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Here's How To Deal With This Insanely Annoying Mouth Issue

Wtf is happening and what can you do about it? Warning: Somewhat graphic cracked lip photos ahead.

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Have you ever woken up and the corners of your mouth are so dry and cracked you just feel like:

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The struggle is real.

So BuzzFeed Life checked with two dermatologists, Dr. Julie Karen of Complete Skin MD and Dr. Michelle Green, to find out wtf that's all about.

It's totally normal, especially during winter, for the corners of your mouth to get irritated and inflamed — also known as "angular cheilitis" or "perleche."

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It's pretty common and affects people of all ages, says Green. You can get it during any season, but it often happens in the winter because the lack of humidity in the air can impair your lip barrier so it's more prone to cracking and injury, says Karen. Once it cracks, it can be really tricky to heal.

It's usually caused by an infection of fungi or yeast from excess saliva trapped in the cracked corners of your mouth.

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When moisture builds up in a warm closed area like this, it's easy for yeast and fungi to grow and lead to an infection, says Karen. It's less common, but bacteria like staphylococcus can also infect cracked skin and cause inflammation.

It probably seems counterintuitive — wouldn't spit keep your lips moisturized? — but all that saliva can actually dry your lips out and break down the skin, says Karen. It usually happens at night when you're drooling and, obviously, if you're a chronic lip-licker

And this can happen if you aren't protecting your mouth with a petroleum- or beeswax-based lip balm.

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These act as protectants for the skin to prevent excess moisture and buildup of yeast or fungi, says Green. Some lip balms are better than others, but we'll get to that in a bit.

The cracking can range from mild to more severe and chronic, which gets pretty painful.

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You might be more susceptible to this if you have eczema, which already makes the skin sensitive and prone to irritation, says Green. Other factors include having braces or other orthodontic devices and old age. "When you age, the creases at the corner of your mouth become more pronounced with wrinkles, which makes it easier to develop chronic angular cheilitis," says Karen.

Licking your lips too much, scented lip balms, and acne creams can all make it worse.

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"Licking your lips too much is the worst thing you can do," says Karen. You should also avoid lip balms with fragrances and perfumes, which are common skin irritants. And since many people mistake the condition for acne around the mouth, says Green, they'll often try acne creams or washes to treat it. "The benzoyl peroxide and alcohol in acne-fighting products is just drying the skin out and making it worse," she says.

You can usually just treat it with protectants like Vaseline or Aquaphor, but you may need an anti-fungal or steroid cream.

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"You need to keep the lips moisturized with Aquaphor or Vaseline to prevent more cracking," says Green. Topical anti-fungal creams (yep, like the kind used for athlete's foot) can also help clear up the underlying fungal infection, and steroid creams like Cortisone can help with inflammation.

If you're prone to the condition or you just healed and want to avoid a relapse, Karen even suggests using a tiny bit of diaper rash ointment in the corners of your mouth before bed to prevent saliva from accumulating.

BUT be sure to check with a doctor before trying any of these, since they can tell you the right amount and frequency for applying. And, obviously, only use a tiny bit in the corners of your mouth and don't actually ingest it.

If it doesn't clear up with those treatments, you might want to see a dermatologist to explore other possible causes.

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Usually it's just a harmless condition that's easy to treat, says Karen. "But if it's not getting better and there is any yellow discharge or crust, it could be a bacterial infection which requires antibiotics," she says. Other possibilities include contact dermatitis (an allergy to things like food, cosmetics, or toothpaste that sit on the skin around the mouth) or a lack of vitamin B. But in most cases, it will go away in about a week if you treat it properly.

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