The lips are one of the sensitive areas and has a several layers less skin than the surrounding face. These layers make a difference to its ability to weather environmental conditions and the lips may therefore dry an crack much more frequently than the surrounding skin. At times the cracking may be isolated only to the corners of the mouth, where the upper and lower lip meet. This can be a sign of certain diseases.
Reasons for Cracked Mouth Corners
Cracking at the corners of the mouth may appear unsightly but are not usually a serious problem. For some people, persistent dryness and cracking at this area can cause slight darkening. While the cosmetic effect is of greater concern for more people, there are instances where cracking at the corners of the mouth need to be medically investigated as it is a sign of certain underlying medical conditions that may require treatment.
The corner of the mouth where the upper and lower lip meet is known as the labial commissure. As with any skin fold, it is prone to chaffing. While the skin in this area does maintain its own moisture levels it can dry very quickly and this will make cracking more likely to occur. The broken skin can become inflamed in which case it is referred to as angular cheilitis and may even become infected in some instances.
Causes for Cracking Mouth Corners
There are a number of internal and external factors that contributes to drying and cracking at the corners of the mouth. Many of the same causes of chapped lips also causes cracking at the mouth corners although at times the problem at the mouth corners can occur on its own despite the lips not being dried and chapped.
Climatic conditions play a major role in this drying and cracking of the lips, including the corners of the mouth. Dry conditions, cold weather and windy environments are where drying and cracking are more likely to occur especially if appropriate measures are not taken to protect it. Even artificially controlled environments may pose a problem, like in an office building with air conditioning and indoor heating.
Contrary to popular belief, licking the lips will not provide sufficient moisture and in fact can expedite the drying effect on the lips. Saliva evaporates and as a result it has a cooling and drying effect on the lip surface. Excessive lip licking can therefore worsen drying and cracking of the lips since saliva is very fluid in consistency.
Breathing through the mouth is another common cause of dry lips. The flow of air through the mouth during breathing, instead of through the nose, has a drying effect. Mouth breathing is more common in people with nasal congestion and related conditions that cause a blocked nose where nasal breathing is severely affected.
Another common and often ignored cause of dry lips is sunburn. A common misconception is that only the skin elsewhere on the body can be affected by the UV light from the sun or tanning booths. However, the lips are equally susceptible, if not more so with its fewer layers of protection and lower melanin content.
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition where there is irritation and inflammation due to contact with certain substances. Any substance can pose a problem, even water or perspiration that is on the skin for too long. This causes irritant contact dermatitis. When a substance triggers an allergic reaction then it is known as allergic contact dermatitis. This can occur in sensitive people who may use poor quality lipsticks.
A number of infections can affect the lips. These infections are similar to those that may occur inside the mouth and on the skin surface. Bacterial infections are known as impetigo and are more likely to occur when there is a break in the skin. Viral infections like cold sores (herpes simplex virus infection) are chronic and causes lesions around the mouth or on the lip border. Oral candidiasis (yeast infection) is more common in people with weakened immune systems like with HIV infection or diabetes.
Anemia is a condition where the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is reduced. It is due to impairment in hemoglobin, which is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia associated with blood loss and at times a low iron diet. Anemia can also occur with vitamin B deficiency and therefore dry lips may also be a symptom of vitamin B deficiency.
Dehydration is another cause of dry lips. In severe dehydration the drying is pronounced and the lips may appear pale to white and chapped. However, even with mild dehydration there is some degree of drying on the lips as well on the skin and eyes.
Remedies for Cracked Mouth Corners
A few simple measures can help to ease or event prevent cracking at the corners of the mouth as well as dry and chapped lips. However, medical conditions need proper treatment by a health care professional.
- Use a lip balm with lipids that can moisturize the skin and prevent he moisture from evaporating into the environment.
- Apply lip balms with UV protection to prevent sunburn. If using cosmetics, it is important to check the product to verify that it is hypo-allergenic and has additional protection like UV protection.
- Avoid licking the lips even if dry. Carry a lip balm and apply it often. Alternatively use petroleum jelly for short periods if a lip balm is not immediately available.
- Ensure proper rehydration and minimize dehydrating agents like alcohol and caffeine. Drinking plenty of water is not always sufficient. Electrolytes are also important to treat and prevent dehydration. An oral rehydrating solution (ORS) is a better choice.
- Seek treatment for the causes of nasal congestion to ease mouth breathing. Sometimes mouth breathing is a habit rather than due to any medical problem. Therefore a person has to make a conscious effort to breather through the nose rather than the mouth.