Can Supplements Prevent Chapped Lips? Deficiencies to Watch Out For

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    Chapped lips have a number of causes, including vitamin deficiencies. Read on to learn more about which deficiencies to watch out for.

    We all know what chapped lips are like – the dryness, the cracking, the sandpaper feeling. It’s a common situation and it’s often caused by cold weather, sun exposure, or dehydration. Because lips lack the oil glands that other parts of the skin possess, they’re more vulnerable to losing moisture.

    In some cases, dry lips can be a sign of vitamin deficiencies. Learn more about which nutrients may impact the health of your lips.

    1. Iron deficiency

    Iron is very important for skin health. If you’re noticing dry, irritated chapped lips, an iron deficiency could be a cause. Iron is a vital nutrient for health, but too much can cause significant problems, too. Iron deficiency is more common in people born female, especially throughout the years involving menstruation or pregnancy. People who follow vegan or plant-based diets may also have inadequate intake. Iron is harder to absorb, so people with malabsorption issues may not be able to get enough from foods.

    Before you take an iron supplement, have your medical provider test your levels. Iron, ferritin, and a complete blood count (CBC) are typically used to determine your iron status. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron is 8 mg for people born male and for people born female over age 51. It is 18 mg for people born female under age 51. Iron RDA increases to 27 mg for pregnancy and 9 mg for lactation.

    2. Vitamin A deficiency

    Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is necessary for healthy skin, eyes, and immunity. Deficiency is not common in the United States or other developed countries. However, excessive intake that may occur from retinoid therapy can also cause dry lips and other skin issues. Because vitamin A is stored in the liver, it’s possible to get too much, especially if you take vitamin A supplements. Work with your doctor to determine if a retinol vitamin A supplement is safe for you. Beta-carotene supplements, which can be converted to vitamin A in the gut, do not pose a risk, since the body will only make the conversion if the nutrient is needed.

    You can get vitamin A from foods like beef liver, coldwater fish, dairy products, and eggs. Beta-carotene is found in foods that are yellow-orange, like sweet potatoes, melon, carrots, squash, and pumpkin.

    3. Vitamin C deficiency

    Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an essential role in supporting wound recovery and maintaining the immune system. The body cannot store vitamin C, so it needs to be consumed on a daily basis. Vitamin C has plenty of food sources, most of them fruits and vegetables. Outright deficiency is not common, but some people have higher needs than others. If you eat a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other necessary nutrients, you probably get enough. But vitamin C supplements are common, and your doctor may recommend one even if you think you get enough from foods.

    4. Zinc deficiency

    Zinc is an essential mineral in your body with a wide range of functions. Six percent of all the zinc in your body is located in the skin, and skin is the third most zinc-abundant tissue in the body. Zinc is required for the synthesis of protein and collagen, which supports the recovery of wounds and the promotion of healthy skin.

    Zinc has been studied for many years and is praised for its antioxidant properties. So, if you want to take care of your skin, you can’t ignore zinc. A zinc deficiency can impair skin health and even cause chapped lips. Consult with a medical professional to see if a zinc supplement is right for you. The RDA for zinc is 11 mg for people born male and 8 mg for people born female.

    5. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) deficiency

    Riboflavin, commonly known as vitamin B2, is a necessary component of various enzymes that are needed for energy production, cell functionality, growth, and development. It’s also needed for energy metabolism and the conversion of amino acids. All of these features make it a vital component for healthy skin and all other tissues in the body.

    Deficiencies of riboflavin are rare in the developed world. However, certain conditions can lead to inadequate levels, such as issues with gut absorption. One of the telltale signs of a riboflavin deficiency is issues concerning the mouth and tongue, as well as chapped and dry lips.

    Riboflavin can be found in a wide variety of foods, such as beef liver, fortified cereal, oats, yogurt, milk, beef, clams, almonds, cheese, and mushrooms. If you are seeking an additional boost, there are supplements available, typically as part of a multivitamin or B complex, though riboflavin can also be found as a standalone supplement. The RDA is 1.3 mg for people born male and 1.1 mg for people born female.

    6. Niacin (Vitamin B3) deficiency

    Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is a constituent of over 400 enzymes in the body – surpassing any other vitamin-derived coenzyme. It’s necessary for most metabolic reactions, playing an integral role in energy production, cell functioning, gene expression, DNA integrity, and cell communication. An overt deficiency of niacin is rare, but inadequate levels can affect skin health. Malabsorption, genetics, and side effects of certain medications can all impact niacin levels and, in turn, skin health.

