New lips every day
April 26, 2015 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Within an hour of waking up every day, my lips swell and start drying up. In a couple hours I can peel off a layer of skin, including a bit above the top lip. It's painful, unattractive and annoying.

This has been going on for a couple months - I've tried eating different foods, drinking plenty of water, different morning routines, and eating a variety of foods. The only change that happened around the time this started is that I moved to a new - furnished - apartment.

I've been using all kinds of chapsticks and moisturizers - straight vaseline cures the symptoms but they always come back the next day.

Does this sound like an allergy or something worse? I'm moving to a new place in three weeks, so I'm hoping that fixes it. Any ideas or advice?
posted by bendy to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe dust mites in the mattress?
posted by brujita at 8:49 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Add a humidifier to your bedroom.
posted by littlewater at 8:52 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

This sounds very strange. No idea what's going on with you, but here's some tips to mitigate it:

-exfoliate your lips. I do this when I wash my face or after I get out of the shower. Nothing involved; I just rub them on a towel to get off whatever lip skin residuals are hanging around.

-Vaseline all the time. Before bed, when you wake up, *especially* after you exfoliate, and midday. Never let your lips dry out or get to the point where you need to lick them.

Is there any chance you've changed up your toothbrush or toothpaste in the last few weeks? Whenever I change toothpaste or style of toothbrush my mouth skin sloughs off for a few days until I get used to it. My dentist says I'm sensitive.
posted by phunniemee at 8:53 PM on April 26, 2015

I'd get a new pillow, just in case this might be dustmite related.

Also, are you using any new hair products? If you're allergic to a hair product, it could be transferring to your pillow as you sleep, then rubbing on your face. Lips can be pretty sensitive.

And not to start a discussion on gluten or anything (really), but I had terribly swollen lips for a while until I discovered a sensitivity to wheat, sweets, and alcohol. I eliminated or reduced intake of all three and things settled down naturally.
posted by mochapickle at 9:08 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know this probably isn't the answer you want, but you should talk to a dermatologist. There are a million things this could be, and you could waste a lot of time and money experimenting at home while you try to figure it out yourself.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:27 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Did you change your shampoo or soap? Does this happen before or after you shower?
posted by zippy at 9:51 PM on April 26, 2015

Response by poster: Before the shower.

The idea of introducing a humidifier seems like the best. My place is right on the Willamette, only separated by the greenway trail. The river may be a little toxic?
posted by bendy at 10:12 PM on April 26, 2015

The only thing that has worked for my chronically dry lips is Kiehl's lip balm. I have no idea why it works so much better for me than anything else, but it does.

I have 3 or 4 tubs scattered between various bags, work and one next to my bed. When my lips get bad, I put on a ton before going to bed, when I inevitably wake up during the night I reapply. This will usually heal my lips within 24 hours.
posted by whoaali at 10:21 PM on April 26, 2015

If you live by the Willamette, your ambient humidity should be spectacular most of the time. Humidifiers just make the air more humid, they do nothing about toxic rivers (and that's a low likelihood anyway - mold from the ambient humidity would make more sense). Maybe if you have very good central heat, it might wring enough moisture out of your air to make it dry but it seems like a pretty low likelihood.

You might be drooling or vigorously licking in your sleep, but I think if the move doesn't solve the problem you should see a dermatologist.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:26 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

What about your tap and shower water? Maybe something's off about your pipes or water supply?
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:41 PM on April 26, 2015

Do you use whitening toothpaste, by chance? Whatever is in that makes the entire top layer of the inside of my mouth peel every time right up to the dry outer part of my lips. (Hence I avoid it!)
posted by cecic at 10:55 PM on April 26, 2015

As a person with chronically chapped lips(which seem to be genetic, all my freaking life) if it happened to me after a move in to a new place with furniture that wasn't mine i'd be heading straight to the dermatologist and investigating any sort of pest or environmental issues.

I've noticed weird changes like this after staying somewhere for several days that had a mold problem. Just screwing with the mucusy parts of your body.
posted by emptythought at 11:23 PM on April 26, 2015

I've had similar issues before, with my lips and the area around them getting severely dry, chapped and swollen. ChapStick and moisturizer often exacerbated the issue. Each time, I was prescribed hydrocortisone cream and it cleared up right away. I still have no idea what the root cause of it was, but I've always had sensitive skin (acne, eczema). YMMV, but I'd ask your doctor about this option if nothing else helps.
posted by thebots at 11:57 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is kind of out of left field, I know, but – by any chance have you ever played a reed instrument? I did (clarinet then saxophone, for 10 years), and 20 years later I still have constant chapped lips right where my reed touched, only ever on my bottom lip. I also have sensitive skin.

Balm, balm, balm. Keep those lips moisturized. Exfoliate in your shower, it's pretty easy: wait a few minutes for the heat to soften things up, then rub your hand on your lip until stuff has sloughed off. You'll feel it. Then more lip balm.

As for the Willamette, it's one of the least polluted rivers in the world, and Oregon has some of the cleanest air (apart from the Willamette Valley's sky-high pollen counts, anyway). So it's not that.

Speaking of pollen. Does it get worse in spring and then in mid-autumn? Allergies. If you don't have them before moving to the Willamette Valley, you end up developing them. Seriously, this is a thing. Oregon, grass seed capital of the world.

