Acne breakouts on any part of the face or body are hardly a problem most people want to deal with. Acne around the mouth can be even more irritating as it may cause pain anytime we eat, talk, or just move our mouths in general. Ever wonder why you might be breaking out around your mouth, specifically? The reason will be different for everyone, but according to our experts, most commonly, breakouts occur around the mouth thanks to hormones, product build up, and external triggers, like dry skin.
We spoke with two dermatologists to learn more about why some people may break out around their mouths, how to treat mouth breakouts, and how to possibly prevent more from returning.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Craig A. Kraffert is a board certified dermatologist and President of Amarte Skincare.
- Dr. Estee Williams is a board certified medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatologist who practices on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City.
Types of Breakouts Around the Mouth
If you break out around the mouth, you’ve likely noticed the same types of pimples popping up in that area. That’s because certain acne symptoms are more common than others in certain areas of the face and body:
- Comedones: “Comedonal acne is common around the mouth,” says Dr. Craig A. Kraffert. Comedones are small bumps that are often close to the color of the skin, and consist of blackheads, which are “open” comedones, and whiteheads, which are “closed” comedones. “A rosacea component sometimes exists alongside acne in this area and in these cases the breakouts are more inflammatory and bumpy,” he adds.
- Cysts and papules: While whiteheads and blackheads can frequently pop up around the mouth for some people, Upper East Side dermatologist Dr. Estee Williams states that there are other types of breakouts that may be even more common in that area of the face: “Cysts and papules are more common than blackheads and whiteheads on the lower face and around the mouth because of the different types of skin there,” explains Williams. What’s so different about the skin around the mouth and chin? According to Williams, there are fewer sebaceous glands here, which can result in less oil being produced. Every hair follicle, or pore, is attached to a sebaceous gland, and when these glands produce too much oil, it can become clogged within a pore. Acne symptoms, like cysts and papules, occur when that extra oil combines with dead skin cells within a pore to create P. acnes bacteria, which can lead to breakouts.
- Perioral dermatitis. Some bumps may look and feel very similar to acne breakouts, but are actually the symptoms of different skin conditions: “A unique acne-like condition occurs around the mouth and is particularly common in young women,” says Kraffert. “Perioral dermatitis has a distinct appearance but is easy to misdiagnose as acne or rash. Perioral dermatitis requires twice daily tetracycline treatment for six weeks to predictably cure.” Williams adds that eczema, contact dermatitis, and rosacea also frequently appear around the chin and mouth and may be easily mistaken for acne. If your skin is covered in dry, flaky skin or small red bumps, you may not have acne at all, and should consider consulting a dermatologist to get the proper treatment plan in order.
Common Causes and Prevention
While there is no one-size-fits-all cure for the condition of acne, there are measures we can implement to treat and prevent breakouts, which are best implemented when we understand what’s causing them.
- Hormones: “Acne is, to a great degree, hormonal,” says Kraffert. What does he mean by that? Sex hormones, specifically, androgens, are known to kick the sebaceous glands into high gear, causing them to produce extra oil.
- Product build-up: Ever notice how sweat from a sports bra leaves breakouts under the bra line, or how certain hair products may result in bumps along the hairline? The same thing can hold true for what comes in contacts with our mouths and the areas around it. “In some cases cosmetic products used on the lips and hair removal products and treatments used on the chin can be contributory,” explains Kraffert. If you spot breakouts right around your lip line, try checking your chapstick or lipstick for coconut oil or other potentially comedogenic ingredients.
- Know your triggers: Having acne doesn’t mean anyone has to assess or avoid every single thing that might potentially result in a breakout, but noticing patterns between certain things, like certain ingredients, and breakouts, may help you avoid them in the future. For example, if you notice more breakouts when your skin becomes dry, try adding a physical or chemical exfoliant to your weekly skincare routine, which will slough away any dead skin cells that might contribute to clogged pores.
If you’ve identified those bumps around your mouth as acne breakouts, you can begin treating your symptoms with over the counter products, skincare methods, and, when needed, prescription medication.
Regularly Cleanse and Exfoliate Your Skin
Skincare 101, we know, but keeping the surface of your skin free of debris, which includes dead skin cells, is half the battle in maintaining unclogged pores. Kraffert recommends the Amarte ExfoliPowder, which works to cleanse and exfoliate simultaneously, making this step as simple and effective as possible.
Thoroughly Remove Your Makeup at Night
Hopefully, everyone is removing their makeup before bed, and that practice should include those areas of the face that may not be super noticeable, like above the lip or under the chin.
Use "Good" Oils
This one is especially true for anyone who may use an over the counter wax or sugar hair removal product above the lip or on the chin to remove facial hair. Often, these products come with an oil to use after waxing to help remove sticky residue, and depending on the ingredients, they can be pore clogging. To clean your skin after waxing, stick to lighter oils like sweet almond oil or neem oil, which may be less likely to clog pores.
Add a Retinoid to Your Routine
“For persistent troublesome breakouts around the mouth, prescription topical retinoids, antibiotics, and benzoyl peroxide are the first line,” says Kraffert. If you’re looking for an over-the-counter retinol to try before taking the plunge, Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment is a tried and true fave.
Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is a derivative of vitamin A. It is an antioxidant used in anti-aging skincare products.
If OTC Methods Don't Help, Talk to Your Derm About a Prescription
If you find yourself battling chronic acne around your mouth, or notice flare ups at certain times of the month, talking to your dermatologist about topical or oral prescriptions may save yourself, and your skin, from unnecessary stress. “For a few or solitary cysts, a topical treatment may be enough,” says Williams. For topical prescription meds, Kraffert recommends Aklief Gel, which features the retinoid trifarotene, and Epiduo Forte Gel, which contains adapalene, a retinoid, along with benzoyl peroxide. If you have severe cystic acne, especially those that leave you with marks or scars, Williams recommends talking to your doctor about oral medication.
Ask Your Dermatologist About Chemical Peels
Seek in-office treatments when possible. “For acne around the mouth, I recommend medication based on the severity of the condition. I take a very hands-on approach to acne—by combining home medications and in-office procedures,” says Williams. “[In-office] l have access to our trusted procedures for face and body acne such as chemical peels and my favorite, Lumenis’ M22 Acne IPL.”
Makrantonaki E, Ganceviciene R, Zouboulis C. An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011;3(1):41-49. doi:10.4161/derm.3.1.13900