Here’s a cheat sheet on how to get rid and prevent those pesky pimples around your mouth.
Building and consistently maintaining a good skincare routine is a tough task. There are a lot of considerations that you have to factor in (i.e. your skin type, product reviews, potential allergies, etc.). However, the struggle becomes even worse, when on top of maintaining your skin, you have to also deal with stubborn spots around your mouth.
Lucky for you, you’re in the right place. We’re here to end your struggle with acne around the mouth. In this article, you’re going to learn about the most common causes of acne around the mouth area. This guide will also teach you the most effective tips on how to get rid of those pesky pimples and prevent them from coming back. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Types of Acne Around Mouth
Before we go deep into the different treatment strategies that can help us get rid of these spots, we should first know what we’re dealing with. To be clear, not all spots appearing around your mouth are acne.
Distinguishing these spots from one another is the key for effectively managing them (and eventually getting rid of them). Below are some of the most common kinds of spots that can appear on your mouth area:
Comedones are basic acne lesions often occurring on the forehead and chin area. Comedones occur when sebum and dead skin cells clog the hair follicles of the skin.
Blackheads are open comedones characterized by dark spots appearing at the top of small protruding bumps. Because they’re ‘open’ comedones, the melanin in the skin gets exposed to oxygen. When oxidation takes place, open comedones turn dark. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are closed comedones characterized by small protruding bumps with white spots.
Cysts and papules (acne)
Cysts (a.k.a. nodulocystic acne) are characterized by large, pus-filled red or white bumps that are painful when touched. They’re deep-rooted and often leave scars.
Papules, on the other hand, look like small red bumps on the skin. They arise when pores get blocked by a mix of sebum, dead skin cells, and cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes). Like cystic acne, they can also feel sore when touched but they don’t contain pus.
Perioral dermatitis (not acne)
Perioral dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by red, scaly rashes/bumps. Although this often occurs in the mouth area, it may spread around the nose and eye area.
Despite the fact that this condition is relatively common, its exact cause remains unknown. However, experts have found that topical steroid exposure can trigger this condition. Treatment may include discontinuing steroids, applying topical metronidazole, and taking oral tetracycline antibiotics.
Sebaceous filaments (not acne)
Sebaceous filaments are small cylindrical tubes that have a whitish-yellowish, almost grayish, color. Ordinarily, sebaceous filaments aren’t visible. However, the sebaceous filaments of people with large pores can get noticeable, looking quite a lot like blackheads.
While blackheads arise because of pore blockage, sebaceous filaments are naturally part of the skin. Thus, it’s best to leave them alone and resist the urge to pick on them. But if you’re really bothered by them, you can try breaking these filaments down with salicylic acid. Note that this will only be a temporary fix. The grayish spots can come back after a few days.
What Causes Acne Around Mouth?
Now that we’ve sorted out what is acne from what is not, we can now move on to the next step. To get rid of them, we should know what’s causing them in the first place. Below are some of the most common causes of acne around the mouth:
Androgens are male sex hormones that are naturally occurring in both men and women. When androgen production goes into overdrive, hormonal fluctuations occur. As a result, sebum production is stimulated. As we know, the presence of excess sebum is one of the main causes of acne. When sebum, sweat, and bacteria clog the hair follicles, acne formation takes place. This is how hormonal imbalance triggers hormonal breakouts.
[note] Hormonal acne can also occur as a side effect of testosterone hormone replacement therapy. The surge in testosterone, an active kind of androgen, can cause an increase in sebum production. [/note]
While acne can occur anywhere on the body, studies show that hormonal acne tends to concentrate in the lower third of the face (a.k.a. the chin and jawline area). This is due to the sheer amount of oil glands located there. Thus, the mouth, chin, and jawline area are most susceptible to acne caused by hormonal imbalances.
Hormone levels often get thrown out of alignment during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Discontinuing hormonal birth control pills may also cause previously-managed hormonal imbalance to return. Women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are also susceptible to hormonal fluctuations. Women with PCOS have ovaries that produce abnormally high levels of androgen.
Poor shaving habits
Shaving, by itself, doesn’t cause acne. However, having improper hygiene and using comedogenic products can trigger breakouts after shaving. Unclean razors are harborers of gunk, sebum, and dead skin cells. Not properly cleaning them, before and after shaving, can cause the spread of acne-causing bacteria on your face.
Using comedogenic products, especially after shaving, also exposes the skin to substances that have the tendency to clog pores and trigger acne. Additionally, not rinsing your face properly after shaving can also aggravate your acne flare-ups due to potential bacterial contamination of your newly-shaved skin.
Even ordinary things like chin straps, musical instruments, and cellphones can trigger acne. Because of the nature of how these things are used as well as how often they’re used, they can easily accumulate dirt and acne-causing bacteria. When these things come into close contact with the area around the mouth, the combination of sebum and bacteria can trigger acne formation.
Similarly, while wearing masks is extremely helpful in protecting us against harmful viruses and airborne diseases, wearing masks for long periods has downsides for our skin. As the skin under your mask deals with the humidity caused by your own breath and sweat, bacteria and sebum build-up is enhanced. This, in turn, increases your risk of developing maskne (mask acne) on the mouth and chin area.
Unfortunately, the lip balms and toothpastes that we use may have comedogenic ingredients in them. Common lip balm ingredients like coconut oil, lanolin, isopropyl myristate and cocoa butter have the tendency to cause acne around the mouth. When comedogenic lip balms melt or get dragged outside the lips, they can block hair openings in the mouth area and trigger acne as a consequence.
Toothpastes containing comedogenic ingredients can also cause acne around the mouth. While some swear by toothpaste as an effective spot treatment remedy for acne, this skincare myth has been debunked.
