The Drugstore Cure for Cracked Corners of the Mouth

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The Drugstore Cure for Cracked Corners of the Mouth featured image
Photo Credits: Moravska/ Shutterstock | Model Used for Illustrative Purpose Only

There is nothing more annoying than dry, cracked corners of the mouth. Recently, I had a bout with this issue and it had me over-moisturizing my lips, to the point where it became an obsession. Those cracked corners instantly made me feel self-conscious whenever talking face to face with other people, but the truth is, it probably felt worse than it looked. But dry, cracked corners of the lips, called angular cheilitis, is a common condition, especially during times of the year when the weather is changing.

What Causes Angular Cheilitis?

Just to make sure I wasn’t doing more damage by slathering on balms, creams and Chapstick to make it go away, I reached out to experienced dermatologists to give me the lowdown on how to get rid of this pesky problem. “Cracked corners of the mouth are most commonly caused by dry weather or excessive saliva in the form of drooling or lip licking. Sometimes it can be related to medical conditions like eczema or allergic contact dermatitis, which can come from a reaction to lip balm for example,” says Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD. “In fact, lip balms or Chapstick can sometimes worsen the condition.”

“Angular cheilitis can result in painful, cracked sores and is caused by irritation to the area that leads to an opening in the skin,” adds New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD. “Often, yeast enters the skin and inflammation results.” 

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The Easy Fix

Refusing to believe I’m a chronic drooler, I chose to chalk it up to the weather. It made sense, because the skin on my face seems to react whenever the weather acts schizophrenic, why wouldn’t the skin on my mouth follow suit? Although, I am prone to excessive lip licking, as I commonly lick my lipstick off throughout the day, so that could also be the culprit.

Charlotte, NC dermatologist Gilly Munavalli, MD advised me to immediately hit the pause button on the over-treatment of my lips: “If you have dry, cracked corners of the mouth, the goal should be to minimize this irritation and to help the skin restore its natural barrier. Adding skin-care products to this area may only intensify the problem, so I would say this is a bad idea.”

So, what’s the right thing to do when you’re dealing with angular cheilitis? Our skin experts agree that the best course of action is applying some good old-fashioned petroleum jelly or lanolin. “Regular application of petroleum jelly can help,” says Dr. Munavalli. “The key things to consider would be to avoid products with fragrance or dyes (which can be irritating), and to try something very simple such as Vaniply Ointment or Aquaphor. You want to protect the skin from the vicious cycle of excess moisture, skin drying, more moisture, and so on.”

Further Intervention

“You can use an antifungal cream and a topical hydrocortisone ointment together,” Dr. Levine advises. “If the issue persists you should see a dermatologist so that they may advise on further treatment and also advise on what may be inciting this.”

If these over-the-counter ointments don’t work, Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill says in-office treatments can help address the problem long-term: “Nutritional supplements and filler injections to build up the oral commissures are all other options to consider if it doesn’t clear up,” she explains. “I will also use Botox Cosmetic if needed to smooth out the lines.” 

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