cracks in the corners of the mouth

Truth time! The explanations for why some people get cracks at the corners of their mouths and other people do not leave us dissatisfied. Dermatologists have lots of fancy terms for this condition. Angular cheilitis means irritation and inflammation at the corners of the mouth (labial commissures). Other names include perleche (inflammation with fissures or cracks), cheilosis or angular stomatitis. Whatever the derms call it, this can be a challenging condition to get rid of. What most people want to know is how to cure angular cheilitis and keep it away. This reader reports fast success with a combination of an antifungal and corticosteroid cream.

Cure Angular Cheilitis with Monistat and Hydrocortisone:

Q. I had cracked lips with sores at the corners of my mouth. My dermatologist recommended a 1:1 mixture of OTC hydrocortisone cream and Monistat cream.

I put a tiny dab of each on my finger and rubbed them together then applied to the sores and red areas around my lips. That worked great! The sores started healing in a few days.

A. The cause of the painful cracks at the corners of the mouth remains somewhat mysterious. Some experts blame a deficiency in B vitamins or minerals like zinc or iron for angular cheilitis. Others believe the fissures of perleche are triggered by a yeast overgrowth.

Over-the-counter antifungal creams such as miconazole (Monistat) plus a topical hydrocortisone cream are standard treatments (Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, May 9, 2013).  We’re glad this combination worked so well for you.

Other Ways to Cure Angular Cheilitis:

Not all cases of perleche or cheilosis are caused by a fungal infection. Sometimes a vitamin or mineral deficiency can be a contributing factor. Here are some anecdotes from readers:

Liz S. Offers this trial-and-error approach:

“I have dealt with angular cheilitis (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 supplements. Everything helped a little for a little bit of time but the AC always 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. That left my lips in the worst condition ever. Plus 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 because of the supplement).

“My doctor tested me for a D deficiency. I was extremely low with a level of 19. I started supplementing with vitamin D3 with some improvement but my lips would still get bad on occasion. I started to mess around with different B vitamins that I didn’t have a high level while supplementing. It ended up that vitamin 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 lip balm would work. They 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 doctor watch your levels. Too much of any vitamin can be a bad thing! Foods are the best source of vitamins.”

R.J. in California used old-fashioned rubbing alcohol:

“I tried rubbing alcohol on an annoying sore that I’d had on the corner of my mouth for about six weeks and it was gone within a week. I did apply the rubbing alcohol a few times a day using either a q-tip or a cotton ball.”

Cathy in Toronto tried coconut oil for her picky eater:

“My seven-year-old has had this condition for well over a year. Sometimes it seemed to get better, but AC would always return. A doctor told her to put Vaseline on it, but that just made it worse.

“Her dentist thought it was a vitamin or iron deficiency causing it, and this makes sense since her diet is poor due to being a picky eater. On a whim, we decided to try putting coconut oil on it twice a day, after brushing. I had read about the many benefits of coconut oil. It has antiviral and antibacterial activity.

“The lesions started healing right away. If she doesn’t apply it, however, it seems to return, so we make sure to reapply twice a day. It has now been perhaps three months doing this, and the lesions are 95% healed. Until she starts eating better, we’ll continue applying the oil.”

Beware some Lip Balms:

Visitors to this website have reported that some lip balms may actually make angular cheilitis worse. Lip licking is another contributor. Read about this Catch 22 at this link

Other Remedies to Cure Angular Cheilitis:

Here’s an odd remedy that several people report works: castor oil!

Castor Oil Helps Cracked Fingertips and the Corners of the Mouth.

Castor Oil Helps Cracked Fingertips and the Corners of the Mouth

If you would like to read about other suggestions, here is a link to our most popular article on how to cure angular cheilitis with home remedies:

Angular Cheilitis (Perleche) Home Remedies

Angular Cheilitis (Perleche) Home Remedies

Share your own experience with a cure for angular cheilitis in the comment section below. Thanks for helping others find a solution to this vexing problem.

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  1. Barbara A.
    WA
    Reply

    Lots of causes, lots of cures. I tend to get AC when I’m stressed, ill or exhausted. Super fast cure is a dab of antifungal athlete’s foot cream from a dollar store tube.

  2. Kenneth (Wayne) S.
    NC North Carolina
    Reply

    Vinegar worked immediately for me.

  3. Ruth
    MD
    Reply

    I rub a cocoa butter stick on my lips at bedtime, after brushing my teeth, and before putting on lipstick. I do blot my lips after the cocoa butter application if I’m going to put lipstick on. If I feel some cracking or soreness in a corner, I rub a little extra cocoa butter in the corner. Usually this takes care of it. I am not bothered by this too much.

  4. Sandy
    Washington
    Reply

    If nothing else a person tries works to stop skin cracks, consider that it could be an allergic reaction to food or to toiletry or an environmental factor.

