15 Common Causes Of Cracked, Dry Lips & How To Treat Your Lips

Cracked, dry lips with chapped corners. We have all experienced this painful issue. Here, we will learn what causes them and how to treat them.

By Shana Grandstaff
15 Common Causes Of Cracked, Dry Lips & How To Treat Your Lips

What Causes Chapped and/or Cracked Lips?

Chapped lips can become much more than just a little dry. If the problem continues, eventually your lips and the corners of your mouth can become cracked, painful, and begin to bleed and swell. They can even trigger cold sores in the corners of your mouth. From dehydration to impetigo to vitamin deficiency, there are many causes of dry, cracked lips. In this article, we discuss the 15 most common causes and the best treatment options. 

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We've all been told many times to drink plenty of water. While the exact amount needed seems to always be up for debate, it's no secret that the fact remains true. Dry, cracked lips and sore, bleeding mouth corners are just a few examples of what happens when we get dehydrated. If you are feeling lightheaded, having difficulty urinating, dealing with constipation, have headaches, and dry mouth, you may need to seek medical attention. If you are experiencing rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, low blood pressure or fever, this can be a sign of severe dehydration and you will certainly need to seek medical attention. 

2. Exposure

Sun, wind, cold, heat. The elements are very harsh on the thin skin that covers our lips. Year-round, the weather can cause your lips to become cracked and bleed, as well as the corners of your mouth. During the winter, the low humidity and dry air sap the moisture from your skin. During the summer, spending prolonged amounts of time in the sun causes harm as well. 

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3. Vitamin Deficiency

Just as water is important for our overall health, so are vitamins and minerals. Lacking certain vitamins can also cause lips to become dry, cracked and leads to the corners of your mouth to also become cracked and even begin to bleed.  Vitamins deficiency that can cause cracked lips may include low iron, zinc, and vitamin B. Vitamin deficiency can cause many of the same symptoms as dehydration, but can additionally include decaying teeth, stomach bloating, fragile bones and muscle weakness. 

Those with limited diets, such a vegans, older adults, and alcoholics are more susceptible to having vitamin deficiencies and should be cautious and watch for signs. Severe vitamin deficiencies may need medical attention. 

4. Medications and Supplements

Many of us take at least one necessary medication. However, all medications have side effects. Some medications have a drying effect on our lips causing them to become chapped, leading lips and mouth corners to become cracked, painful and begin to bleed. . 

The following medications can cause a drying effect and cause chapped, cracked lips: 
Retinoids, such as Retin-A and Differin, that treat acne. 
Lithium, commonly used to treat bipolar. 
Chemotherapy drugs.. 
Nausea and blood pressure medications. 

You know the saying about "too much of a good thing?" Well, even supplements can cause side effects at times. Vitamin A supplements, more than 10,000 units per day, can cause dry, chapped lips and cracking and bleeding at the corners of your mouth. 

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5.Breathing through the Mouth Causes Cracked Corners

We are supposed to breathe through our noses. However, many of us have stuffy noses due to allergies, or other slight problems that causes breathing through our noses to be difficult. Unfortunately, that means we tend to breathe through our mouths. Breathing through your mouth frequently dries out your lips, causing cracked lips and mouth corners, becoming painful and potentially allowing bacteria in causing infection.

If stuffiness or another problem is causing you to breathe through your nose, you may need to get those issues addressed with your doctor. 

6. Candida Overgrowth

Another potential cause of dry, cracked lips and mouth corners if candida overgrowth. Typically, candida is a harmless yeast that lives in everyone and is part of our naturally occuring biological functions. There are many causes of candida overgrowth, such as steroids, antibiotics, birth control pills, too much dairy, and stress. Candida overgrowth releases toxins into your body and can cause several different health problems. If you suspect you may have candida overgrowth, please see your healthcare provider. 

7. Foods

Highly acidic foods, such as citrus, can be damaging to your lips. As can very spicy, salty, rough or dry foods. The elements in these foods can be very harsh on your lips, especially if eaten frequently. This can cause irritation of the delicate skin on your lips that can lead to drying out of your lips, causing chapped, cracked, bleeding lips, as well as the corners of your mouth. You should take care when eating these foods, or possibly skip them altogether while your lips heal. 

8. Lip Products

Lip products, such as lip plumpers, contain ingredients that can be very irritating to the delicate skin on your lips. You may need to skip these products entirely. 

