Let's face it; acne is a nuisance. But breakouts around the mouth are even more frustrating. They're painful and stubborn, and these unpleasant pimples appear at the most inconvenient times. For some, breakouts are random and show up without warning; pimples are an almost constant struggle for those with acne-prone skin. Fortunately, acne around the mouth is treatable and preventable with the proper techniques.
Types of breakouts found around the mouth
Comedonal acne is very common around the mouth area and is different from "traditional" inflammatory acne. Comedones are small bumps, often skin-colored; they include blackheads, "open" comedones, and whiteheads, which are "closed" comedones. They are not red or inflamed like a typical pimple, nor do they render pus or swell excessively.
Pustules and papules
Unlike comedones, pustules and papules often cause inflammation and discomfort. They're common in acne-prone individuals and typically respond well to treatment options. Pustules are usually what you think of when you picture a zit. Papules are raised bumps on the skin that come to a head to form a white, pus-filled bubble on top. Papules are technically any small, raised bump on the skin that is often red.
Perioral dermatitis is a skin condition that may resemble acne but is actually an inflammatory rash. It frequently occurs around the mouth as well as the nose. It can range from scaly, scattered pink bumps to rough, scaly patches. The use of steroid creams or ointments (think: Hydrocortisone, Fluocinolone, triamcinolone, etc.) on the face is a frequent trigger for perioral dermatitis.
What causes acne breakouts around the mouth?
Have you ever wondered why acne might be popping up around your mouth region specifically? One of the most common places for pimples to appear is on the face along the T-zone (an area that includes your forehead, nose, and mouth/chin) due to the high number of sebaceous glands on the forehead and chin. Acne is also more likely to appear near the mouth if the skin is frequently touched. Here are a few other culprits that may be contributing to your acne.
Hormonal acne is a common cause of pimples around the mouth, the chin, and the jawline. Hormone imbalances can stimulate excess oil production, which can clog pores and lead to acne outbreaks. This is especially prevalent for women who experience fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone throughout their monthly menstrual cycle. Cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," can play a huge part in hormonal imbalances leading to acne. Hormonal irregularities may be the result of:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Overactive or underactive thyroid
Comedogenic and irritating facial products
In the last decade, dermatologists have concluded that inflammation is one of the primary causes of acne. Ingredients in lip balms and even toothpaste could irritate the mouth, making the skin inflamed. When the skin becomes irritated, it tries to protect itself by increasing oil production in the affected area. By producing more sebum, your skin creates a layer of protection between your cells and the external irritation. The inflammatory response causes the skin to swell, closing pores and preventing the source of irritation from penetrating deeper. However, when the pores close, all of the sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria on the surface of your skin get trapped. This causes acne and other skin conditions.
Another pesky ingredient that may be causing breakouts is Red 30. This synthetic pigment is used in cosmetics, particularly lip products, to get a rosy pink color. A D & C Red dye study found they were all comedogenic, meaning they can easily clog pores and irritate the skin. This was unsurprising to researchers as the ingredients in these dyes are coal tar derivatives - yikes!
Our cell phone screens are an acne-causing bacteria magnet. If you talk on the phone a lot, this could be causing your breakouts! When you touch your phone and press it against your face, you can spread all the ickiness from your screen to your skin. This transfer, coupled with sweat and friction caused by the cell, can exasperate breakouts. To combat bacteria buildup, wipe down the surface of your phone regularly with alcohol swabs.
While fluoride is found in most toothpaste, some people can react adversely to the ingredient, resulting in pimples around the mouth and even cystic acne. If you have pimples around your mouth or chin, we recommend you consult your dentist about possibly switching to a fluoride-free toothpaste and see if you notice a difference. Examples of good fluoride-free toothpaste are this one and this one.
After you eat, small food particles and leftover grease can remain on the skin and clog pores. Try to wipe your mouth area thoroughly after eating, and if possible, avoid excessively greasy foods.
Too much soy milk or tofu can cause pimples around the mouth.
Soybeans contain phytoestrogens (natural plant estrogens that mimic natural estrogen levels) that can cause acne breakouts on the lower parts of the face. Eating soybean-rich tofu, veggie burgers, soymilk, and vegan "whey" protein" can cause acne breakouts, mainly under the jawline and around the mouth. If you are looking for a soy-free protein supplement, you can check out this vegan, organic, plant-based protein alternative! Almond milk is an excellent alternative to soy milk.
