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Dry Skin Around the Mouth: Causes & Treatments

Dry skin can occur just about anywhere on your body, but it’s especially noticeable and uncomfortable when it develops around your mouth. Following are the possible causes, as well as what you can do to make your skin look and feel better, faster!

Causes of Dry Skin Around the Mouth

For some people, dry skin around the mouth is a chronic, ongoing condition. For others, it pops up only randomly, even if the rest of their skin is not dry. Although the reasons differ from person to person (and it’s best to check with a dermatologist if the issue is persistent), here are some of the most common causes of dry skin around the mouth:

  • Perioral dermatitis is a condition that can resemble acne, appearing as red, raised bumps around the mouth accompanied by dry, scaly, sensitive skin. There are theories that overuse of topical cortisone creams, fluoridated toothpaste, or heavy ointments or creams may be responsible, but often it is unrelated to any of those.
  • Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin contacts a substance or ingredients that cause your skin to have an inflammatory sensitizing reaction. Ingredients such as fragrance, fragrant oils, mint, menthol (and its derivatives), citrus, and drying alcohol can all lead to abrupt and persistent irritation and dryness, and these ingredients are commonly present in around-the-mouth products like toothpaste, mouthwash, lipsticks, lip-plumping products, and many lip balms.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (seborrhea): More common in people with oily skin, this is caused by the overproduction of oil combined with irritation from a type of yeast that occurs naturally on skin. Although not a problem for most people, the presence of this yeast can result in dry, flaky skin. Because there are oil glands on the sides of the nose, this can result in the condition becoming apparent in areas close to the nose, which, of course, includes the mouth.
  • Climate change, lip-licking, and certain medications can trigger dry skin around the mouth. Changes in the weather, such as very cold temperatures and dry or windy conditions, can cause skin to become chapped and dry. Lip-licking and drooling (while you sleep; yes, it happens to everyone from time to time) are other causes, as saliva can remove the naturally secreted oils around the mouth area that normally keep it moisturized. There are also certain medications (both topical and oral) that can lead to dry skin, such as prescription acne medications like tretinoin and antibiotics like tetracycline.

How to Address Dry Skin Around the Mouth

When you experience dryness around the mouth area, the best thing to do is treat it with gentle skincare products that are free of fragrance and known irritants, as these often make dry skin worse, or might have caused the problem in the first place. If you are using a lip balm, lipstick, toothpaste, or mouthwash with a high amount of alcohol, essential oils, mint, peppermint, or fragrance (synthetic or natural, both are problems), consider alternatives that don’t include these ingredients (such as fragrance-free lip balms and alcohol-free fluoride rinses).

In the case of toothpaste, it is often difficult to find one that doesn’t contain at least some amount of mint. If necessary, after brushing, you can prevent irritation by using a gentle cleanser to wash the area around your mouth to remove any toothpaste that might be on the outside of your mouth. Using a moisturizer for your skin type after cleansing can also help seal in moisture to keep skin from getting drier throughout the day. Fluoride can also cause a reaction around the mouth, but you need to check with your doctor about what other kind of toothpaste you should use if fluoride is causing your problem.

If skin is severely dry to the point of cracking, a petrolatum-based product (once again, free of fragrance or irritants) along with other tenacious emollient ingredients that cling to lips and don’t easily wear off can provide the sort of heavy-duty moisture and protection skin needs to heal sooner. Most important, use this kind of product at night! Don’t leave the vulnerable skin around your mouth naked, deprived of moisture and skin-protecting ingredients.

If the dry skin around your mouth is persistent and doesn’t seem to be getting better with moisturizers, speak to your doctor about the potential causes because it could be the result of a medication you’re taking, or a medical condition that needs treatment with prescription topical products.

While dry skin around the mouth is frustrating, knowing its potential causes, what to avoid, and what to use to improve its appearance will set you on the path to clearing up this bothersome issue as quickly as possible. Now that’s something to smile about!

References for this information:

Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, March 2017
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, June 2016, pages 4–5
Journal of the American Dental Association, May 2015, pages 337–340
Clinical Dermatology, March–April 2011, pages 157–161
Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, May 2010, pages 42–47