perleche or angular cheilitis, cracks in the corners of the mouth

Have you ever suffered with painful cracks at the corners of the mouth that just wouldn’t go away? Some people also complain of redness, wrinkling, crusting or fissuring. This condition has a lot of different names, which can be confusing. Some call it angular cheilitis. It is also called perlèche. Others use the term cheilosis or angular stomatitis.

The degree of discomfort people experience is highly variable. Symptoms can range from mild pain to severe burning or itching. The scaly fissures can look pretty ugly.

What Causes Cracks at the Corners of the Mouth?

The causes of this problem can be just as numerous as the names, though of course there is no one-to-one link between name and cause. (That would be too easy.) It is not entirely clear what causes these fissures to form, though nutritional deficiencies are sometimes blamed. Health professionals are not in agreement about nutrients and cheilitis. Some say there is no relationship between vitamins and minerals and this skin condition while others are convinced there is.

B Vitamins & Minerals:

Sometimes this lip irritation appears to be a consequence of a vitamin B deficiency (Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Sep. 2009). Low levels of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) or vitamin B12 (cobalamin) can be particularly problematic. Ditto for zinc and iron.

Q. I suffered from chronic angular cheilitis for years, along with digestive problems. Many physicians dismissed any relationship between the two. I finally saw a nutritionist who identified the problem as B vitamin malabsorption.

I started taking B vitamins under the tongue, so they would be absorbed without relying on the digestive tract. I have not had any cheilitis for more than a year and a half. I was also advised to follow a gluten-free diet. That has stopped my digestive tract symptoms. After twenty years of bloating, gas and abdominal pain and consultations with countless physicians, one nutritionist came up with the answer to my misery.

A. It rather sounds as though your nutritionist diagnosed you with celiac disease. In this autoimmune condition, the body reacts to gluten from wheat, barley or rye and attacks the small intestine. The resulting problems with absorption of nutrients can cause a wide range of problems, including those painful cracks at the corners of the mouth.

Bacteria & Yeast:

It may also be caused by a yeast overgrowth with candida (Dermatologic Therapy, May-June 2010) or bacteria such as Staph aureus (Journal of Oral Pathology, April, 1986).

What About Vitamin D and Cheilitis?

Q. I struggled with a condition called angular cheilitis for 60 years. From the time I was five years old until two years ago I had redness, irritation and cracks at the corners of my mouth.

When my family doctor tested my vitamin D level the result came back showing that I was highly deficient. My score was 12. I believe 20 is considered barely normal and 30 to 50 is optimal.

My doctor had me start taking 2,000 IU of the vitamin D3 and the first thing I noticed was that the corners of my mouth were no longer cracking and sore or bleeding. Since then I have continued to take 2,000 IUs and have had a flare-up only once, when I was traveling and neglected to take my pills.

I mentioned the connection between vitamin D and angular cheilitis on a recent visit to a dermatologist, and he dismissed what I told him, saying it was rare for vitamin D to help something like this. Perhaps I am a rare bird, but I swear that taking vitamin D has healed what was a lifelong problem for me.

A. Cracks in the corner of the mouth can be incredibly uncomfortable. These splits can crust over or bleed if they go deep enough.

We have not heard of a link between low levels of vitamin D and angular cheilitis. We did find one fascinating study, however, demonstrating that a vitamin D ointment called calcipotriol (Dovonex) that is used to treat psoriasis worked extremely well to treat a somewhat similar condition called leukoplakia (white patches on gums or tongue).

Doctors also believe that a fungal infection (Candida albicans) may contribute to both angular cheilitis and leukoplakia. Bacteria may also play a role in the lesions in the corner of the mouth. That may be why Listerine with its high alcohol content and anti-fungal essential oils may help some people.

Listerine Cleared Up Angular Cheilitis:

Q. I had angular cheilitis off and on for five months. The dermatologist scraped it and said it was just due to saliva. The steroid cream he prescribed only cleared it up for a few days before it repeatedly returned.

My dental hygienist thought it might be fungal, and she suggested an athlete’s foot cream. Given the proximity of the problem to my mouth, I opted for Listerine. It has worked well on my athlete’s foot and seems more appropriate for the face.

After four days of applying amber Listerine regularly, the condition was healed. I continued the treatment for another few days and also used Listerine as my bedtime mouthwash. Four weeks out, no new outbreaks.

A. Thanks for letting us know that Listerine cleared up angular cheilitis. These cracks at the corners of the mouth are also known as perlèche or angular stomatitis. This irritation can be stubborn and slow to heal. It troubles many people who will be glad to know about your treatment.

We suspect that the antifungal activity of the herbal oils in Listerine (eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol) is responsible for your success. Listerine has also been used by many readers to discourage the Malasezzia yeast that can cause dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, or the Trichophyton fungus at the root of athlete’s foot.

C.P.M.T. shared this similar story:

“Suggestion: put on Listerine (or Vicks VapoRub – outside/external area) mouth wash several time a day on the cracks. It is both antifungal and antibacterial. After a week or so the problem should be gone.”

