Actinic Cheilitis

Health Writer

Actinic Cheilitis is a precancerous condition most often affecting the lower lip. It is sometimes called "solar cheilitis," "farmer's lip," or "sailor's lip." The most obvious symptom is chronic and persistent dryness and chapping of the lips. Many people with this will have additional precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses on other areas of the body which have been exposed to the sun. Approximately 6 to 10 percent of those with actinic cheilitis will develop squamous cell carcinoma.

Risk Factors

As with most skin cancers, fair-skinned people are more at risk of developing actinic cheilitis. It is more common in men and the elderly and there is an association between this disease and smoking. It is caused by chronic exposure to the sun's UV rays. Poor oral health and ill-fitted dentures may contribute to developing actinic cheilitis.


Dry, chapped lips are the most common symptom of actinic cheilitis. Additional symptoms include:

  • Thinning skin on the lips
  • Scaly patches, ulcers or crusting on the lips
  • Swelling of the lip
  • Redness or soreness of the lips
  • Loss of demarcation between the border of the lip and the surrounding skin

Symptoms can appear very slowly, over years, and not be noticeable in the beginning stages. You may notice some unexplained puffiness of the lips or a lessening of the division between your lips and surrounding skin. As the disease develops, your lip may become rough, dry and scaly.


Your doctor may be able to diagnosis actinic cheilitis just by looking at it. However, he may want to do a skin biopsy to make sure you haven't develop squamous cell carcinoma.


Because there is a substantial risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, doctors often opt to treat actinic cheilitis as soon as it is diagnosed. Some of the treatment options include:

Treatments may cause some initial pain and swelling but once the actinic cheilitis is properly treated, there is a low rate of recurrence.


"Actinic Cheilitis," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, University of Michigan Health System

"Actinic Cheilitis," Date Unknown, Nancy Burkhart, RDH, Ed.D., RDH Magazine

"Solar Cheilitis," 2008, Dr. Mark Duffill,