Hey Dr. G. My 7 year old son has really chapped lips this winter. He keeps licking them and licking them, and then complaining about how dry and painful they are! How can I get him to stop? It’s not infected yet but I am worried it will be if this keeps up. I remember one of my older kids needing antibiotics for that kind of infection one winter and I don’t want to go down that road again. Any advice?
Ellie, in Wisconsin
I’m seeing this at my own kitchen table Ellie! There are three important things we can do to relieve kids’ dried and painful chapped lips.
- Get your son a plain chapstick type product to keep in his pocket to use instead of licking. It makes total sense that dry lips should feel better if he wets them by licking, but this actually dries them more and makes it worse. Don’t buy a lip moisturizer with anything except petroleum jelly in it, the other moisturizers and flavors and scents sting. This should feel soothing and not at all painful. Even some 3 and 4 year olds can be trusted with their own lip moisturizer. Teach him to listen to his body and take responsibility for healing it.
- Moisturize from the inside. Winter air in cold weather climates dries skin really quickly. Drinking more and more and more water will keep his (and your and my) skin moisture-rich. So tell him to water himself: cold water, ice water, warm water, all of these are good!
- Lube up his lips while he sleeps. Most kids do not like lots of “gunk” on their face and will lick or wipe it off while awake. Take advantage of his earlier bedtime and sneak in as soon as he’s asleep to put a grape sized amount of petroleum jelly all over his lips and chin and cheeks. If you’re up late enough do it one more time before you go to bed. This intensive rehydration from the outside should show results in a few days.
You’re right to be worried about infection. If you see any painful redness underneath the chap, or any yellow or crustiness on the chapped skin or lips, have him seen by your doctor. Impetigo is a common skin infection that is caused by the bacteria that normally live on the skin getting inside. This often requires medical treatment.
As always, if you see anything that concerns you, don’t come to the internet, go to your doctor!
Anyone have any other suggestions?