Anyone else blessed with those dreaded cuts around their mouth? You know, the ones that feel like paper cuts on either side of your mouth?
While they may look like a simple mouth sore or chapped lips, these painful patches at the corner of your mouth actually have a name. The condition is called angular cheilitis (pronounced key-litis) and it’s basically inflammation around the corners of the mouth which causes redness and swelling.
Cosmetic physician Dr Phoebe Jones from Concept Cosmetic Medicine Sydney says, “This is an inflammatory condition or dermatitis of the skin at the corners of the mouth. It can just appear red and dry or flaky, or more severely, the skin can become cracked and painful and become predisposed to infection.”
One common infection is caused by candida or yeast, and can make the area itch or burn. Common infections like staph or strep can also occur.
The good news? It’s actually a super common condition (especially in the winter months), so don’t freak out! And trust us, understanding what these cracks are and how to properly take care of them will make it all a little less painful/scary.
What causes angular cheilitis?
Disclosure: Anyone can get it. While winter certainly doesn’t help (dry chapped lips make it easier for bacteria and viruses to invade your lips), there are other things that contribute to angular cheilitis. However, Dr Jones notes there is no one specific cause: “There are certain conditions that predispose people to it more, such as eczema sufferers, elderly people, people who are immunocompromised. Anything that weakens the immune system can lead to the condition. For example, asthma sufferers who use steroid inhalers are prone to this condition.” Apparently, antibiotics are also notorious for causing it.
Dr Jones explains that the anatomy of your mouth also plays a large role in the occurrence of angular cheilitis. “People with a top lip that significantly protrudes over the lower lip are more prone to it, as well as people with deep marionette folds. Excessive saliva building up in the lip corners is also a contributing factor.”
Dr Jones says, “It’s important to try to figure out what is causing it in order to treat it. It’s different to chapped lips in that it is limited to the oral commissures.”
What’s the best way to treat it?
Luckily, it’s not as hard to treat as it is to deal with. As Dr Jones says, you just have to know what’s causing it: “Try to identify the cause and rectify any contributing factors if possible”.
“Cease any unnecessary medications or topical creams that could be irritating the skin,” she adds. Instead, Jones suggests frequently applying a fragrance-free ointment like CeraVe Healing Ointment, or petroleum jelly, to help heal the area. Plus, “Clean the area gently twice a day with a fragrance-free wash, such as Cetaphil for sensitive skin. Monitor for infection.”