    Niacin supplements may be recommended to support adequate intake and overall skin health. A deficiency of niacin might present as dry or chapped skin. Niacin can even be combined with emollients and other fatty acids, creating topical applications aimed at nourishing healthy lips.

    You can get niacin from foods like beef liver, chicken, marinara, turkey, salmon, tuna, pork, beef, brown rice, peanuts, and fortified cereals. Supplements are available, and niacin is often included in B complex or multivitamin formulations. It can also be found in standalone supplements. The RDA is 16 mg for people born male and 14 mg for people born female.

    7. Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) deficiency

    Pyridoxine, more commonly known as vitamin B6, is mainly responsible for metabolizing proteins. The amino acids derived from protein are necessary for sustaining tissue health, including that of the skin. Inadequate intake or deficiencies of vitamin B6 can lead to many side effects, including dry skin.

    Vitamin B6 works with other B vitamins synergistically, and low levels of one B vitamin are commonly associated with lower levels of many of them. B-complex as a whole is necessary for healthy skin.

    To ensure you’re receiving optimal amounts of B6, consider incorporating foods like chickpeas, beef, tuna, salmon, poultry, potatoes, cottage cheese, squash, and nuts. Like other B vitamins, B6 can be found in multivitamins, a B complex supplement, or on its own. The RDA is 1.3 mg for all adults through age 50, with the needs rising modestly for older adults.

    8. Folate (Vitamin B9) deficiency

    Folate (vitamin B9) is a B vitamin that is necessary for metabolism, cell function, and energy production. It plays a direct role in maintaining the health of oral mucosa. A deficiency in folate can present a myriad of changes in skin and tissue, including symptoms associated with the tongue, mouth, lips, skin, hair, and nails. One sign of low folate includes excessive licking of the lips, which can also worsen dry lips in general. These signs typically only appear after prolonged periods of inadequate levels. Once addressed with proper supplementation and dietary adjustments, the symptoms tend to resolve. Since folate is water-soluble, the body requires a consistent daily intake.

    You can get folate from many foods, including spinach, black-eyed peas, fortified breakfast cereals, rice, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, romaine, avocado, spinach, broccoli, and mustard greens. Supplements are also available, with folate often being a component of multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, and B complexes, or it can be taken on its own. It’s important to note that there is a difference between folate and its synthetic counterpart, folic acid.

    The RDA for folate is 400 mcg DFE (Dietary Folate Equivalents) for all adults, with an increased requirement of 600 mcg DFE during pregnancy.

    9. Vitamin B12 deficiency

    Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is essential for the formation of healthy red blood cells, DNA synthesis, and various cellular processes that affect tissues, including the skin and lips. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can impact many things, including the nervous system, skin, and energy levels.

    Inadequate B12 levels can directly impact oral tissues, including the tongue, gums, lips, and surrounding mouth area. B12 is also needed for iron metabolism. Without enough iron, the body cannot effectively transport oxygen to tissues. Low levels of B vitamins, iron, or both can negatively affect oral and skin health.

    To keep vitamin B12 levels balanced, eat foods that are rich in this nutrient: beef liver, clams, salmon, tuna, beef, milk, nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, and dairy products. To bridge any dietary gaps, vitamin B12 can be found in most multivitamins, B complexes, prenatals, or as a standalone supplement. The RDA for all adults is 2.4 mcg per day.

    Holistic approaches for soothing chapped lips

    You can support healthy, moisturized lips by staying hydrated and drinking enough water. You can also apply a quality lip balm throughout the day, avoid direct exposure to cold weather conditions, and use a humidifier in your living space to reduce dry air.

    The Bottom Line

    Chapped lips are uncomfortable, but a common occurrence that can be caused by a number of factors. Focus on practical tips for managing dry lips, understand external triggers, such as the weather, and consider the role of nutrition in maintaining optimal lip health. Support healthy lips and skin with a nutrient-dense diet and a high-quality lip balm. If you have nutrient deficiencies, work with your healthcare provider to find the best dietary supplements to support your needs.

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    Mia McNew, MS
    Medical Content Reviewer
    Mia McNew is a nutrition science researcher with bachelor's and master's degrees in nutrition science and biochemistry. She holds additional certifications in clinical nutrition and formerly managed a private nutrition practice focusing on fertility and the management of chronic health and autoimmune disorders. She is currently pursuing a PhD in human nutrition with a research focus on disability, underserved populations, and inequities in popular nutrition therapy approaches. She has extensive experience as a fact-checker, researcher, and critical research analyst and is passionate about science and health communications that provide practical support.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.