Some lip balms could also be problematic if they contain fragrance. You may need to look for balms that are fragrance free. 

Fragranced lip balms, and other lip products, such as plumpers and possibly over exfoliating, can irritate and dry out your lips. They can become cracked and painful, as well as can the corners of your mouth. 

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9. Toothpaste

Some toothpastes have harsh chemicals, especially those for whitening teeth. There are natural teeth whitening products availabe that may work better for you. If you are noticing cracked, dry lips, switching to a gentler toothpaste may help to alleviate those symptoms before they lead to further irritation including cracking and bleeding and possibly even sores in the corners of your mouth. 

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10. Licking Your Lips

While licking your lips can bring instant relief, it is very short-lived and actually makes chapped lips worse. We don't have any oil glands in our lips so what little natural oils might be on your lips are instantly washed away when you lick them. Those natural oils help to protect your skin, including that on your lips, from drying out and becoming cracked and painful. 

11. Lack of Healthy Fats

While there is such a thing as too much fat, most of us don't get enough of healthy fats. These help our bodies to produce natural oils that are needed to keep our skin healthy, including the skin of our lips. Coconut and olive oils are great alternatives to vegetable oil. Walnuts, real butter, and MCT oil are also loaded with healthy fats. 

12. Kawasaki Disease

Most commonly found in children under 5 years old, Kawasaki disease causes blood vessels throughout the body to become inflamed. It causes a large variety of symptoms, including extremely dry skin and lips. Along with a high fever lasting several days, it is usually accompanied by a rash, joint pain, enlarged glands, eye redness, swelling in the hands and feet, a bright red and swollen tongue. A child exhibiting these symptoms needs to receive medical attention right away. 

13. Cheilitis

This condition won't respond to home remedies and self-care. You will need to seek medical advice. Cheilitis is usually related to inflammatory diseases and infections. You should also be aware that those with dental trauma could be affected. Bacteria can enter through the cracks and cause infection. Only a doctor will be able to determine this, however, and treat it. 

Symptoms include extremely cracked lips and mouth corners, dark pink and red lip color, the texture will feel lumpy, lip ulcers and white plaques. 

14. Herpes

The herpes simpex virus-1 that causes cold sores can also cause chapped lips. It is also very contagious. If you have cold sores, you should avoid sharing cups and kissing until they go away. There are over-the-counter medications or you can make an appointment with your healthcare provider. 

15. Impetigo

Impetigo is a bacterial infection that is most common in babies and children, but can be found in adults as well. Impetigo sores can appear anywhere on your body, but most commonly appear around the mouth and nose. Because impetigo infection initially presents as tiny sores with dry, cracked skin around them, you could initially assume they might be cold sores. Impetigo is very contagious and can be spread even though sharing clothing or bedding with someone who is infected. Impetigo is treatable, but can have rare, but serious complications. It is important to have it checked out by a doctor right away. 

How to Treat Dry, Cracked Lips with Chapped Corners

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There are several treatments you can do yourself that will likely take care of your dry, cracked lips.

First thing, as tempting as it may be, do not pick at the dry skin. It will end up being more harmful to your lips and likely cause more cracking and bleeding. It can also cause more irritation and assist bacteria getting into the cracks and causing an infection or a cold sore.

Using lip balm regularly is very important, and if you are likely to be in the sun very much at all, use one with at least SPF 15 to combat the sun's harmful rays. Also, look for a lip balm containing beeswax or petroleum to create a protective barrier from harsh elements and infection. Avoid using balms that come in pots. Your fingers usually have bacteria on them so you end up putting that bacteria in the balm and then onto your lips.

Using a humifier during the dry, winter months is also a good idea.

If you must be out in the cold, covering your mouth with a scarf or other winter weater covering is helpful as well.

Keep reading for more treatment ideas. 

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Up your fruit and veggie intake as they are already high in water content. 

Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol as those contribute to dehydration. 

And of course, DRINK MORE WATER. 

If you suspect vitamin deficiency may be the culprit, increase healthy foods such as red meat, dried beans and dark leafy greens to up your iron intake. For zinc, beef and spinach are good options. B vitamins are in many foods such as various fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are also loaded with B vitamins.  

If you take medications, check the side effects and talk to your healthcare provider. But, never stop medications without discussing the issue with your doctor.

There you have it. We've discussed 15 different possible reasons for your chapped lips as well as several treatment options. Take care of those lips!