Actinic cheilitis is a skin condition that can be referred to by many other names. Some examples of these alternative names are solar cheilitis, sailor’s lip, or even farmer’s lip. It is a lip condition that is related to or is a form of actinic keratosis. In actinic keratosis, skin areas of the body that are affected include the back of the hands, the neck, the face, the arms, and the shoulders. For this cheilitis lip problem, the target area is the skin on the lips.
Like actinic keratoses, this lip condition results from cumulative sun exposure or in other words unprotected exposure of the lips to the sun over many years. The symptoms of this problem include lips that are always dry or chapped and lips that crack often. The lips are also very wrinkled and painless lesions, sores, or ulcers are present on the lips. Although red patches may be present, the affected lips are often pale pink with whitish plaques present. Puffiness of the lips is a very common symptom as well. The border between the lips and the facial skin, which is usually sharp, tends to blur. The lower lip is affected more often than the upper lip. Theories are that the lower lip gets more sun exposure and therefore, more susceptible to solar cheilitis.
This cheilitis problem tends to occur more often in certain groups of individuals. For example, men, the elderly (over the age of 50), fair-skinned people, and people who smoke are groups that tend to be more susceptible to a solar cheilitis problem.
Actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition and therefore, if it is suspected, it should not be ignored.
Medical advice should be pursued because in up to 10 percent of these cheilitis cases, squamous cell carcinoma or lip cancer will develop.
Treatments may include removal of the affected skin cells by use of electric current therapy, destruction of the affected cells with laser treatments, surgical cutting, dermabrasion, or topical prescription creams. The choice of treatment depends on whether lip cancer is present and the extent of the lip problem.
The best prevention for actinic cheilitis is staying out of the sun or when in the sun, a lip balm with appropriate UV sun protection should be used and reapplied often.
More information on different types of keratosis: