Chapped lips, cold sores and chemotherapy



Chapped lips refer to a common condition in which the lips become dry, cracked and sore. If marked, this can lead to bleeding and secondary infection.  A number of other factors contribute to itís incidence and severity of chapped lips including overexposure to the sun or cold wind, dehydration particularly associated with alcohol intake. The incidence and severity of chapped lips significantly increases to over 67% during and after chemotherapy. Other drugs which cause oral dryness including codeine, opiates, anti cholinergics and aromatase inhibitors.   Professor Thomas conducted and published a study which showed that people who regularly used natural based creams during chemotherapy had a better perceived benefit compared to petroleum based products. This study also observed that patients who had chapped lips where more likely to develop cold sores. (see full paper in Focus on Cancer medicine). 

Cold sores: A number of infective conditions can affect the lips including bacteria and fungi, but the most common in the community, by far, is the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Acute episodes are characterised by the presence of red, swollen areas on the mucous membrane or skin, with fluid-filled blisters which can be disfiguring and painful.  The HSV, once caught, lies dormant in the facial nerve ganglion.  Cold sore episodes occur when the HSV migrates down the nerve to the dermis in and around the lips.  Although strategies to prevent an acute episode have so far been unsuccessful topical or systemic anti-viral agents such as acyclovir, docosanol, penciclovir or valacyclovir, have been shown to shorten the length of the attack if used early in an episode.


The precise triggers for these acute episodes are not certain, but there are associations with iron deficiency, psychological stress and a history of aphthous ulcers. The research study, mentioned above, published  in the Journal Focus on Cancer Medicine, suggests hat there is a link between chapped lips and cold sores, as 79-82% of patients with cold sores also suffered from chapped lips, as opposed to 18-21% who did not.  Many advise looking at measuring the levels of micro-nutrients in the diet if cold sores are common to see if there is an excess or deficiency in the levelsof essential nutrients which may effect the immunity.


What can you do to protect your lips:

  • Moisturise your lips from the start of chemotherapy
  • Use a natural oil based lip balm regularly
  • Apply balms more liberally before flying or before drinking alcohol
  • Avoid dehydration - drink enough throughout the day
  • Before sun exposure apply a sun screen and a natural lip balm afterwards
  • Protect the lips from the wind
  • Ensure a good nutrition (if chapping or old sores persistent consider micro-nutritional testing)
  • Avoid licking the lips excessively
  • Avoid trauma to the lips - chewing, dry crisps etc
  • Exercise regularly but apply moisturiser before activity
  • Apply anti-virals  as soon as the tingling of cold sores starts
  • If more than one cold sore develops during chemotherapy consider oral anti-virals early:


Nature medical lip remedy:
  • Specifically design to protect lips during chemo
  • Only natural plant bases
  • Polyphenol rich essential oils
  • Rare anti-inflammatory plant extracts
  • Deeply moisturizing with natural anti-oxidants
  • Ant-microbial and antiviral properties

Available direct from UK 

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