I am posting this message to the forum after the recent, uncharacteristic disturbances, in hopes that the forum in its present messy and unfriendly-looking condition won't scare away its new visitors.
If you are new here and seem to have cheilitis, these are some things to think about:
I would urge you to try to figure out what the underlying reason for the lip exfoliation/irritation is, and not just to try to suppress the exfoliation with topical treatments.
You've probably already tried to figure the underlying cause out, of course. This can be caused by so many things that it's like looking for a needle in a haystack to find the solution.
When a doctor says that he/she can't determine it, or just gives it a label of an "idiopathic" or "unspecified" or "undetermined" type of "-itis" or "-osis", don't be content with that and just try to manage it topically by suppressing the symptoms -- of course, do what you need to do at the present time to make it look and feel less obvious, but also try to see what it happening in the body to make the lip skin misbehave in the first place.
Some possible causes of cheilitis:
-compulsive lip biting or licking, either now, or in the past
-cancer or pre-cancerous cell changes, often due to sun damage on the lower lip
-localized (lips only) or systemic (within many areas of the body) infection by fungus, bacteria, and/or virus
-poor dental/mouth hygiene, gum disease
-allergic reaction (a huge number of possible causes - metals, materials, chemicals, things in the air, water, foods, medicines, toiletries, carpets, coins, dental fillings, supplemental herbs, and on and on)
-hypothyroidism (10% of Americans over the age of 40 have this disease where the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone, but only a smaller percentage know that they have it -- you can also have it if you are under 40)
-imbalance of vitamins or minerals (either taking too much of some vitamins/minerals, or not getting enough, or just getting too much of one and not enough of another in an unhealthy ratio)
-other systemic physical disease/deficiency
If you have access to medical care, the first thing to do would be to see a doctor, either a GP or a dermatologist. Common investigations would include having medical tests for thyroid trouble, vitamin imbalance, fungus, yeast, bacteria, and allergies. Common first steps would be to try an anti-fungal cream/gel, maybe antibacterial cream/gel, maybe a steroid/hydrocortisone cream/gel.
If you only receive the advice to stop licking your lips and just to use a lot of vaseline on them, but you are well past that kind of simplistic step and you know that you are not causing your own lip inflammation with licking, and that it does not go away with simple chapped lips treatments like lip balm and vaseline, then you need to try out a new doctor. Some doctors seem to feel that cheilitis is not a big issue, but when you've got it, you know that it can be much more complicated than it first appears.
Allergy tests by a doctor are usually only on the top 50 or 200 or whatever allergens there are in the world. They don't test you for EVERYthing. So I would urge people to systematically, on their own, avoid every allergen that might possibly be causing their skin to have a reaction against it. Even crazy things like wool clothing, dairy foods, the nickel in coins, olive oil, garlic... all of these and many more have been proven to cause skin and lip rashes. Even things that NEVER touch your lips, but touch another part of your body, might be causing the lips to get inflamed.
I personally have a history of having allergies, so that's why I launched into seeing if I was having an allergic reaction to anything I ate, used, touched, etc. a couple of months ago when I figured out that I have cheilitis and not just momentarily-chapped lips.
Eliminating potential allergens can be an annoying and time-consuming process. but I finally found my answer(s) - I ended up discovering that I was having a bad reaction to a couple of things that i have been using with no problems for many years, but which this year suddenly made my lips really go crazy with exfoliation/irritation. I've avoided these things entirely for a few weeks now, and my lips are slowly getting back to normal. So many layers of my lips were initially damaged, that I can see each new layer growing up, exfoliating off, and then the next layer of skin has a smaller scabby area, and it continues to improve each day. I would never have guessed that, given how fast my lip skin was growing and turning over when it was so inflamed by the irritants, how slowly my lip skin would heal when it was finally not being goaded by anything to run riot. It just takes time; time, patience, kindness, and creativity.
My story and my cure:
I started having cheilitis 13 months ago, and it started when I developed foot fungus and toenail fungus for the first time in my life (I'm in my 40s). I think that the lip inflammation/exfoliation was originally caused by having the fungus get transferred from my feet to my lips, either inside my body, or externally by my fingers.
Then, when my feet and toenails were clear of the fungus, about 7 months ago, I think that my fungus-damaged lips became sensitized to some toiletry products (lotions and creams) that I had been using for many years with no problems until now.
After extensive trial and error in the past 3 months, I have found out that the following two products were causing my lips to get irritated, inflamed, and exfoliate:
1. Alpha Hydroxy Acid face lotion/gel/cream. This is also known as glycolic acid, or "AHA". Fruit acids also. Many things contain AHAs/fruit acids/glycolic acid somewhere in their ingredient list, including face wash, face lotion, Acne
treatments, body wash, soaps, body lotions, foot creams. I have been using it for 12 years with no problem before now.
2. Tea tree antiseptic ointment, Boots drugstore brand. I have used this cream frequently (never on my face though) for the last 8 years, and never had a problem with it until now. I don't think it's the tea tree oil in it that is setting my lips off, I think that it's something else in the product.
I have stopped using those two things, and my lips are now recovering. It has taken them a few weeks to recover, but it's happening, and no new exfoliation or irritation is developing. (The deeply-damaged layers of my lips from previous contact to those substances are still forming scabs and peeling off when they get to the surface of my lip, but I can tell that this is old damage, and no new damage is being done. Each day, that area of scabbing is getting smaller, like in any healing wound. Each day my lips are getting softer, more pliable, calmer.)
I have been avoiding at least 30 other common products, foods, chemicals, etc. in the past 3 months, and it might be that some of those things ALSO were causing my lips to have cheilitis. So, after my lips seem completely healthy-looking (a week or two from now, I hope), I'll add the other things back to my life slowly, to see if my lips flare up again.
The lesson from my story is that you can never know what you body might suddenly become sensitized to, and start having a serious allergic reaction to, even though before that time, you used that item or ate that food with no trouble at all. This has happened in my life with shellfish when I was 20, nail polish when I was 28, tree pollen when I was 30, chemical sunscreens when I was 38, and now at the age of 42, alpha hydroxy acids.
I really do think that a significant proportion of cheilitis sufferers whose problem is not responsive to any kind of medical or suppressive treatment and has already been proven not to be due to fungus, bacteria, or cancer are probably having an allergic reaction to something in their world, and it is being manifested by their immune system ON THEIR LIPS, and the offending substance might be easier to eliminate from their lives than they would expect.