Lips are an important part of our body, but we can easily forget to look after them. It is only when they are damaged that we pay them some attention. With summer nearly here, remember your lips are just as susceptible to sunburn, sores and cancers as the rest of your body.
Sores on your lips can be totally harmless but they might also indicate something more serious. New Zealand still has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Protection is the key, so this summer before you head outside, make sure you cover your face and your lips with a broad spectrum sunblock and wear a hat. While in the sun make sure you reapply sunblock regularly, especially to your lips. Even when inside, make sure you keep your lips moisturised so they don’t dry and crack.
Cold Sores and fungal infections
Cold sores are a recurring viral infection. If you have ever had a cold sore, another outbreak can be triggered by exposure to sun and wind, or by stress and fatigue. Use a broad spectrum lip sunblock to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Not all sores on the lips are cold sores. Often in the pharmacy people show us something they think is a cold sore but it is not. Cold sores usually start as a small group of blisters that then forms a scab. A cold sore is usually along the lip.
Cracks in the corners of the mouth that don’t heal are more commonly a fungal infection. This type of infection gets in when your lips have been dry and cracked. They are really common in children who constantly lick their lips. If you have a child who licks their lips, give them a small pot of moisturising lip balm to put on every time their lips feel dry. This is much more effective than licking; which makes the lips feel better for a short time, but actually make the dry lips worse. It is best if the lip moisturiser also contains a sunblock then it is multipurpose and will prevent sunburn and cold sores on the lips as well.
If you have a persistent sore on your lip, make sure you get it checked by a doctor. Lip sores with hard edges can be skin cancers. Cancer of the lips is common, particularly in older people and people with excessive sun exposure or smokers. Basal and squamous cell cancers often have no symptoms so people ignore them. Make sure you wear a good SPF30+ sunblock on your lips to protect you from UVA and UVB radiation when you are outdoors summer or winter.
Dark brown or black single flat spots are usually fine if they are symmetrical in shape and uniform in colour. But as with any dark skin lesion, you should still get it checked by a doctor to make sure it is not a melanoma. Most skin cancers can be easily treated with minor surgery if they are diagnosed soon enough. So always get any sore that doesn’t heal, and any lump or blemish checked by the doctor. Definitely go to the doctor if the sore has been there a while and not gone away, or a mole that appears to be changing in size and shape.
Remember sun damage to your lips (including cold sores or lip cancers) can be minimised by wearing a moisturising lip sunblock with SPF30+ and wearing a wide brimmed hat to shield your face.
Written by: Linda Caddick
This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked materials, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
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