An Itchy Rash Around the Lips: Perioral Dermatitis Explained

Perioral dermatitis is a common inflammatory skin rash

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Perioral dermatitis (PD) is a scaly, itchy rash that often appears around the lips. It may extend up to the border of the mouth or there might be some clear skin in between. It may also spread to other areas of the face and body, and it can affect both children and adults.

Also called periorificial dermatitis, this condition causes symptoms such as:

  • Red bumps
  • Flaky skin
  • Clear fluid discharge
  • Inflammation

This article explains the causes of perioral dermatitis and what the rash looks like. It also explores how this rash is diagnosed, as well as available treatment options.

Rash around child's mouth.
James Heilman, MD / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

What the Rash Looks and Feels Like

PD appears as a red rash around the lips. The rash may consist of small, red bumps called papules. You may also have dry, flaky, or scaly skin and a clear fluid discharge.

The rash may itch or burn. In some cases, it can spread to other parts of the face, such as the nose and eyes. Rarely, it the same rash may appear around the genitals.

Causes of Perioral Dermatitis

The causes of perioral dermatitis are not well understood, but use of prescription steroids or some personal care products is often associated with the condition.

Females are more likely than males to develop PD. The condition is also most likely to occur in people between the ages of 19 and 45. Children can also develop PD.

Steroids

Steroids are a type of anti-inflammatory medication. Their use, especially long-term, has been closely linked to perioral dermatitis. This is true for topical steroids and for steroids that are inhaled through the nose or mouth.

If you or your child are using a steroid cream or steroid spray, especially for long periods of time, watch for symptoms of PD.

Health and Beauty Products

The use of heavy face creams and moisturizers may also cause perioral dermatitis. Those that contain certain ingredients, like paraffin and petroleum jelly, may be particularly problematic.

In children, high sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen may contribute to this lip rash.

Makeup, especially foundation, may also cause PD.

Some cleansers and shampoos contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This compound is known to irritate sensitive skin, which may lead to perioral dermatitis.

Finally, a few case reports have suggested a link between fluoride toothpaste and PD. Tartar control ingredients used in some toothpastes may also play a role.

Other Possibilities

Researchers believe environmental conditions like heat and wind may play a role in someone developing this condition.

Other potential triggers may include:

  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Problems with the immune system

Some doctors consider perioral dermatitis to be a type of rosacea. This is because of overlapping symptoms and triggers. Other experts, however, have concluded that the two are separate conditions.

How Perioral Dermatitis Is Diagnosed

There is no test to diagnose PD. Your doctor can diagnose it based on your symptoms.

Seeing a dermatologist—a physician who specializes in skin conditions—may be helpful, as they may have more experience spotting cases of PD than other physicians.

Your practitioner may work to rule out other similar conditions as part of the diagnostic process. These include:

  • Impetigo: This skin infection is common among school-age children and is easily spread. Symptoms include red, oozing sores around the nose or mouth.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This rash is usually seen in the creases around your child's nose. It may cause flaking behind the ears and eyebrows
  • Angular cheilitis: Iron deficiency and teeth issues can lead to inflammation and flaking at the corners of the mouth.
  • Lip licker's dermatitis: Kids may suck their lower lip or lick their lips, especially during the winter. As the skin around their lips gets dry and irritated, your child may develop a rash.

Perioral dermatitis is commonly diagnosed in children of any age and in women between the ages of 19 and 40.

Treatment Options

PD may go away on its own. If not, it's possible that discontinuing the use of triggering products may be enough to clear the rash. Use a gentle facial soap while your rash heals, and switch to dental products that do not contain fluoride.

If you use a steroid cream or spray, your doctor may recommend that you stop doing so as a first step. It's important to note that the rash may get worse before healing.

In some cases, prescription medications may be recommended.

Know, though, that PD can recur—even with treatment. You may go through periods of flare-up and periods where you have no symptoms. For some patients, long-term management of the condition may be necessary.

Prescription Medications

Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical medications to help treat your rash. These may include:

  • Oral antibiotics such as doxycycline or tetracycline
  • Elidel topical cream, a medication commonly used for an eczema rash
  • The topical antibiotic erythromycin
  • The topical antibiotic metronidazole

Recap

Prescription medications, including topical creams and oral antibiotics may help clear up your rash. It is also important to discontinue the use of irritating facial products.

Preventing Perioral Dermatitis

If you are prone to PD and resumed using prescribed steroid medications, talk to your doctor. You may need to permanently discontinue these medications to prevent flare-ups.

You can also help prevent flare-ups by avoiding the use of heavy creams, moisturizers, and foundations.

Switching to a non-fluoride toothpaste and avoiding high SPF sunscreen may also help.

Recap

For some people, perioral dermatitis is long-term. It may recur after treatment. You can help prevent flare-ups by avoiding triggering products.

Summary

PD is a red, bumpy, flaky rash that typically shows up around the lips. It may also be found on other areas of the face and body. Children and women tend to be diagnosed most often with this rash.

While there isn't a medical test to diagnose this rash, a dermatologist will be able to identify it based on your symptoms. They may offer treatment suggestions such as:

  • Taking an oral antibiotic
  • Using a topical antibiotic
  • Stopping the use of any steroids and/or fluoride products

A Word From Verywell

There is strong evidence that PD may be related to the use of prescription steroids. This includes both topical and inhaled steroids. Still, you should always talk to your doctor before changing or stopping the use of any prescription medication.

PD may take a while to clear up. It is also possible that it may recur. Talk to a dermatologist about the best treatment options for you. Working closely with your doctor will give you the best chance of successfully clearing your rash.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes rashes around the lips?

    Rashes around the lips can have a number of causes, including bacterial infections, nutritional problems, and skin irritants. Perioral dermatitis is a specific type of rash linked to steroid use and irritating skin and oral care products.

  • How do you treat a rash around your lips?

    Many rashes around the mouth can be treated by simply discontinuing the use of irritating products. Some rashes need to be treated with prescription medications, like antibiotics.

  • How do you heal a rash around your lips fast?

    If your rash is caused by a skin product like moisturizer or foundation, discontinuing use of that product could be a fast way to clear it up. If your rash doesn't go away after taking this step, see a dermatologist.

  • What does dermatitis around your lips look like?

    These rashes may consist of small bumps. Your skin may be red, dry, and flaky. You may also have sores that ooze or discharge of clear fluid. Some rashes around your lips may also burn and itch.

  • Why do I have small itchy bumps around my lips?

    Rashes around the lips are often caused by skin irritants. Lip licking, bacterial infections, and skin conditions like eczema can also be culprits. The best way to find the cause of your lip rash is to see a dermatologist.

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14 Sources
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