Discolored or Dry Lips Can Indicate Vitamin Deficiency
Dry, chapped, or discolored lips can indicate vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Nutritional deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids can cause various lip skin issues, including dry lips, changes in lip color, and painful cracks in the corners of the mouth.
Learn why most lip balms can worsen dry lips and how to restore soft and healthy lips.
Can discolored or dry lips be a sign of nutrient deficiency?
Healthy lips require several nutrients to protect the delicate thin skin of lips from excessive sun exposure, dehydration, dry or cold weather, and environmental irritants.
In contrast to the skin on the rest of your body, lips don’t contain sebaceous oil glands that secrete sebum and help moisturize and protect the skin. This makes lips more prone to become dry and chapped.
Lack of essential nutrients can result in dehydrated lips, lack of adequate oxygen supply, inflammation of sensitive lip skin, and impaired skin cell repair.
Research published in Cutis, a peer-reviewed dermatology journal, identified seven vitamins and minerals that are vital for healthy lips:
Watch the video below to discover what your lips can tell you about your nutritional state.
What your lips say about your health
“Your lips can tell much about your nutritional status," explains Dr. Berg. “Nutritional deficiencies are common and may be the reason for discolored or dry lips.”
While nutrient deficiencies can develop due to poor dietary habits, they can also be linked to impaired nutrient absorption caused by gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, low stomach acid, or sluggish gallbladder function.
Here are several common lip issues and potential nutrient deficiencies they may be connected to.
Dry or chapped lips
Dry, chapped lips can indicate zinc deficiency and may be linked to low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Both zinc and omega-3 fatty acids play essential roles in maintaining healthy skin. Deficiencies can interfere with moisture retention and compromise the integrity of the skin barrier, which can cause lips to become dry and cracked.
If you suffer from persistent dry lips, it’s recommended to increase your intake of foods rich in zinc, such as oysters, seafood, meat, nuts, dairy, and eggs, or consider taking a trace mineral supplement.
Cod liver oil, wild-caught salmon, mackerels, oysters, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are rich sources of omega-3 fats and can help prevent dry lips.
Pale or gray lips
Pale lips with a gray skin tone can be caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or iron deficiency.
Vitamin B12 and iron are needed for healthy blood cell function, and deficiencies can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by ineffective transport of blood oxygen to cells and tissues.
When lip tissue does not receive adequate oxygen, lips can become pale or gray in color.
Iron and vitamin B12 are found in animal products such as organ meat, red meat, eggs, and seafood. Regularly consuming these foods can help manage pale lips.
Non-meat eaters are at increased risk of inadequate intake of iron and vitamin B12, and it’s recommended that vegans and vegetarians take a high-quality iron supplement and B vitamins to promote healthy blood oxygen supply.
In addition, copper and vitamin C deficiency can contribute to iron deficiency anemia. Copper and vitamin C are vital for iron transport, and a lack of copper or vitamin C can inhibit iron absorption and contribute to pale lips.
Cracked corners of the mouth
Vitamin B deficiencies, especially vitamins B2 and B3, have been found to cause cracked corners of the mouth and other symptoms such as dry skin, a red tongue, and a swollen mouth.
Vitamins B2 and B3 are involved in maintaining healthy skin and mucous membranes, and deficiency contributes to the development of inflamed and cracked lips.
To prevent chapped lips and painful cracks, consume plenty of foods rich in B vitamins, including eggs, cheese, and green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, and spring greens.
Darkened or blue lips
While dark lips can be a symptom of cold temperatures, tobacco smoking, or pregnancy, they also can be a symptom of more serious health problems.
Blue lips, also known as cyanosis, is typically a sign of poor blood circulation caused by respiratory infections or cardiovascular issues.
In some rare cases, blue lips develop as a result of cyanide exposure. Cyanide is a highly toxic substance that prevents blood cells from carrying oxygen to tissues.
If you suddenly develop blue lips, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider immediately to evaluate the underlying cause of cyanosis and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
Hydroxocobalamin, an elemental form of vitamin B12, has been found effective in managing cyanide-related cyanosis by eliminating cyanide from the body.
Other causes of dry lips
While nutrient deficiencies are a common reason for chapped lips, other potential causes can lead to dry and cracked lips.