See a dermatologist if it really bothers you, but if there's nothing else wrong with you, it's probably "just" sensitive skin that needs a proactive touch.
posted by fraula at 1:14 AM on April 27, 2015

Have your sleep habits (or something) changed in a way that you, say, sleep with your mouth open? Because I get mouth gunk, but only when I sleep with my mouth open.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:46 AM on April 27, 2015

I'd second putting on a ton before bed. I don't have the area around my lips peel very often, but my lips do peel a fair bit, and I am in the habit of pretty much just putting on lip balm constantly, because I live in the desert and that is just how life is here. (But it sounds like yours is unusually related to sleeping.)

I've heard advice involving just slathering pure Vitamin E on lips, and I've done it when things have gotten really bad before, but I'm not sure if that actually helped. You might want to try a lip balm with that in it, though.

You might also check your balms' ingredients to see if they have lanolin in them; some people are allergic to that, and if you're one of them, you might be encouraging a vicious cycle by using them.
posted by NoraReed at 2:59 AM on April 27, 2015

You might stop using any and all products on your lips. If that doesn't help, see a dermatologist.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:55 AM on April 27, 2015

I can't find a source that isn't totally woo, but I have heard that chapped lips can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. I know that a couple of years ago I had chapped lips that just wouldn't get better, and when I added a B12 supplement to my diet they improved. I didn't take mega-doses or anything, just a plain old OTC vitamin supplement taken daily. Maybe give that a try?
posted by Janta at 5:41 AM on April 27, 2015

I grew up in the Willamette Valley, and if my lips were peeling off (!) regularly (!!) for months (!!!), I'd be in a doctor's office faster than you could say Oregon Country Fair.

If that isn't an option for some reason, start a diary of food, cosmetic products, laundry detergent, etc. and start eliminating them as methodically as possible. If anything else is going on with your skin, make note of that.
posted by wakannai at 7:23 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you take antihistamines? For years my lips got incredibly dry (and red) at certain times of the year and they would start peeling within a few days. No amount of moisturizer would help. I thought it was a side effect of seasonal allergies, but I finally realized it was actually caused by the antihistamines I was taking to fight the allergies. In my case, mostly Claritin.
posted by bassomatic at 7:38 AM on April 27, 2015

See a doctor.
posted by heathrowga at 12:33 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm sensitive or slightly allergic to many lip balm/lipsticks. My lips don't swell but the top layer of skin dries out and peels off. If your lips are peeling after you put something on them, then that might be the problem. With things like this, I've had to keep ruling stuff out until I could figure out the cause.
posted by stray thoughts at 1:48 PM on April 27, 2015

If you can see a doctor and get a requisition to see a dermatologist specialist, that would be ideal. In the meantime, have you tried applying pure coconut oil? Also, zero lip-licking. In my experience, licking your lips exacerbates the problem. Coconut oil all day long
posted by leslievictoria at 7:13 PM on April 27, 2015

I have very dry lips and I too shed my lip-skin every day. I just sort of assumed it was something that people with dry skin get. I don't know about lip swelling though - that does sound like an allergy. Mine are plump in the morning but I wouldn't call them swollen. I thought that was a result of sleeping (since it's true of my cheeks too). I found two things which helps keep my lips moisturised and neither one of them is Vaseline since that is just a protective, barely penetrating shield.

The first one is antipodes lip balm

The second one is lanolips lemon aid

I use the second one sparingly and top up with the first one throughout the day. I bought both of these from Whole Foods UK. I don't know where they are stocked in the U.S.

Definitely go to the doctor to check if it's an allergy. You may be eating a food which although you might actually enjoy could be affecting you physically. I have lots of diagnosed allergies and food intolerances so the 2 could be related.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:34 AM on April 28, 2015

Response by poster: Follow-up - even after months of constant application of Aquaphor this is still happening though to a lesser extent. My PCP gave me a referral to a dermatologist and said that this might be a type of skin cancer. Fingers crossed that it's something else.
posted by bendy at 6:50 PM on September 17, 2015

Oh, Bendy! Jeez! Fingers crossed it's just an allergic dermatitis or something.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:32 AM on September 18, 2015

Hugs, bendy... Hoping for good news for you.
posted by mochapickle at 9:18 AM on September 18, 2015

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
After the initial dermatologist appointment in 2015 (or 2016) the steroid gel they gave me worked until I stopped using it.

I met with another dermatologist in January 2017 and she did an allergy patch test on me. It didn't start until April 2017. I had 123 patches on my back and had to wear a trash bag cape in the shower for a week to keep them from getting wet. In the end I had no allergies.

In the final reading appointment on May 1, 2017, the doctor told me that I just had severely chapped lips. She ran out of the room excited about something that I never learned the name of. She came back in with a little unmarked container of something that looked like vaseline. She said, "use this," and I did. It stung at first but helped a lot until I got the "thin skin" feeling that steroid treatments had given me.

Then I switched to Aquaphor and the pure petrolatum she gave me. It's still not completely painless or non-dry but my lips are definitely a lot better. They aren't peeling and as long as I stay consistent with the petrolatum and Aquaphor I mostly get better. There are worse days but I hope if I keep up with those two eventually I'll be back to a place where I just have non-painful lips.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:48 AM on June 13, 2017

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