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Newborn Chapped Lips Treatments: 7 Reasons Why

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Banish those newborn chapped lips, and learn why it happens.

Chapped lips are easily treated in adults, with a few days of intense use of lip balms and better hydration habits. Newborn chapped lips, however, require more care and attention. So what can you do when they affect your infant?

Treatment usually works quickly, but sometimes in babies, chapped lips can be a sign of another underlying condition.

Key Takeaways

  • Newborn chapped lips can be caused by skin shedding, sucking the lips, weather changes, sensitive skin, or dehydration.
  • Treat chapped lips in babies with breast milk, lanolin, baby-safe lip balm, or natural oils like coconut or olive oil.
  • Avoid using adult lip balms on babies as it contains ingredients that may not be safe for infants.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration in newborns, such as fewer wet diapers, dry skin, and sunken eyes, and consult a pediatrician if needed.

Causes of Newborn Chapped Lips

1. Skin Shedding

Skin shedding is a common cause of chapped lips. Once out of the womb, newborns begin to shed some of a layer called vernix caseosa, which protected them during gestation. It occurs anywhere on their body, including the lips.

During the process, you’ll notice peeling and dry skin. The layer worked as a natural moisturizer, so once it’s gone, the remaining skin requires some time to adapt (1).

Skin peeling is commonly seen by the time an infant is 2 weeks old, but it may be noted at birth if past 40 weeks gestation. Many parents worry that this is a sign of a skin problem, but this is not the case. The peeling is the normal process of sloughing the outermost skin layer. Applying lotions or creams will have no effect on this process.

2. Sucking the Lips

Babies are born with a notable sucking instinct that can cause them to suck their lips continually between feedings. Increased saliva on the lips can quickly dehydrate them.

“Nursing blisters” or thicker patches of loose, dry skin can commonly develop from breastfeeding. These blisters are neither painful nor a sign of infection. As the infant matures and becomes more adept at breastfeeding, they self-resolve. Because such blisters can have a whitish hue, they may be confused with oral thrush, a fungal infection that should be managed by a doctor (2).

3. Weather Changes

Fluctuating weather is a common culprit of chapped lips both in adults and babies. When the weather changes from hot to cold, it draws moisture from exposed skin, leaving a dry surface behind. It’s prevalent on brisk, windy days.

4. Sensitive skin

Sensitive skin can quickly result in chapped lips if they come in contact with an irritant.

Not all newborns have skin that’s sensitive enough to produce such a reaction. In others, it can be caused by components found in wipes, cosmetics, or detergents (3).

5. Medications

It is possible for medications to trigger chapped lips as a side effect. If your pediatrician prescribes medicine, it’s a good idea to ask them about the possible side effects. This will help prepare you and rule out other reasons for the dryness. This, however, is a very rare cause for infants and toddlers.

6. Kawasaki Diseases

Occasionally, babies with chapped lips can suffer from an illness called Kawasaki disease. While it commonly affects babies in Japan, it’s not prevalent in the U.S., but it’s still something to watch out for (4).

Kawasaki disease causes persistent fever and inflammation of blood vessels in babies and children. It generally affects babies between 6 months and 2 years. It rarely occurs in babies younger than 3 months.

In addition to chapped lips and fever, Kawasaki disease causes red rashes and swollen legs and arms.

In clinical practice, I have seen Kawasaki’s Disease in a range of patient ages, but most often in grade school-aged children. The classic presentation is a fever that lasts longer than five days and is associated with an amorphous rash on a variety of body areas, conjunctivitis without pus, and redness of the lips, tongue, and/or throat.

Usually, these kids look very sick, prompting the parent to bring them to the office or the emergency room. The chapped lips and peeling of hands usually develop later in the illness. Seeking medical care early is important for initiating treatment that prevents damage to coronary arteries (5).

Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Editor's Note:

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

7. Cheilosis

Older infants and toddlers may develop cracked skin solely at the corners of the mouth. These areas may become painful, particularly during feeding. This condition is usually caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection. If this happens to your child, seek treatment from a doctor (6).

Dehydration and Newborn Chapped Lips

Newborns can quickly become dehydrated, particularly on hot days. It occurs when they don’t receive enough breast or formula milk.

The leading sign of dehydration in newborns is a decrease in wet diapers. You can check this by counting how many wet diapers you change in 24 hours. If you see fewer than six within that time, your little one may be dehydrated (7).

It’s essential to treat dehydration promptly, and the best way is to use an electrolyte solution (8). If this doesn’t improve your baby’s condition, consult your pediatrician immediately for additional guidance (9).

Keep In Mind

After six weeks, your baby will produce fewer wet diapers, so look for a smaller number than six. By this time, you’ll likely know how many diaper changes your little one needs.

