Dry lips and skin in the hospice setting

Hospice nurses and nurse’s aides working in end-of-life care all know how important it is to find the right product to soothe stressed skin.  I think any caregiver at home or family member visiting a loved one in a skilled nursing facility or inpatient hospice unit will quickly notice skin changes.  Lips almost always become dry when mouth breathing occurs; winter weather and heating make skin conditions worse for those confined inside; natural nutrition and elimination changes contribute to lack of hydration.  Certain illnesses and medication side effects also contribute to skin and dry mouth conditions.

Improve the conditions for more comfortable skin:

  • Be aware – Inspect skin
  • Give more attention to the products being used
  • Increase the frequency that the products are applied
  • Consider dry skin as a source of discomfort; especially dry hands, feet, lips, and the face.
  • Remember – Each hand has 1000 nerve endings, each foot, 7200.  The face has a rich supply for nerves for sensitivity to protect vital sensory organs, like the eyes.  The more nerve endings involved in the location of dry skin, the more discomfort from dry skin.

The Skin – Lotion Application

Applying lotion once a day after the bath is usually not enough moisture for all day comfort.  Hydrate the legs, feet, arms and hands, shoulders and neck, with particular attention to the hands, feet and face.   Two, three, or even four applications of a good hydrating cream, unscented, is best.  I like to use massage cream because massage lotions and creams are usually made from nut and seed oils, are organic, and are made to stay on healthy skin for glide in a massage therapy session.  In hospice care, the same product works with excellence to hydrate and soothe the conditions unique to end of life.  A very favorite product is a lavender-infused shea butter, a hard product that softens up on warm skin.  If your loved one has very cracked and dry, peeling, dehydrated skin usually found on feet (heels), look online or go to a natural health food supplier and ask for a thick hard shea butter in a small tin canister.

In the last days of life moisturizer should be lightly applied to the forehead, around the eyes, on the face overall, and the back of the neck and along the shoulders.  If massage cream is not available, use whatever favorite product is in the home, or buy some of the therapeutic lotions available at pharmacies.

The Lips

For the lips, coconut oil (white congealed oil that can be found in the cooking aisle of the grocery store) is a great product.  Coconut oil has a wonderful feel, is not thick or heavy, blends into the natural oil of the skin nicely, and it soothes chapped lips without a taste.  In the last days of life this product is particularly useful.  Apply it 5 – 6 times a day if your loved one is mouth breathing. Every time you use the toothettes for mouth care, follow up with a light layer of coconut oil.   Vaseline is often used for lips and is acceptable, but coconut oil is a better natural option.


Never use a petroleum based skin / lip product (such as Vaseline) if oxygen is being used. 

Water based gels can be used if oxygen is in use; apply it much more frequently as it dries and peels quickly. 


Holy Redeemer

Holy Redeemer

For nearly 80 years, the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer have served the community through their mission to care, comfort, and heal. The visionary Sisters created a health system committed to helping people achieve optimal health no matter where they are in life. This includes delivering exceptional medical care not only within the hospital, but also through our outpatient, home care, and long-term care facilities and services. As a result, our health system is well-positioned to serve the community now and in the future.
Holy Redeemer

2 Responses to “Dry lips and skin in the hospice setting”

  1. Lucy Crissinger LMT

    Try mixing the two – I have created a whipped butter that I use in the place of massage oil/lotion. Simply Organic Coconut oil , Organic Shea butter and a wee bit 1-2T of ground tapioca per 2 pounds of mixture . I use a 1:1 ratio…Skin adores it ….keeps it ultra moisturized and is gentle. no parabens , preservatives..scent…

  2. Beth Villante RN, LMT

    I really like the idea of using coconut oil on the lips. I use it as a face cream sometimes. Shea butter is a favorite too!


Leave a Reply