There is nothing more annoying than dry, cracked corners of the mouth. A recent bout of cracked skin had me over-moisturizing my lips to the point where it became an obsession. It not only made me feel self-conscious, it also hurts. But dry, cracked corners of the lips, or 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 making it worse by slathering on balms, creams and Chapstick, I reached out to skin experts for the lowdown on treating 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,” explains Rochester, NY dermatologist Lesley Loss, MD. “It can be related to medical conditions like eczema, or allergic contact dermatitis, which can come from a reaction to lip balm. In fact, lip balms or Chapstick will sometimes worsen the condition.”
“Other contributing factors of angular cheilitis are dentures, mask wearing, the use of pacifiers, and in some cases a vitamin B12 deficiency,” adds New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD.
“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
Excessive lip-licking aside, it makes sense that angular cheilitis could be triggered by extreme weather ups and downs. Charlotte, NC dermatologist Gilly Munavalli, MD says no matter the cause, be wary of over treating the area: “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. Try something very simple such as Vanicream Ointment or Aquaphor. You want to protect the skin from the vicious cycle of excess moisture, skin drying, more moisture, and so on.”
“You can use an antifungal cream and a topical hydrocortisone ointment together,” Dr. Levine advises. “If the issue persists, see a dermatologist so that they may advise on what may be inciting this and how to treat it.”
If these over-the-counter ointments don’t work, Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill notes nutritional supplements and in-office treatments, like fillers and neurotoxin injections, can provide long-term relief. Dr. Peredo also recommends cosmetic injections for patients with deep wrinkles and folds. “The use of fillers and Botox can turn the corners up and treat and prevent angular cheilitis altogether,” she adds.