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.
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.
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. In fact, 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 in 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.
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 infants and toddlers.
6. Kawasaki Diseases
On occasion, 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 less than 3 months.
In addition to chapped lips and fever, Kawasaki disease causes red rashes as well as 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 5 days 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 which prompts the parent to either bring them to the office or the emergency room. The chapped lips and peeling of hands usually develop later in the course of the illness. Seeking medical care early is important for initiating treatment that prevents damage to coronary arteries (5).
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
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 develops, treatment should be sought 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 less than six within that time, your little one is likely to 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 right away for additional guidance (9).
Keep In Mind
Other signs of dehydration include:
- A sunken fontanel, or soft spot, on your baby’s head.
- No tears when crying.
- Dry skin and lips.
- Sunken eyes.
- Cold and blotchy hands or feet.
- Fast heartbeat.
Water Is a No-No
Giving an infant water can meddle with how their body absorbs nutrients from breast or formula milk. It’s easy to provide them with too much, which results in water intoxication — ultimately causing seizures and even comas (10) (11).
Treatment of Chapped Lips in Newborns
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 a vital part of your baby’s diet during their first days. It protects from viruses and bacteria (12).
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 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 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 of using a warm vaporizer-type (14).
- Avoid adult moisturizers and creams: Using strong creams and lotions can dry their skin out 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 he or she develops chapped lips.
Can I Apply ChapStick on My Baby?
No — ChapStick contains 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 (15).
There’s a big chance a baby will swallow some of the product if it’s on their lips, so steer clear of it.
Beat the Dryness
Newborn chapped lips are an occasional occurrence. It’s generally triggered by skin shedding that takes place after birth. Other things such as sensitive skin, saliva, , and even weather changes, can dry out the lips.
If you fear your baby is dehydrated, consult your pediatrician immediately. Otherwise, chapped lips are easy to treat using either breast milk, lanolin, a baby-safe lip balm, or natural oils. However, hold off on the ChapStick for now.
Soon, your baby’s lips will be rehydrated and ready for your kisses.