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General Medical Questions
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Question : My skin cracks at the corners of my mouth. It gets better, and then returns for no apparent reason. This has been going on for more than a year. What could be causing this condition?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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June 07, 2012
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A:

It sounds like you have a condition called angular cheilitis. It’s also known as angular stomatitis or perlèche. In addition to skin cracking at the corners of your mouth, there can also be redness and scaling. The cause is frequent or persistent saliva touching the skin outside the mouth.

You’re more likely to develop this condition if you:

  • Have a poor seal of the lips at the angles of the mouth
  • Wear braces
  • Have ill-fitting dentures, or
  • Frequently lick their lips

Angular cheilitis can also be from an allergic skin reaction to lipstick or face cream, or flossing your teeth too vigorously. But that’s less common. And it’s rarely caused by a vitamin or iron deficiency.

To help prevent angular cheilitis from coming back, try to avoid excessive moisture accumulating in the corners of your mouth. If it does come back, you can apply an over-the-counter antifungal cream or ointment. Then follow with a topical hydrocortisone 1% ointment an hour later. Do this 2-3 t times per day. Some dermatologists prefer Vytone, a prescription cream that contains both hydrocortisone and an anti-infective agent.>/p>

Once the perlèche heals, then use a protective lip product like Chap Stick or perhaps one that is hypoallergenic. Make sure the corners of your mouth are dry before applying. Use it often. Consult your doctor if the problem persists.

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