What Causes Cracked Lip Corners, Plus Expert-Approved Ways To Heal
Everyone, at some point, experiences chapped lips. It's an inevitable and universal struggle. The best we can do is to fight the temptation to pick off dead skin, avoid dehydrating triggers, drink water, and pay attention to what we're applying to the precious area.
But did you know that the placement of said cracks and chaps may give you some indication of what the cause is? Yes, indeed: If you've ever experienced cracked corners on your lips, you may be dealing with something slightly different from your everyday dry lips. We're talking about angular cheilitis.
What is angular cheilitis?
"Angular cheilitis is a common issue that occurs in the corners of the mouth that looks red, can be rough, and can have splits in the skin. It is often tender, especially once splits (called fissures) occur," said Heidi A. Waldorf, M.D. Most people will experience this in their lifetime, but it's most common in those who wear dental appliances, wear masks regularly, and in children.
And if you're experiencing it for the first time, you may be tempted to think that those red corners are simply extra dry, but there's actually a lot more going on than you might think.
Allow us to explain.
What causes angular cheilitis?
Just as the condition itself is more complex than it seems, so is the cause. "Trapped moisture between the ends of lips in the corner causes a combination of yeast and inflammation. We see it frequently as people age—the corners of their mouths lose support, the lips and skin fold over and trap moisture," Waldorf said. In addition, those who sleep with their mouth open may be prone to this condition because of the increased chance of saliva buildup on the corners of their mouth. (If that's you, you might want to consider mouth taping.)
And we get it—when lips feel dry and crackly, the first instinct is to wet them. But please, we beg you: Do not lick your lips. In doing so, you may actually be making it worse. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, "The excess moisture may lead to secondary [irritation]," the org notes.
How to remedy angular cheilitis.
Cracked corners of the mouth can be overall frustrating to deal with. If you want this condition to heal quickly, it's best to see a dermatologist. This is especially true if you experience the condition regularly.
However, Waldorf explains there may be one step you can try before going in to see the experts: "Treatment requires targeting the yeast and the inflammation. There are drugstore options that include using 1% hydrocortisone cream and clotrimazole," she says, such as Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength with Aloe or CeraVe Hydrocortisone Cream. "If that doesn't work, see your dermatologist, who can recommend an ointment that is a combination of nystatin and triamcinolone."
How to prevent dry lips.
While you do want to stay away from heavy lip balm application while the skin is irritated, it is best practice to keep your lips hydrated once the cracks heal up to prevent these cracks from coming back. "To avoid recurrence after it clears, be sure to apply a good barrier ointment before bed and, if you are a lip licker, regularly during the day," Waldorf said. For ointments, we're partial to the Doctor Rodgers Healing Balm, Pipette Balm Stick, ILIA Lip Wrap Reviving Balm, and Abhati Mahandi Lip Treatment.
But for daily, consistent lip hydration, it's best to have a trusted, high-quality lip balm on hand, such as mindbodygreen's lip balm. The plant-based ingredients work to hydrate your lips and keep them healthy long term, not just temporarily relieved. There's a blend of humectants, emollients, and occlusives which will work together to get the lips hydrated and lock that moisture in.
Finally, be mindful of what can trigger dry lips—from internal to external causes. We always like to approach things from a well-rounded perspective, and if you want your skin (lips included!) to feel supple and healthy long term, you should always consider your habits, diet, and products. A few to keep an eye out on? Internal hydration levels, sun exposure, and even some vitamin deficiencies (read more about dry lip causes here).
Angular cheilitis is the formal name for those painful cracks that occur in the corners of your mouth when your lips are chapped. Though you might be tempted to slick those lips for a temporary moment of relief, that can actually make the condition worse. But don't worry: For relief, there are several drugstore finds that can help remedy the irritation and soothe the skin. And if needed, you can head to the dermatologist for stronger treatment. After your chaps clear, remember to keep your lips hydrated with a high-quality lip balm.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.