Cracked Corners of Lips

Donna Cosmato
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
cracked corners of the lips

If you are suffering from cracked corners of the lips, there are many treatments available to fight this irritating and sometimes painful condition. There are a variety of causes, but home remedies or medical solutions can help you get healthy, crack-free skin.

Causes of Cracked Corners of Lips

Cracked corners of the lips or mouth is a common condition that affects millions of people. It is not typically contagious but can be quite bothersome. It is medically known as Angular Cheilitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the corners of the mouth and can cause deep splits and cracks. Angular Cheilitis is often associated with a fungal condition, but viral and bacterial infections are also possible.

If the sides of your mouth are cracking, the reason may be one of several. While the most common cause of the cracks is a fungal infection, there are other potential culprits. These include:

  • Chapped lips
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Iron or zinc deficiency
  • Allergy to a product used on or near the lips, such as lipstick or toothpaste
  • Overexposure to sun or heat
  • Extreme dryness
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Poor diet
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • Infectious diseases, such as cold sores

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, there are other less common conditions can be associated with this condition, including antibiotic use, istretinoin therapy, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cracked corners can be aggravated by simple things such as eating, drinking, or even smiling. Unfortunately, living with this issue can be as embarrassing as it is troubling, since many confuse the cracks with conditions such as herpes and syphilis.

According to a study on Oral Health Considerations in HIV-Infected Children, this condition is often present in young patients who are HIV positive. This is because the virus weakens the immune system, making it easier for the body to develop issues like angular cheilitis.

Common Symptoms

Common symptoms of the condition are dark, red, painful, crusty blisters or sores in the corner of the mouth. This can occur in one or both corners of the mouth and occurs at any age. In the most severe cases, the splits in the corners may bleed when the mouth is opened. Ulcers and a crust may also form in the corners. Cracks can last for several months or even years if left untreated. With proper treatment, however, they can disappear within a week or two, although some cases may take longer to heal. According to Derm 101, topical medications may be prescribed for one to two weeks, but for stubborn cases, a combination of treatments may be necessary for up to six weeks.

Treating Cracked Corners of the Mouth

There are many remedies to consider and just as many treatments not to use, including heavy waxy lip balms. Though they may bring temporary relief to cracked corners, they actually make the problem worse. However, applying a soft lip balm or emollient ointment (after washing hands) may be beneficial.

If your condition is due to dryness, stay away from treatments or creams containing alcohol or menthol. These will dry the lips out more and make the condition worse. Also avoid licking your lips as it can aggravate the condition. Licking actually adds bacteria to the lips and makes them drier.

Natural Treatments

Olive oil as natural skincare treatment

There are several things you can try at home. The following natural solutions may help heal cracked corners of the mouth:

  • Olive oil or vegetable oil can be used to add hydration to the area. Apply a thin layer of oil to cracked sections every night before bed. Results should be noticeable in a week or so.
  • Honey works well if the cracks are caused by a bacterial infection. It has antibacterial properties that can heal the skin and preserve moisture. Simply apply honey to cracked corners twice a day.
  • Cucumber juice is an effective pain reliever. To combat the discomfort and pain caused by cracks, rub a slice of fresh cucumber to the area as needed.
  • Buckthorn oil, just like tea tree oil, rosehip, and flax, can be used to treat the condition naturally. Use it once a day to soften and heal the skin.
  • White petroleum jelly is another natural remedy. It locks in natural moisture and aids in healing cracked and chapped areas. Be sure to use pure petroleum jelly for best results and apply each night before bed.
  • Change to a milder toothpaste if nothing else works. It is possible that you may have a toothpaste allergy or a sensitivity to a particular brand. That can lead to redness, rashes, and even cracked corners of the mouth.

Diet

Believe it or not, your lips can tell you about your health. A poor diet, for instance, can affect your body in a number of ways - and can even lead to cracked lips. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Spicy foods may trigger the cracks as well as certain dairy products. A vitamin and mineral supplement may also be helpful if your condition is due to a deficiency of nutrients.

OTC Remedy

If your at home remedies don't cure your condition, you may want to try an over-the-counter treatment. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help counter inflammation. Apply it to the cracked corners several times a day, especially at night and after meals.

Prescription Medications

Doctor writing prescription

According to Dr. Jacqueline Doley at DearDoctor, cracks can be a breeding ground for yeast, so even if the condition was not caused by infection, it is easy for the cracks to develop one. Topical creams that contain ketoconazole, miconazole or clotrimazolecan can be an effective treatment for cracked corners of the mouth caused by candida (yeast infections). These active ingredients work by weakening the cell membrane, which kills the disease-causing fungi.

If you suspect your condition is due to a fungal infection, consult a healthcare professional. Your physician may prescribe a stronger anti-fungal agent such as:

  • Monistat-Derm can be used for a number of reasons, including the treatment of yeast infections of the skin. To use, apply a thin layer to the affected area twice a day (morning and evening). Continue using until the prescribed amount is used - even if symptoms disappear. If a full course of treatment does not work, your doctor will likely prescribe a stronger anti-fungal medication. The cost per tube can vary depending on the size and brand, but a generic Miconazole Nitrate 2% Antifungal Cream is about $7.
  • Nizoral is an imidazole anti-fungal that prevents the production of membranes that surround fungal cells. The cream weakens the cells and kills the fungus. To use this product, apply Nizoral to the affected area and rub in gently. Wash your hands thoroughly following application. Prices for Nizoral cream are dependant on where the prescription is purchased, but can range from $20 to $90 a tube.
  • Vioform-HC contains two different medications: hydrocortisone and clioquinol. Together, they reduce issues like inflammation, itching - and stop the growth of bacteria and fungus. Only available with a prescription, the brand name Dermasorb AF, can be quite costly. Estimates on Drugs.com show a 454 gram tube costs over $500.

There are many anti-fungal treatments to choose from. However, your doctor will determine which one is appropriate for you, based on factors like the severity of the infection, the duration, and any known allergies.

Seeking a Professional

If your problem does not go away on its own, it is best to consult a specialist. With proper treatment, angular cheilitis can be eliminated. Since this uncomfortable, unpleasant-looking condition may be caused by a yeast infection, seek professional help to treat the condition if at home and over-the-counter remedies do not produce results.

Cracked Corners of Lips