How To Heal Cracked Lip Corners Fast, Because—Ouch!

Photo: Stocksy / Studio Firma

Cracked lip corners are like a loose thread in your favorite sweater. It's not great, no. But if you pull at the thread (lick your lips, touch them, etc.), it'll only get worse. The best thing you can do to heal cracked lips is hydrate them, protect them, and let nature heal things up (sorry, this will not work with your sweater). The good news is that cracked lip corners can be healed pretty quickly and even totally prevented with the right tips and tricks up your sleeves. So we asked expert dermatologists to share their best remedies to keep your lips soft and smooth. 

What causes cracked lip corners? 

Cracked lip corners, or angular cheilitis, is "an inflammatory condition that causes the corners of the mouth to become red and irritated, and may even become cracked and painful or bleed," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brooke Jeffy says. It's pretty standard and can happen for a few different reasons. The first (and most obvious) is that your lips are chapped, and the dryness has spread to the outermost edges of the mouth. "It may happen often because people breathe with their mouth at night, usually when their nose is stuffy, like during allergy season," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian. "Small bits of saliva collect in this area and degrade since saliva is a digestive enzyme, dissolve the tissue." This can cause secondary yeast to "invade the area," creating inflammation. 

Experts In This Article
  • Arash Akhavan, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City
  • Brooke Jeffy, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of BTWN, a skin-care line specifically formulated for children, tweens, and teens
  • Devina Mehta, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hoboken, NJ.
  • Kiran Mian DO, FAAD, Kiran Mian DO, FAAD is a dermatologist offering bespoke medical and cosmetic services in NYC.
  • Kseniya Kobets, MD, director of dermatology at Montefiore Advanced Care
  • Navin S. Arora, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Borealis Dermatology in Garden City and Syosset, NY.
  • Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York

It can also happen if you have sensitive skin and are exposed to an allergen in a product you're using or, in less common cases, deficiencies in specific B vitamins or zinc, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan. "If cracked lip corners are a chronic problem and not responding to therapy, it is worth completing a blood test to check for these deficiencies."

Angular cheilitis shouldn't be confused with cold sores, which are painful, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth caused by a herpes virus, Dr. Jeffy explains. Cold sores tend to be more painful, while angular cheilitis typically happens when your lips are very dry, and your skin starts to split from the lack of hydration. Cold sores are also contagious, and cracked lip corners aren't — they're just really annoying. 

How to treat cracked lip corners

It may be painful or embarrassing, but cracked lip corners are easy to heal. You can turn things around in under a week by following the treatment and precautions below. 

1. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

This one might feel a little duh—mainly because chapped lips are literally begging you to put some balm on them, and if you ignore their call, they'll keep screaming. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kiran Mian likes Rhode's Peptide Lip Treatment ($16) to maintain daily hydration. But if you want to keep things simple, a little coconut oil (which has the added benefit of having antimicrobial properties, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Navin Arora) should do the trick. But whatever you do, please use unscented and unflavored products to avoid further irritating the area. 

2. Create a barrier

Once you've moisturized the skin, you want to lock that moisture in with an occlusive like beeswax or petroleum. Occlusives are like big, cozy hugs for dry skin; they create a physical barrier on the skin to keep moisture from escaping. For a balm that fits the bill, derms say Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($7), Vaseline Petroleum Jelly ($5), or applying CeraVe Healing Ointment ($20) are all good options. "For patients who want a non-petroleum jelly product, La Roche Posay Cicaplast Lip Barrier Repair ($10) is great and combines shea butter and vitamin B5," says Dr. Akhavan. Be sure to coat your lips entirely, focusing on the corners, and slather on an extra coat at bedtime for overnight repair.

3. Hydrate internally

Topical hydration is important for any dry skin condition, but you also want to ensure you get that H2O internally. Dr. Jeffy says that if your lips are parched, you must drink water throughout the day to keep them plump and moist. 

4. Invest in a humidifier

Dr. Arora recommends using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in dry environments, which is especially clutch in winter months (thanks, blasting heaters). Try one of these affordable humidifiers from Amazon that won't throw a wrench in your budget.

5. Stay away from extreme temperature

Avoid harsh environments like extreme heat, cold, or wind, which can suck the moisture right out of your skin, says Dr. Mian. That can be challenging depending on where you live but try to protect your lips with an SPF in the sun or a scarf if you're dealing with a frigid winter. 

6. Keep it dry 

Yes, you want to moisturize and hydrate, but only with the good stuff. Saliva can get into those open wounds, causing further infection and irritation. "Avoid the temptation to lick the irritated skin," says Dr. Mehta. "It feels better in the moment but worsens the problem in the long run." If you can't help yourself or are a bit of a drooler at night (no judgment), an occlusive like the Aquaphor or Vaseline will protect your skin from outside bacteria.

And on that note, Dr. Mian recommends avoiding potentially irritating substances like spicy foods, essential oils, or products with menthol. Cracked lip corners aren't contagious, but kissing may also be uncomfortable (and kind of weird) while your lip corners are raw and potentially bleeding. "You also want to avoid exposing the area to topical retinoids, acids, or even vitamin C serums since the skin is very sensitive in the area while healing," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kseniya Kobets, who also recommends avoiding any tinted lip balms or lipsticks (which probably wouldn't look great over cracked skin, anyway). 

7. Turn to the pros

If amping up hydration and practically bathing in Vaseline doesn't fix you up, you'll need a stiffer elixir, like an angular cheilitis treatment. Your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter steroid or antifungal cream. Products like Dr. Dan's Cortibalm ($8) can be found at your local drugstore, though Dr. Jeffy notes that because it contains a steroid, you should limit usage to under two weeks. 

How to prevent cracked lip corners

Preventing cracked lip corners comes down to healthy habits and hydration (the Queen of healthy habits). "Eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, keeping your lips moisturized, and avoiding smoking or tobacco products," are the keys to healthy, crack-free lip corners, says Dr. Mehta. You should also avoid excess exposure to saliva, so you may need to break the habit if you're a drooler or a lip-licker. Saliva evaporates quickly, taking moisture and leaving you with potential bacteria and infections.

Final takeaway

Yes, cracked lip corners are annoying, but they can heal in under a week with the right cocktail of hydrating products, occlusives, and patience. In more severe cases, it could take two weeks or more, Dr. Akhavan says. Because the corner of your mouth creates a fold in the skin, it's already prone to cracking if things dry up too much (the way it's easier to rip a piece of paper along a well-worn fold). So take some extra time to layer those babies with moisture and hydration (and, remember, the more basic, the better).

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