Actinic cheilitis is an inflammation of the lip brought on by chronic sun exposure. It almost always only affects the lower lip as its location causes it to catch a proportionally larger amount of UV radiation than the upper lip, and the corners of the mouth are usually unaffected.
The severity of this condition can range from painless dryness, cracking, and discoloration to painful ulcerations, scaling, and thickening. This is a pre-cancerous lesion that can progress into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.
Factors that increase risk for developing actinic cheilitis include chronic sun exposure and previous sunburn of lower lip, fair skin and hair, male sex, and smoking.
Cryosurgery is a very effective and commonly used treatment for actinic cheilitis, though it can be very painful. Other treatment options include topical treatments such as 5-fluorouracil and imiquimod, electrosurgery, surgical treatment, and laser ablation. All treatments for actinic cheilitis carry some level of pain and risk of scarring.
Therefore, the first measure against actinic cheilitis should be preventative – wear chap stick or lip balm with sunscreen or a hat and avoid sun exposure. Contact your dermatologist if you are experiencing actinic cheilitis for evaluation and treatment.