In some cases, Candida and fungal infections can cause irritation and inflammation in the corners of the mouth, and supporting a diverse microflora can help keep Candida, yeast, and fungus in check.
Interestingly, lip balm use can make dry lips worse. Most lip balms are based on mineral oils and petroleum jelly, which can draw moisture and fat-soluble nutrients out of skin cells and potentially worsen lip issues.
Many lip balms contain preservatives, artificial colors, and fragrances that can irritate and inflame sensitive lip skin, and it’s best to avoid using lip balms if you are prone to dry lips.
There is evidence that taking too much vitamin A can cause lip lesions. Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that large doses of vitamin A can disrupt skin renewal and impair normal skin cell function.
Can supplements help with dry lips?
If a nutrient deficiency is the underlying cause of dry lips, taking a good-quality natural multivitamin, including trace minerals, can be an excellent way to obtain the essential nutrients needed to support healthy skin and lips.
Here are some supplements that may be beneficial in the management of dry lips:
Nutritional yeast - a rich source of B vitamins
Trace mineral complex, including zinc
Cod liver oil - a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids
“If lip issues result from sunburn, dehydration, excessive licking, skin picking or biting, dietary supplements will have limited impact,” explains Dr. Berg. “Staying hydrated, using sunscreen, keeping lips moisturized, and avoiding picking or licking your lips can help manage and prevent chapped and dry lips.”
Healthy skin requires several essential nutrients, and dry and cracked lips can be a warning sign of nutrient deficiencies.
Essential nutrients, including B vitamins, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, play a crucial role in skin barrier integrity and skin cell renewal and protect the delicate skin of lips from fluid loss, cold temperatures, and environmental irritants.
If dry lips are caused by nutrient deficiencies, taking high-quality natural supplements such as cod liver oil, nutritional yeast, and trace minerals can help restore irritated and dry lips.
1. What is the most common dry lips vitamin deficiency?
The most common dry lip vitamin deficiency is vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin. Vitamin B2 regulates many aspects of healthy lip skin, and deficiency has been found to increase the risk of dry, cracked, and irritated lips.
2. What vitamin deficiencies cause dry lips?
Research suggests that deficiencies in vitamins B2, B3, and B12 are common underlying causes of dry lips. These B vitamins work in synergy to maintain normal skin cell function, stimulate collagen synthesis, and promote cellular renewal needed to heal cracked and irritated lips.
3. Can iron deficiency cause dry lips?
Yes, iron deficiency can cause dry lips. Iron is an essential mineral that’s needed to transport oxygen throughout the body. Lack of sufficient iron can result in impaired oxygen supply to the lips, which can lead to pale lips that lack moisture.
4. What causes discolored lips?
Dark lips can be caused by several factors, including tobacco smoking, pregnancy, or prolonged sun exposure.
In some cases, dark lips that have a blue tone can be indicative of cyanosis, a condition characterized by poor blood circulation, respiratory infections, cardiovascular issues, or cyanide exposure.
Pale lips, on the other hand, are typically linked to iron-deficiency anemia or a lack of adequate vitamin B12, which can cause red blood cell issues and reduced oxygen supply to peripheral tissues, including the lips.
5. What do chapped lips say about your health?
Chapped lips can say a lot about your health. The appearance of your lips can indicate dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, sensitivities, and skin conditions.
6. Why doesn’t lip balm work for chapped lips?
Most lip balm products are based on petroleum jelly, which doesn’t moisturize your lips and may extract fat-soluble vitamins from your lips, potentially worsening dried lips caused by nutrient deficiencies.
Lip balms also often contain synthetic ingredients and preservatives that can interfere with the natural skin barrier and irritate sensitive lip skin.
7. How do I stop cracked lips?
If your cracked lips are caused by nutrient deficiencies, you may benefit from taking dietary supplements such as cod liver oil, nutritional yeast, and trace minerals and increasing your intake of foods rich in B-vitamin, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition, it’s important to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and avoid biting, picking, or licking your lips.
8. Can supplements prevent chapped lips?
Yes, supplements, including trace minerals, nutritional yeast, and cod liver oil, provide essential nutrients necessary to support healthy skin and lips and may prevent chapped, cracked, and dry lips.