Types of Sun Damage: Actinic Cheilitis

Actinic cheilitis is caused by excessive sun exposure to the lips. It usually affects the bottom lip and is often precancerous. Actinic cheilitis is most commonly seen in older males, usually over the age of 50, and often farmers who spend all day in the hot sun. Fair-skinned individuals are also at higher risk of developing this type of sun damage. Tobacco use increases the rick for developing acnitic cheilitis. This includes chewing tobacco and cigarettes.


Actinic cheilitis will most often start out with dry, chapped lips. The lips may also appear pale or red in color. They may then develop bumps on the lips which can be crusty or scaly. In more serious cases the lips can develop ulcers on them. These can be very painful and uncomfortable symptoms. Actinic cheilitis cannot be reversed. Of those affected, around 10 percent will develop cancer.


There are ways to prevent this type of sun damage. The best way to avoid developing actinic cheilitiis is avoid excess exposure to the sun. This includes staying out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day, which are between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If it is not possible to avoid the sun, then it's best to protect yourself. You can protect your lips from the sun by applying a lip balm which contains a good sunblock. You will need to reapply the lip balm often. This will help to avoid excessive drying of the lips and protect them from the sun. Wearing a hat when you are in the sun will also help protect your lips. Applying sunblock and wearing a hat will halve your chances of developing this type of sun damage. It is also best to avoid the use of tobacco of any kind.


Treatment of actinic cheilitis may involve cutting out the affected area of the lip. If the cells are not cancerous, less invasive measures may be used. These procedures may include dermabrasion or laser treatments which will remove the outer layers of the lip. There are also topical creams that may be prescribed if it's a mild case. If it is ignored and cancer does develop, the cancer cells will need to be cut out and chemotherapy may be needed, depending on whether the cancer cells have spread.

If you are experiencing dry, chapped lips which do not heal, you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. He will be able to decide if further work is necessary for determining a diagnosis. In some cases your doctor may want to perform a lip biopsy to determine if there are precancerous cells present. The earlier you discover actinic cheilitis, the better the outcome will be.