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Angular Cheilitis or Cracks at Corners of Mouth

Q. A friend and I were both recently diagnosed with perleche or angular cheilitis. Although the prescribed medicine (ciclopirox and fluticasone creams) clears it up, the irritation comes right back.

I have very dry lips, and use lanolin to moisturize them. Could this exacerbate the condition? Are there any effective home remedies or nutritional improvements I could try?

A. In Angular cheilitis (perleche) sore red cracks appear at the corners of the mouth. This painful condition goes hand in hand with dry, chapped lips because the cracks offer a foothold for fungus. That’s why the antifungal medicine ciclopirox helps clear it up, together with the strong steroid fluticasone that fights inflammation.

Licking dry lips can often contribute to the problem. This can be a catch-22 because when lips are dry there is a great temptation to lick them. That tends to make things worse.
Although lanolin can be an effective moisturizer, some people can react badly to it. You might try switching to a different treatment for dry or chapped lips.

Other lip balm ingredients to watch out for include sunscreens and peppermint. Both can trigger sensitivity reactions. Some people end up in a vicious cycle with their lip products. They get temporary relief, but compounds in the moisturizer actually can be irritating. Some people have dubbed this sort of problem a lip balm “addiction.” That’s because it is so hard to stop using certain products.

We have developed a natural lip balm with no sunscreen or peppermint. You may wish to try our People’s Pharmacy Pomegranate Natural Lip Care. You can order it here.

Iron or zinc deficiency or an inadequacy of B vitamins might contribute to the cracks in the corners of your mouth. Your doctor could test to see if you are low on any of these nutrients.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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