What Is Perioral Dermatitis? 2 Dermatologists Explain the Skin Condition

Skin conditions are more common than you might think, with perioral dermatitis being one of the most prevalent. You've likely encountered it before, with celebrities like Hailey Bieber sharing their experiences on TikTok. According to Nancy Samolitis, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and cofounder of Facile Dermatology + Boutique, perioral dermatitis manifests with sensitivity, redness, dryness, and bumps commonly around the mouth, nose, and chin, and sometimes also around the eyes and forehead area.

There is a lot of misinformation about its causes, how to care for it, and which treatments are actually effective. That's why we've worked to provide you with answers from two skin experts. Keep reading to get the 411.

What Is Perioral Dermatitis?

According to board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, the founder of Dr. Loretta, perioral dermatitis was first described in the 1970s as an acne-like rash localized around the mouth, extending up to the nasolabial folds above the lip and down to the chin, typically sparing the vermilion border of the lip. The name originates from the fact that this anatomical area is termed the perioral region.

Perioral dermatitis resembles acne with red bumps (papules) and sometimes pustules. "It can be tender, itchy, and unsightly, and unfortunately, it is typically pretty chronic, lasting months to years without treatment," Dr. Ciraldo says.

Another way to know if you have it is that the affected skin can be sensitive, experiencing a stinging or burning sensation, especially when skin-care products are applied.

Perioral Dermatitis Causes

Per Dr. Samolitis, perioral dermatitis can be caused by the use of topical steroid creams (usually high-potency/prescription versions) or fluorinated toothpaste, but in many cases, the cause is unclear. "Although active skin-care ingredients like retinoids and exfoliating acids do not necessarily cause this condition, they can worsen it," she says.

Additionally, hormonal fluxes, such as those brought on by oral contraceptives, stress (always a culprit), and acne-producing hair or skin-care products, can also contribute to its onset, Dr. Ciraldo says.

Can Perioral Dermatitis Spread?

Thankfully, perioral dermatitis typically remains localized to the face. However, Dr. Ciraldo warns that picking at it may cause it to spread, though its name suggests it's usually confined to a specific area. Additionally, it's important to note that perioral dermatitis is not contagious, meaning it cannot be spread from person to person.

How to Care For Perioral Dermatitis

If you've been diagnosed with perioral dermatitis or suspect you have it, the best course of action is to determine its cause and potential solutions. This may involve discontinuing the use of a birth control pill or steroid/cortisone creams on the face. "I typically recommend gentle, bland skin-care products containing no active ingredients or exfoliants until it clears up," Dr. Samolitis says.

How to Treat Perioral Dermatitis

Perioral dermatitis medications that are available via a prescription are often the most effective if it doesn't clear up with gentle skin care. "We often use some of the same treatments that are effective for rosacea, including both topical and oral medications," Dr. Samolitis says.

Dr. Ciraldo suggests blue LED therapy as well as topical antibiotics like clindamycin gel or oral doxycycline, as it's often responsive to these treatments.

There are some telltale signs perioral dermatitis is healing once you find the right treatment for you. Perioral dermatitis symptoms like redness, dryness, and bumps will typically resolve. "Definitely keep a photographic record of your progress to ensure that any medications, changes in products, or other treatments are effectively addressing the condition," Dr. Ciraldo says.

Perioral Dermatitis Images