On the contrary, studies show that fluoride, a common toothpaste ingredient, can even cause acne-like eruptions on the skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), another common toothpaste ingredient, can also dry out the skin around the mouth, thereby triggering an increase in sebum production as your skin tries to compensate for the lack of moisture.
How to Prevent Acne Around Mouth?
As they say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Having the right acne skincare routine and using the right skincare products can help prevent acne from coming back. Here’s how to do it:
Maintain good hygiene and minimise contact
If you can’t minimize using certain things that constantly touch your face (i.e. chin straps, musical instruments, cellphones), the best alternative is to keep them clean through frequent disinfection.
To avoid bacteria transfer and oil accumulation on your mouth area after eating, always wipe your mouth with unscented and hypoallergenic wet wipes before putting your mask back on. For those who wear cloth masks, experts recommend washing and replacing them daily. We recommend using gentle and unscented soap for cleaning your cloth masks as some scented laundry soaps may irritate sensitive and acne-ridden skin.
Traces of soap left after washing cloth masks can cause irritation and aggravate acne around the mouth area. Make sure to rinse them thoroughly to prevent this from happening. Likewise, be sure to dry them out fully before wearing them again as bacteria thrive easier in moist environments.
Avoid comedogenic ingredients
While not all oils and alcohols are comedogenic, most of them are. So, when in doubt, avoid products containing oils, lanolins, alcohols, and emollients. When choosing your skincare and aftershave products, make it a habit to look for products labeled as non-comedogenic.
[note] Because the US-FDA doesn’t clearly define what can be considered as non-comedogenic, the reliability of this cosmetic labeling claim is limited. Moreover, not all non-comedogenic products have this label. To be sure, you can use SkinCarisma’s ingredient analyzer tool to counter-check if a product’s ingredients are comedogenic or not. [/note]
How to Get Rid of Acne Around Mouth
Now that we know how to prevent acne around the mouth from coming back, we can now move on to the different ways on how to deal with current acne flare-ups. Here are some of the most effective ways to get rid of acne around mouth:
Low pH cleanser
People with sensitive and acne prone skin should go for low pH level cleansers (pH 4-6). As several studies have shown, the skin surface is naturally acidic. Using low pH cleansers can help balance this acidic nature and make maintaining the skin’s ideal pH level easier. Moreover, low pH cleansers can also reduce acne by making the skin environment non-ideal for acne growth.
Never use bar soaps or products with denatured alcohol after shaving. These products can dehydrate your skin and trigger the stimulation of sebum production. This results in a vicious cycle of overdrying and overproduction of oil, aggravating acne formation in the process.
While you may think that applying oil-based products on acne-ridden skin is questionable, doing so can actually benefit acne-prone skin. Oil-based cleansers can safely rid the skin of oil, dirt, and other sebaceous filaments, without stripping it of its natural protective oils.
Oil-based cleansers are naturally lipophilic, meaning they attach easily to oily substances. When these lipophilic substances bind to other oils that are present on your mouth area, it makes it easier for you to rinse any stagnant sunscreen or pore-clogging debris off your face.
Tip: Consider oil cleansers containing jojoba oil. Research suggests that this non-comedogenic ingredient isn’t only high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also effective in treating acne lesions and mild acne vulgaris.
Physical exfoliation is done by removing skin debris using textured surfaces, tools, or skincare scrubs. Chemical exfoliation, on the other hand, is done by applying chemicals (i.e. AHAs and BHAs) that dissolve dead skin cells.
For people with acne-prone skin, experts recommend chemical exfoliation over physical exfoliation. The latter is deemed too irritating for said skin types and has the tendency to create micro-tears on the skin surface.
BHA chemical exfoliants containing salicylic acid (SA) are especially effective in addressing acne around the mouth. SAs help stabilize the skin peeling process and eliminate dead skin cells, thereby keeping the pores free from acne-causing debris.
Overexfoliation can damage your skin’s moisture barrier. When this happens, your skin can become extremely dehydrated and an overproduction of sebum may take place. Limit your chemical exfoliation to no more than twice a week.
The constant friction brought about by wearing masks may cause acne to become more inflamed and irritated. Luckily, you can wear hydrocolloid plasters on top of your acne-ridden skin to cushion this constant friction.
Hydrocolloid plasters are a special type of bandage that can pull out and absorb excess pus and oil. They can speed up the healing process of acne by preventing bacterial contamination. Some plasters also contain acne-fighting ingredients, making them ideal for acne management.
Birth control pills
As discussed, hormonal fluctuations play a big part in acne formation. No wonder people with frequent bouts of hormonal acne flare-ups often turn to hormone-regulating medications like combination birth control pills.
Only combination pills are used for acne management. Progestin-only mini-pills aren’t recommended for acne treatment. They tend to make the skin oilier and more prone to acne.
Combination pills are birth control pills containing a combination of ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel, norethindrone, norgestimate, drospirenone, cyproterone acetate, chlormadinone acetate, dienogest or desogestrel. They help stabilize your hormone levels throughout your entire menstrual cycle.
Birth control pills, although generally considered safe, may have detrimental side effects on people with certain conditions. They aren’t advisable for individuals who have a history of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, blood clotting disorders, liver disease, and diabetes. Make sure to seek out your doctor’s advice before going on the pill.
Indeed, acne around the mouth is a problem no one wants to deal with. Luckily, there are many
ways to address them and prevent them from coming back.
With this ultimate guide, you can now confidently bid your maskne and problematic acne flare-ups goodbye. You’re now one step closer to that flawless skin you’ve always dreamt of.
We hope that this article helped you understand more about your skin and how it reacts to certain factors. If you have more skincare tips up your sleeves, feel free to share them with us in the comments section below.