Other signs of dehydration include:

  • No tears when crying.
  • Dry skin and lips.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Cold and blotchy hands or feet.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • A sunken fontanel, or soft spot, on your baby’s head.
  • Drowsiness.

Water Is A No-No

Until 6 months of age, a baby should never drink water — unless otherwise directed by your pediatrician. Water isn’t a cure for dehydration in babies.

Giving an infant water can meddle with how their body absorbs nutrients from breast milk or formula. It’s easy to provide them with too much, which results in water intoxication — ultimately causing seizures and even coma (10).

Treatment of Chapped Lips in Newborns

treatments for chapped lips in newborn babies

1. Breast Milk

If you’re breastfeeding, you may have the perfect antidote for your newborn’s chapped lips — breast milk. Breast milk, particularly the first milk occurring after birth, containing colostrum, has loads of antibodies. Those antibodies can help fight off various ailments, including chapped lips.

Colostrum is vital to your baby’s diet during their first days. It protects from viruses and bacteria.

For your baby’s dry lips, take a few drops of breast milk and dab gently onto the area. The liquid will moisturize and soothe while also minimizing the risk of infection.

2. Try Lanolin

Lanolin is a fat derived from sheep’s wool. It is a common remedy for sore nipples caused by breastfeeding. It helps to heal and soothe cracks and sores (11).

Lanolin is safe to apply on your newborn’s chapped lips and will effectively rehydrate them.

3. Baby-Safe Lip Balm

If you feel a lip balm is a better choice for your baby, look for one that’s baby-safe. These have passed the required safety tests for usage. If opting for this method, use it only until the chapped lips are healed.

Baby-safe lip balms contain only natural ingredients — there are no colors or tastes. If you’re in doubt, consult your pediatrician before applying a new product.

4. Natural Oils

Using natural oils like coconut and olive oil can help relieve your baby’s dry lips. These oils contain moisturizing properties and are safe to use, in moderation, on newborns. Apply a minimal amount to soften and reverse the dryness of the lips.

Preventing Chapped Lips

  • Protect from the weather: An excellent way to prevent wind and cold from affecting an infant’s lips is by applying some baby-friendly lip balm or a few drops of breast milk before going out. Using a humidifier indoors helps to preserve the humidity in the air. Additionally, humidifiers can reduce dry infant skin and help with nasal congestion during cold weather months. I always recommend a cool mist version. There is no medical benefit to using a warm vaporizer (12).
  • Avoid adult moisturizers and creams: Strong creams and lotions can dry their skin even further. Stick with baby-safe products for at least the first six months.
  • Increase feedings: Feed your baby more regularly if they show signs of dehydration, including dry lips. If your infant is not feeding enough to maintain adequate hydration, you will notice firm or hard stools and less frequent wet diapers before they develop chapped lips.

Can I Apply ChapStick on My Baby?

No — ChapStick and similar adult lip balms contain ingredients you don’t want your baby to ingest.

While it’s a great product for grown-ups who know not to eat it, ChapStick is for adults only. Some of the products contain artificial flavoring and coloring — even ingredients that are hard to pronounce, like octyldodecanol, a fatty alcohol (13).

There’s a big chance a baby will swallow some of the product if it’s on their lips, so steer clear of it.

Newborn Chapped Lips FAQs

Is it Normal For Newborns to Have Chapped Lips?

Yes, newborns can have chapped lips due to their sensitive skin, and it’s generally not a cause for concern. Keeping them hydrated and using a safe lip moisturizer can help.

What is Lip Licker Syndrome?

Lip licker syndrome occurs when children habitually lick their lips, causing a red, chapped ring around the mouth. It can be treated with hydration and barrier creams.

Can Pacifiers Cause Chapped Lips?

Yes, frequent pacifier use can sometimes lead to chapped lips due to saliva evaporation and irritation around the mouth.

Can Chapped Lips Be an Allergic Reaction?

Sometimes, chapped lips can be due to an allergic reaction to food, lip care products, or environmental factors. If accompanied by other symptoms of an allergy, consult a pediatrician.

Can I Put Vaseline On My Newborn’s Lips?

Yes, a small amount of Vaseline can be applied to a newborn’s lips to help moisturize and protect them. Just use a clean fingertip to apply.

Does Baby Oil Help Dry Lips?

Baby oil can help moisturize dry lips, but it’s not typically recommended for newborns as it can be ingested and cause stomach upset.

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Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP is board certified in General Pediatrics and began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. Outside of the field of medicine, she has an interest in culinary arts. Leah Alexander has been featured on Healthline, Verywell Fit, Romper, and other high profile publications.