Using the wrong COVID Face masks
With face masks now a part of our daily COVID outfit, many people face more breakouts than ever. Masks and facial coverings can cause acne flare-ups by rubbing against the skin, causing friction and chafing. Combined with the moist environment caused by trapping your breath under the mask, this irritation can be an acne's paradise. You may also find that your mask's material absorbs the skin's natural oils, leading to dryness and sensitivity. To help combat mask-induced acne, aka "maskne," dermatologists recommend:
- Not wearing makeup under your mask
- Using reusable cotton masks versus disposable
- Applying hydrating/oil-free products under your mask
- Washing your mask often
- Finding a mask that is antibacterial and antifungal
Chin straps that rub on the skin can clog the pores near your mouth. If you wear a football helmet or any other helmet with a chin strap, ensure it's not too tight. If the strap is removable, you need to wash it frequently.
Musical instruments that rest on the chin, such as the violin, or constantly touching the area around the mouth, like a flute, can result in clogged pores and more acne on the left side of the chin.
Best way to treat and prevent mouth acne, according to dermatologists
You need the proper skincare routine.
Washing your face daily is skincare 101, but learning how to keep the surface of your skin free of unwanted debris is more than half the battle to maintain clear skin. Dermatologists recommend washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser. You'll also want to follow up your washing with a balancing toner and hydrating moisturizer!
Every night before bed, ensure you remove all of your makeup. It's easy to forget areas of the face that are not super noticeable, like the upper lip or chin - but allowing products like foundation or bronzer to build up overnight can be a recipe for disaster.
Use a medicated BHA cleanser.
Be sure to use a medicated cleanser to clear your pores of dead skin cells and bacteria. Look for products containing salicylic acid, a perfect treatment for comedones and mild to moderate acne. The quick results and powerful acne-fighting properties of salicylic acid make MDacne's facial cleanser one of our most popular products!
Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is another non-prescription ingredient that works as a gentle micro-exfoliating agent by increasing skin cells' turnover rate and removing the harmful mixture of dead skin and sebum from the pores. Since it is antimicrobial, BPO will reduce acne-causing bacteria on the skin's surface, leading to fewer breakouts and plugged pores.
Incorporate retinol into your routine.
Topical retinol is an excellent line of defense against mouth acne. When spread on the skin, retinoids can break down bacteria and debris to unclog pores, allowing other treatments to penetrate the skin better and work effectively. Retinol can also help reduce future flare-ups by preventing dead cells buildup and reducing fine lines and wrinkles without over-drying the skin.
Struggle with razor bumps? Adopt a proper shaving regime
Shaving can cause significant irritation to the skin. Remember to regularly change your razor blades, as old blades can become dull and bacteria-ridden, causing even more skin problems. Always allow your razor to dry after use to prevent bacteria buildup.
Choosing a gentle shaving cream is also essential to reducing the risk of irritation. Look for a shaving cream with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients to produce an irritation-free shave that leaves the skin silky smooth, and hydrated!
Avoid comedogenic products
Your beloved lip balm could be to blame for your mouth acne. Some lip balms may be comedogenic, which leads to clogged pores. Oily or greasy lip balm wax can spread off the lips and onto the skin surrounding your mouth. Fragrances are often put into lip balms, which can cause further irritation. Check your products' labels and avoid pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, synthetic fragrances, alcohol, and sodium chloride.
When looking for a moisturizer - you should always choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer and an oil-free sunscreen. Active moisturizers with niacinamide are especially beneficial for people with acne around the mouth. This great active ingredient helps protect the natural skin barrier and helps prevent those annoying zits around the mouth.
Some lip balms can cause more acne breakouts around the mouth. To prevent this, we recommend looking for lip balms without coconut oil or cocoa butter. Some better choices are this acne-safe lip balm and this one.
Use effective anti-acne topical medication.
Spot treatment creams that include salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are great in helping combat pimples. The over-the-counter medications with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinol that do not require a dermatologist's prescription are frequently more effective and less irritating. They can rescue swelling, pain, and redness of the affected area while helping to loosen and dissolve the blockage in your pore. If you are in a rush, try a medicated pimple patch! They help heal blemishes in as little as 6 hours by acting as a sponge to absorb excess oil and pus from the clogged pore. Pimple patches also keep the blemish moist, promoting faster healing and reducing irritation.
