Let's face it; acne is a nuisance. But, breakouts around the mouth are even more frustrating. They're painful, they're stubborn, and these unpleasant pimples seem to show up at the most inconvenient times. For some, breakouts are totally random and show up without warning; pimples are an almost constant struggle for those with acne-prone skin. Fortunately enough, 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 that are 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 individuals who are acne-prone and typically respond well to treatment options. Pustules are often 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 in color.
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 that can lead 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 one of the primary causes of acne is inflammation. Ingredients in lip balms and even toothpaste could be irritating the mouth, resulting in the skin becoming 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 pink rosy color. A study of D & C Red dyes found that 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 what is 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 have an adverse reaction to the ingredient, resulting in pimples around the mouth and even cystic acne. If you have pimples around your mouth or on the chin, we recommend that you consult with 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, tofu can cause pimples around the mouth.
Soybeans contain phytoestrogens (natural plant estrogens and 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 a good 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. In combination with the moist environment caused by the trapping of 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 anti-bacterial 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 kind of helmet with a chin strap, make sure 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 that constantly touch 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 right 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 when it comes to maintaining clear skin. Dermatologists recommend washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser. You'll want to follow up your washing with a balancing toner and hydrating moisturizer as well!
Every night before bed, make sure you are removing 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 keep your pores clear of dead skin cells and bacteria. Look for products that contain salicylic acid, which is a perfect treatment for comedones and mild to moderate acne. The quick results and powerful acne-fighting properties of salicylic acid are what 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 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 a great line of defense against mouth acne. When spread on the skin, retinoids can break down bacteria and debris in the skin 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 major 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 build-up.
Choosing a gentle shaving cream is also important 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 as well; this can cause further irritation. Check your products' labels and try to 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 that you look 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 prescription are frequently more effective and less irritating than prescription medication. 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 to promote faster healing and reduced 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 an equal amount of your moisturizer.
The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne
Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear
‘Cell‐phone acne’ epidemic during the COVID‐19 pandemic
Antibacterial properties of benzoyl peroxide in aerobic and anaerobic conditions
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