and supplements lead to growth of too much candida fungus. This leads to a yeast infection that eventually causes exfoliative cheilitis.
  • Nutritional deficiency – Occurs in a primary and secondary stage. The first stage involves lack of intake of essential minerals in the body. The secondary stage is a result of improper absorption of nutrients by the small intestines. Iron deficiency leads to poor formation of keratin which consequently leads to the shedding of lip skin.
  • HIV – People with HIV have a weak immune system that leaves their bodies vulnerable to a variety of diseases, including yeast infection leading to exfoliative cheilitis.
  • Depressed immunity – The body develops a deformity where it treats keratin as a foreign substance and removes its tissue to stop its formation. This tissue removal results to peeling of lips.
  • Excess psychological stress and trauma
  • Allergic reactions
  • Pollution
  • Insect bites

Can Exfoliative cheilitis be cured?

There may be no clear cure for this particular skin condition, but there are a few things one can follow up on to reduce its adverse effects.

There have been claims, however, of cure by use of:

  • Pot marigold or common marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  • Topical tacrolimus


Exfoliative cheilitis has proven to be resistant to treatment. Unless it is a result of other body ailments, the only way to treat it is to minimize its effects.

In other cases, however, patients have had to undergo surgeries and laser treatment due to unbearable pain, or a very unpleasant look. These surgeries include electrocautery, cryosurgery, photodynamic therapy and scalpel vermilionectomy. Laser treatment has proven to be most effective as it leaves no scars.

Pictures of  Exfoliative cheilitis

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Home remedies

Here is a small list of home remedies that can help alleviate peeling lips:

  • Application of coconut oil
  • Glycerin and milk cream paste
  • Lotions and creams with lactic acid
  • Use of natural lip balms
  • Soft dabbing with vinegar and water
  • Application of olive oil
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Application of lemon juice
  • Application of pineapple juice
  • Sunscreen
  • Milk and rose petals paste


  • Drink a lot of water and other fluids like fruit juices to avoid dehydration.
  • Protect your lips from any form of pollution. For instance, you can cover your lips with a scarf in presence of polluted air.
  • Use lip products that are authentic and right for your skin type
  • Ensure that you maintain a healthy sleeping cycle. Don’t sleep for less than 6 hours, and don’t replace your sleep with work.
  • Practice oral hygiene. Brush at least twice every day and use mouthwash to get rid of bacteria in the mouth.
  • Practice healthy eating. Make sure you take a balanced diet with all nutrients and minerals required for body growth and development.
  • Take supplements to boost levels of iron in the body and prevent vitamin deficiency.
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to boost the levels of vitamins and iron in the body.
  • People suffering from HIV should take ARVs as prescribed in order to strengthen their immune systems and ward off any opportunistic diseases such as exfoliative cheilitis.
  • Those undergoing stress, trauma or depression should seek psychological help as soon as possible to help avoid self-destructive patterns and conditions such as factitious cheilitis.
  • Apply hydrating lip balms often to keep the lips moisturized.
  • Take the appropriate medication in case of allergic reactions.


The following are a few surgeries that have been performed in attempt to treat exfoliative cheilitis. It is worth noting that there have been very few reports of success as the condition keeps recurring even after surgery.

Cryosurgery – This involves use of very cold temperatures to remove defective skin or tissue. Liquid nitrogen is applied on the lips. The shedding tissue then comes off and is later replaced by a healthy tissue that does not peel off.

Photo dynamic therapy – This refers to the destruction of damaged tissue by use of a drug that is activated by exposure to certain wavelengths of light. The drug is applied on the lips, given some time to reach the tissue then it is finally exposed to controlled amounts of light that destroy the tissue. A new healthy tissue is usually expected to grow and replace the damaged one.

Electrocautery -This involves using needles that are electrically heated to remove the lip tissue by burning it. Blood vessels are burned in order to prevent too much bleeding.

It would be very painful and pointless to go through an entirely expensive and excruciating surgical process in an effort to cure peeling lips, only for them to start peeling again after recovery. It would therefore be deemed wise to consider other available and less painful options before deciding on a surgery.


Anyone suffering from exfoliative cheilitis should have well balanced diets that have all the crucial minerals and nutrients that the body needs such as vitamins, carotene and fatty acids. They are important for body growth, development and boosting of the immune system. Iron and vitamins should be present in high quantity. If they are absent, supplements should be taken.

Here is a recommended diet for anyone experiencing this skin condition:

  • Omega-3 capsules
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Flax seeds
  • Brussels
  • Broccoli
  • Organic fish, chicken and beef
  • Organic kale and spinach
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Beans
  • Peanut butter

It is important to avoid too much sugar and carbohydrates. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the skin and should be avoided too, along with other low nutrient foods.


It is important to note that exfoliative cheilitis is not a life threatening condition. In most cases, it will only result to peeling off and extreme sensitivity of the lips. It is important, however, to have it diagnosed as it could be a symptom of a more serious body condition. To avoid it, one should practice good oral hygiene and good eating habits. Iron and vitamins are essential in preventing this kind of skin condition. One should also avoid licking and picking on their lips as it leads to chronic chapping and shedding of the lip tissue.

Meanwhile, as more research is being conducted to establish a viable cure, every individual is advised to take care of their own bodies by practicing healthy living.

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