And this came from J.S.:

“I don’t have any immune problems and am a 31-yr-old healthy individual. I however occasionally suffer from angular cheilitis (I’ve had 3 episodes in the last 3 or 4 years). I think I am just prone to this type of fungal infection.

“By sheer luck and experimentation I learned that applying old-fashioned amber Listerine to the affected area helps clear up the problem within a few days. I once got a prescription for anti-fungal cream from a doctor and Listerine even outperformed that!”

Obviously, if the underlying cause of the yeast overgrowth is a vitamin deficiency or an underactive immune system, it will make sense to address those problems once the sores have disappeared.

Other Remedies from Readers:

Here are some additional stories from visitors to this site:

Anti-Fungal Creams:

Phyllis shared this affordable remedy:

“I used to suffer from these painful, raw cracks in corners of my mouth. My dentist suggested I use an inexpensive over-the-counter anti-fungus cream (such as athlete’s foot cream). Within a week the cracks healed, and I haven’t been bothered since.”

Laura offered this combination approach from her dentist:

“I have had angular cheilitis for about a year and a half. I went to my doctor after 3 months of trying numerous things to heal my mouth. I told her that I thought it was angular cheilitis after researching it. She laughed at me and said that the last time she saw something like that, it was an allergy to some food. She gave me an antibiotic which did nothing and then another prescription (I don’t even remember what it was) that also did nothing. I was miserable.

“I went for my regular dental check up and told my dentist. She told me that it was angular cheilitis and gave me a prescription for nystatin [a prescription antifungal] and triamcinolone acetonide. It cleared it up right away. She also told me that many people that get this seem to be low in iron. I had already started taking a multivitamin with iron. The medication cleared it up but it continually comes back. I would really like to get rid of it for good. I take Vitamin B Complex every morning and a multivitamin with iron at night.

“I have tried all kinds of ‘remedies’ including: apple cider vinegar on the corners of my mouth, Mentholatum on them, changing my toothbrush and my toothpaste, using moisturizer on my lips, cold sore medication, and anything else I’ve read. This condition is miserable and I would love to get rid of it permanently.”

L.H. discovered alcohol:

“I had the same problem & found that each morning I could put rubbing alcohol on a tissue and blot each mouth corner and I still do this 1 or 2 times a week & have had no re-occurrence in the last 4-5 years.”

B Vitamins:

Linda offered this short story:

“Several decades ago, my grandmother suffered from cracked skin at the corners of her mouth. She was found to be deficient in riboflavin, as I recall.”

MAM also found B vitamins to be helpful:

“I used to have this all the time until I started using the cracks as a indicator that I needed more Vit B – now if cracks start to develop I take one “balanced B” vitamin and by the next day the cracks are either gone or on their way out.”

A vegetarian reported this complication from her diet:

“In a stressful period of life as a young mother of two and finishing chiropractic school, I pushed further into a vegetarian diet. During exams (more stress), I developed angular cheilitis. I immediately realized it was the vitamin B deficiency! It cleared up amazingly quickly on resuming moderate meat consumption.”

Lip Balms: Boon on Bane?

M.V. tried lots of things:

“I tried many lip soothers, sticks, and balms for months to heal chapped, cracked lips. I even got a prescription for Duke’s ‘Magic Mouthwash.’

“Nothing completely healed my lips. I read your newspaper article about Mentholatum ointment and I tried it on my cracked, chapped, sore lower lip for about a week. It healed it and the lip looks and feels normal.”

Sometimes the culprit in angular cheilitis is a product used to moisturize dry lips. A person who is allergic to lanolin, peppermint or sunscreens found in many lip balms may react to them with cracks in the corner of the mouth. Finding a lip product that does not contain any of these sensitizers can be helpful in that case.

Mark put in a plug for The People’s Pharmacy Pomegranate Natural Lip balm:

“Wonderful product that cleared up my angular cheilitis in one week after months of trying a variety of home remedies.”

If you would like to learn more about vitamin D and the way to test for deficiency of this nutrient and optimal levels to take, we offer our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. It is available for download for $2. You may also find our Guide to Unique Uses of Vicks of value.

We would love to hear your story about tips for healing dry lips and angular cheilitis. You can comment below so others can benefit from your experience.

Revised by Joe Graedon, October 27, 2016

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  1. Levon

    My when I eat fresh tomatoes the corners of my mouth start cracking. I can’t resist a home-grown tomato and charcoaled hamburger. I thought I was over the mouth deal so I started putting them in my salad. Here I sit with a cracked mouth. L-lysine 500 knocks fever blisters on me or if I catch them before they get too much of a hold on me they don’t develop any further. I am going to try that on my cracked mouth.

  2. val

    Tea tree oil plus vaseline (or if I had known about the virgin coconut oil, I would have mixed it with that) at least 3x a day x 3 days has given me much relief!