    My mother gets cracks around her mouth if she eats too much citrus fruit. Stopping excess citrus heals her lip irritations.

    I can get serious, deep and painful cracks on my fingers from just ONE (1) time washing my hands using most soaps provided in public restrooms and also from water in some people’s homes that is treated with water softeners. My brother gets the same skin cracks on his fingers from some water softener systems. (We experienced this in our mom’s house that had salt-based water softening.) I now carry my own soap in baggies in my purse at all times when traveling.

  5. Louise
    L.A.
    Reply

    My son had AC for a couple of years and it would get so bad that sometimes the corners of his mouth would bleed during the night. I read about using Aquaphor, an over-the-counter lip balm, for this and it worked beautifully! My son was at the dentist recently when we noticed that he was getting it again and the dentist recommended Aquaphor. I told him I have about 6 tubes of it at home. Once again, it did the job!

  6. Sarah
    North Carolina
    Reply

    I started using a good layer of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on my lips and around my mouth at night. I keep a container of it beside my bed, and if I have to get up during the night, re-apply the petroleum jelly. I haven’t had any problems since starting this regiment.

  7. Janet
    NC
    Reply

    Ditto comments about toothpaste. I figured this out on my own. No more tartar control toothpaste. Also need to be careful about sensitivity toothpastes. I use the sensitivity toothpaste only once a day and make sure I wipe off toothpaste residue when I finish brushing.

  8. IndianaHappyTraveler
    Indiana
    Reply

    I was told by my dentist to try the anti-fungal creams or to look for a sauve with menthol in it. As my medical partner swore by Vick’s Salve (or generic equivalent), I thought to keep it simple and try Vick’s first, as it had the recommended menthol in it. Ta-dah! In no time (honestly) the cheilitis healed! As the base is petroleum jelly, it replaced my chap stick nightly application. I continue to use it almost nightly and have had no recurrence of the cheilitis for years now. Certainly worth one’s time and effort to try!

  9. Mary
    USA
    Reply

    I had this it is a lack vit b6, I used it 2 yrs. ago has not come back

  10. John Fisher
    NC
    Reply

    As a dentist I see angular cheilitis very often, mostly in elderly persons with old, worn-out dentures. The denture teeth are so worn that the bite is “closed” and this creates an excessive wrinkle in the corners of the mouth. Generally there is also a chronic fungal infection under the dentures as well. We prescribe an ointment with a mixture of an antifungal and a steroid. The idea of mixing Monostat with hydrocortisone is right on target. The ointment form works best. Of course you don’t have to be an old denture wearer to get angular cheilitis as your listeners know from experience. I know a lot of people like to use home remedies for lots of conditions, but in this case the “real” drugs work best.

  11. Joanne
    Westminster. MD
    Reply

    Cracked lips in the corners? I have found that if I don’t eat my fruits and vegetables for a few days the corners of my lips crack. It is a simple, healthy solution for me.

  12. Sherri
    PA
    Reply

    My skin doctor told me to stop buying toothpaste that had a tartar control element. My dentist agreed. I changed to Arm and Hammer without tarter control and the corner of my mouth healed up right away. It has now been several years since I had the problem.

  13. Belinda
    Idaho
    Reply

    When I had an AC problem two years ago, I put a tiny bit of Vick’s Vaporub on the corners of my mouth several times a day. It took a few weeks to totally heal, but I haven’t had a problem since. My research at that time suggested that a candida yeast infection might be the cause and that the Vaporub would help. In my case it did.

  14. Maggie
    WA
    Reply

    My dental hygienist suggested I might have Angular Cheilitis. I’d been dealing for years with solar keratosis and pre-cancers on my lips so I didn’t realize there could be yet another cause for the red and irritated skin. I bought a $2 tube of store brand anti-fungal cream, and that seems to have worked. After that I was at my dermy who said “Yeah, that could be AC!” She prescribed an additional anti-fungal cream, and for now it seems to have cleared up. The dental hygienist said it is caused saliva collecting in the corners of my mouth, probably when I sleep. I’m older and have lines at the corners of my mouth, so it sounds like I might be a candidate for a little “filler” work to eliminate the wrinkles that allow saliva to collect!

  15. STAN
    North Carolina
    Reply

    NYSTATIN WORKED FOR ME FOR YEARS. WHEN I STOPPED SMOKING A PIPE THE CHEILITIS WENT AWAY !!

  16. Jeanine
    Virginia
    Reply

    Since childhood I had been a frequent sufferer with AC (30+ years), but have not experienced even a single case since going gluten free 14 years ago.

  17. Cara
    Coupeville
    Reply

    I get this when I have something that is salty like potato chips. I use a tiny dab on neosporin on it, and it clears up in just a few hours.

  18. Wendy
    San Diego
    Reply

    Listerine applied to the corners of my mouth several times per day took care of this problem for me. It only took about 48 hours to clear up.

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