How to apply benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for pimples around the mouth?
The skin around the mouth is very sensitive and easily irritated by benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. If you occasionally have single pimples in these sensitive areas, you can use your treatment cream as a spot treatment (undiluted). To reduce skin dryness and irritation, you can dilute your treatment cream by mixing it with a small ("pea-sized") quantity with equal moisturizer.
Q1. What are the different types of breakouts commonly found around the mouth?
A1. There are three types of breakouts commonly found around the mouth:
- Comedones: These are small bumps that can be blackheads or whiteheads, often appearing skin-colored and without inflammation.
- Pustules and papules: Pustules are what you typically envision as a zit, while papules are raised red bumps on the skin that may come to a head with a white, pus-filled bubble.
- Perioral dermatitis: This is an inflammatory rash that resembles acne but is not actually acne. It can manifest as scaly pink bumps or rough patches around the mouth and nose.
Q2. What causes acne breakouts around the mouth?
A2. Acne breakouts around the mouth can be caused by various factors, including:
- Hormonal imbalances: Fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, or cortisol levels can stimulate excess oil production, leading to acne. Hormonal acne is common during puberty, pregnancy, and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Comedogenic and irritating facial products: Lip balms, toothpaste, or cosmetics with ingredients that irritate the skin can lead to inflammation and increased oil production, resulting in acne.
- Red 30: Synthetic pigment used in lip products, which can clog pores and irritate the skin due to being comedogenic.
- Cellphone usage: Bacteria present on cellphone screens can transfer to the skin, leading to breakouts. Regularly cleaning the phone's surface can help prevent this.
- Fluoride in toothpaste: Some individuals may react adversely to fluoride, causing pimples around the mouth and chin. Switching to fluoride-free toothpaste can be beneficial.
- Food residue: Leaving small food particles or greasy residue on the skin after eating can clog pores and contribute to acne.
- Soy milk: Excessive consumption of soy products, such as soy milk or tofu, can cause acne breakouts around the mouth due to the presence of phytoestrogens.
- Wrong COVID face masks: Masks can cause friction, trapping moisture and bacteria, leading to acne. Choosing the right mask, not wearing makeup under it, and maintaining proper hygiene can help prevent "maskne."
- Helmet straps: Chin straps on helmets can clog pores and contribute to acne. Proper cleaning and ensuring the strap is not too tight are essential.
- Musical instruments: Instruments that rest on the chin or frequently touch the mouth area can cause clogged pores and acne, particularly on the left side of the chin.
Q3. What is the best way to treat and prevent acne around the mouth, according to dermatologists?
A3. Dermatologists recommend the following strategies for treating and preventing acne around the mouth:
- Follow a proper skincare routine: Wash your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser, use a balancing toner, and apply a hydrating moisturizer.
- Use a medicated BHA cleanser: Look for products containing salicylic acid to clear pores and treat comedones and mild to moderate acne.
- Incorporate retinol into your routine: Topical retinol helps unclog pores, reduce bacteria, and prevent future flare-ups.
- Establish a proper shaving regime: Regularly change razor blades, allow them to dry after use, and use gentle shaving cream to minimize irritation.
- Avoid comedogenic products: Check product labels and avoid lip balms, moisturizers, or cosmetics with pore-clogging ingredients like coconut oil, synthetic fragrances, alcohol, and sodium chloride.
- Use effective anti-acne topical medication: Spot treatment creams with ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can help combat pimples.
- Dilute treatment creams for sensitive areas: Since the skin around the mouth is sensitive, you can mix a small amount of treatment cream with an equal quantity of moisturizer to reduce dryness and irritation.
- Maintain overall hygiene: Clean your cell phone regularly, wipe your mouth area after eating, and ensure helmet straps are clean and properly fitted.
- Seek professional advice: Consult a dermatologist for personalized recommendations and potential prescription treatments if needed.
The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne
Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear
'Cellphone acne' epidemic during the COVID‐19 pandemic
Antibacterial properties of benzoyl peroxide in aerobic and anaerobic conditions
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