  3. Lori
    So.Cal, USA

    About four to six weeks ago I developed it for the first time. It was painful, oozing, and one side bled after eating. I tried hydrogen peroxide, Vick’s, presc. dental paste, mouthwash, different lip balms. I was miserable. It took close to three weeks to finally heal completely.
    Then I woke up with it again four days ago. I researched it on your page. So today I got a B-12, injection. 20,000 D3, calcium, 2 airborne, I put muprocin ointment and Watkins menthol and camphor ointment.
    I suffer with several autoimmune diseases, tend to have yeast overgrowth issues, and take meds to suppress my immune system. I’ve been flaring a lot recently and am also getting steroid injections and daily steroid pills. I’m going to try the Amber Listerine and d2.
    Currently, my eyes are red and severely dry, my tongue and mouth has ulcers, my skin is dry, itchy and has rashes and bruising, swollen lymph nodes, exhausted, migraines… I’m feeling miserable.

  4. Jeni

    I take vitamin D and B and have done for years. I am gluten intolerant so don’t eat wheat, etc. All the information above only seems to work for a while, and then it returns. There doesn’t seem to me to be a permanent cure. I could possibly be deficient in iron so may try that. ut probably will have to put up with the return of this problem now and again for the rest of my life.

  5. Jo

    Try Bepanthen nappy rash cream. It’s a bit of a magic cream and after 3 weeks of trying lip balm, Vicks, 8 hour cream etc it’s worked!

  6. Betsy

    I had red and cracked corners of my mouth from earlier childhood until a friend of the family suggested that I stop brushing my teeth with fluoride toothpaste. It seems that my brushing habits were not that good and I was doing a poor job of rinsing off excess toothpaste from my mouth – instead, simply swishing around water from a dixie cup. After changing to Pepsodent in the 1970’s (one of the few toothpastes as the time that didn’t have fluoride), my condition went AWAY! It was a simple as that.

  7. Oldmate

    I suffered from AC for years, saw 3 different doctors, and an expensive skin specialist, did blood tests, allergy tests, swabs, and no one could help me.

    My mouth was bleeding every time I tried to eat for over a year. I was slowly going insane, whilst trying every remedy under the sun.

    The last thing I tried was to stop using Colgate toothpaste and changed it to a herbal one from Woolworths, my dentist also suggested vitamin C, so I take that twice a day as well…And finally it is gone, and I think for good.

    I have also cut right back on processed meats like ham and bacon as that has almost as many toxic chemicals as Colgate.

  8. Julia

    I’ve been getting these cracks for about 2-3 years now on and off that developed while I was in high school about once or twice a month. I take a vitamin D 5,000 IU daily, and I’m still getting the cracks. If I get them once a month, they tend to last up to 2-3 weeks sometimes!! However I do not take a vitamin B and am going to start and see if it will change the problem. I’ve noticed when my lips are more chapped, and I have the cracks, they are more painful and can do more damage. So I have to constantly be using chapstick with them for sure.

  9. Kathryn

    I used to suffer from angular cheilitis from time to time, but for the past 3 months, I seem to be getting outbreaks every week. I am take my multivitamin, extra supplements of D3 and B12, probiotics, eat reasonably well, use the People’s Pharmacy chapstick, but I can still find no relief.

  10. J

    I found recently (after quite a few years of dealing with this) that unrefined virgin coconut oil works really well to soothe. Mine is severe, to the point when I open my mouth to yawn or eat someonthing I bleed from the corners of my mouth.

  11. Diane

    I do yogurt all the time and take about B complex listerine and neosporin helped some.

  12. Laura

    Has anyone used hydrogin peroxide, and if so did it work! I hate these splits at the corner of my mouth!

  13. Gail
    MI - All Cities

    I found when I wore lipstick it would break out, especially the long lasting kind, when I stopped wearing lipstick it would get better.

  14. Liz S

    I have dealt with AC for about two years. I have tried many remedies and have finally found what works for me. I have tried everything from honey on my lips to probiotics to b supplements to d supplementing to dawn soap on my lips…Everything helped a little for a little bit of time but it never failed that it came back.

    The raw local honey worked at first, then we went out of the country and I had like a 14 hour (dry air) flight which left my lips in the worst condition ever and I didn’t have access to local honey, so I thought what is honey high in. I purchased a b vitamin complex which did help, but it made me not be able to sleep (I later found out some of my b levels were too high on it).

    My doctor tested me for a D deficiency. I was extremely low with a level of 19. I started supplementing with d3 with some improvement but my lips would still get bad sometimes. I started to mess around with different b vitamins that I didn’t have a high level while supplementing. It ended up that b2 (riboflavin) helped a lot. I ran out and had to wait while some was being ordered, so I researched what foods are high in b2. Raw almonds, yogurt, and milk were all high. I’m not much of a milk drinker, so I started eating a lot of almonds and yogurt.

    I pretty much now eat a handful of almonds (10-12) every day and about a cup of stonyfield farms organic vanilla yogurt. NO MORE LIP PROBLEMS!!! It was awful when I had it. No chapstick would work!!It actually made it worse. I felt like I looked diseased. I hope this helps someone else. I stress, if you do opt to supplement, have your dr. watch your levels. Too much of any vitamin can be a bad thing!!! Foods are the best source of vitamins!!

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