For many of us, it's a common recurring waking nightmare: that pimple on the corner of the mouth that just won’t go away. Your lips and the surrounding area can be very sensitive, and you might be very aware of any blemish that pops up there, especially if it’s inflamed and tender. As frustrating as they may be, pimples around the mouth are common, and there are many treatments and preventive steps you can take to kiss those blemishes goodbye.
The factors that contribute to pimples around the mouth aren’t so different from the pimples on the rest of your face. Factors like hormones and diet may play a role, as can stress and even skincare products. What’s important to know is that acne starts with a buildup of sebum from the sebaceous gland and dead skin cells that clog the hair follicle. C. acnes (a bacteria that normally lives on our skin), thrives in the excess sebum and triggers an inflammatory response - acne!¹ That said, if you’ve got pimples around your lips—and nowhere else—one of these sneaky culprits may be a trigger:
D&C red No. 27. This ingredient is a synthetic pigment that’s often used to get a rosy pink color, especially in lip products. Unfortunately, it may be pore-clogging for some.² And D&C red No. 27 isn’t the only ingredient that can trigger acne breakouts. Learn how to check your product labels to find comedogenic ingredients here.
Toothpaste. Some kinds of toothpaste contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) to help make them nice and foamy when you brush. Unfortunately, this ingredient can clog pores, which may lead to breakouts. Some options without sodium lauryl include toothpaste made by Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees, Sensodyne, and Jason Natural Cosmetics, among others.
Too much phone time. If you talk on the phone a lot, a dirty touchscreen might be contributing to breakouts. Pressing your face to your phone can result in sweat and friction, which can also lead to breakouts. And this goes for anything that touches your face regularly, from your trombone mouthpiece to your roller derby helmet strap.³
Lipstick. Unfortunately, many different comedogenic ingredients could be in your favorite lipstick. Look for makeup that is non-comedogenic to help keep your pores clear and your skin free of pimples.
Hormones. Hormones are a very common cause of breakouts, and luckily there are many different acne treatments you can use to treat hormonal acne. Excess androgen hormones are often to blame when it comes to acne. Hormonal acne often follows a hormonal pattern, with breakouts occurring on the lower third of your face.⁴
Diet. Diet has been linked to acne, although this doesn’t mean you need to throw out all your favorite foods. Just pay attention to what could be triggering breakouts, like dairy and foods with a high glycemic index.⁵ Keeping a food diary can help you figure out what the culprit may be.
Skin conditions. Skin conditions other than acne could explain the acne-like breakouts you could be experiencing around your mouth area. Perioral dermatitis is one skin condition that occurs around the mouth. It appears as a red rash, and there can also be papules that are swollen and red bumps.⁶ If you think the bumps around your mouth could be more than just acne, speak with your medical provider to get more information.
Treating the pimples around your mouth is similar to how you’d treat acne on the rest of your face. But it’s important to remember that the skin on and around your lips can be more sensitive, and sensitive skin can require extra TLC.
1. Petroleum jelly. Apply petroleum jelly in a thin layer on and around your lips before using your Curology medication to help to protect this sensitive area. The good news about petroleum jelly is you might already have it at home, and it can double as a hydrating lip treatment along with Curology’s Lip Balm.
2. Acne treatment. Spot treat with over-the-counter topicals that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, and for more severe blemishes, you can also use a hydrocolloid bandage. Benzoyl peroxide fights the bacteria that contributes to acne, and salicylic acid targets clogged pores and comedones. Both are effective topical acne treatments. There are also many prescription treatment options, such as tretinoin. Tretinoin, a topical retinoid, has a long history of clearing acne lesions. That’s why we use this acne-fighting super ingredient in some of our Curology Custom Formulas.
3. SPF. Wear sunscreen daily, even if you have a breakout! We’ll never tire of talking about the importance of using broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
4. Compress. If you’re looking for some good home remedies for acne, you can use a cool compress to help alleviate swelling and pain. One option is a green tea bag, steeped and then cooled to around room temperature. Green tea has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.⁷ If the area around your mouth is particularly sensitive and some inflammatory pimples feel tender, you can also place an ice cube on the area to help temporarily relieve the discomfort.
5. Don’t pick. We know how tempting it can be to try and pop your pimples, but doing so will probably only prolong the healing process. Only pop a pimple when your dermatology provider says it’s okay, and don’t pick or scratch at them!⁸
6. Don’t touch. You might be hyper-aware of that whitehead or blackhead on the corner of your mouth, but touching it can make it worse.
7. Choose a non-comedogenic lip balm. If you're dealing with acne and your lips are chapped or cracked, you may want to think twice about buying that random lip balm sitting next to the register at your local convenience store. Some lip products contain pore-clogging oils or dyes that can actually make things worse. Choose an acne-friendly product that soothes and softens lips. Curology’s lip balm is non-comedogenic—perfect if you want to keep your lips soft and hydrated without risking a breakout.
8. Speak to a medical provider. If your acne is persistent and doesn’t respond to other treatments, a medical provider (like the licensed dermatology providers at Curology) can suggest prescription medication, either topical or oral, to help with acne. They may also be able to give you a better idea of what’s causing your mouth acne and treat it accordingly.
9. Use a hydrocolloid patch. If you have a hard time stopping yourself from picking at blemishes, hydrocolloid patches may be your new go-to product. They can help speed helping and suck out pus and oil. If you’re looking for a great hydrocolloid patch, Curology’s got you covered with our emergency spot patch.
We know how frustrating treating a breakout or a big, stubborn pimple can be, which is why it’s always good to try and prevent potential blemishes from popping up in the first place:
Wash your face regularly. How often do you wash your face? To help keep your pores unclogged, wash your face twice daily with a gentle face wash, like the Curology Cleanser.
Apply moisturizer. Dry skin can become irritated and prone to acne breakouts. Adding a great moisturizer to your daily skincare routine is a simple step that may help prevent breakouts.
Apply acne treatment evenly. To help prevent future breakouts, apply your acne treatment evenly on your face, not just on existing blemishes (unless otherwise directed by your medical provider). Acne treatments can come in different forms, such as over-the-counter products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. You also have prescription options to choose from, such as clindamycin and tretinoin.
Hands-off. Picking pimples can be tempting, but it can make your acne worse and even lead to scarring.
Check new products. If you start using new products, whether makeup, haircare, or skincare, check the ingredients to see if they contain any ingredients that can potentially clog pores.
Use the right products. Consistent use of acne-fighting products (like Curology’s!) is a great way to help prevent future breakouts. Curology not only makes products to treat and help prevent acne, but we also provide gentle cleansers and moisturizers to create a simple but customized routine just for you.
Consistency is key. It might take a while to start seeing results when you start using a new treatment or routine. Always give your skin time to adjust to any new treatment. We know it's not easy, but your patience will pay off.
If you’re struggling with acne, Curology’s team of dermatology experts have your back. You can get a consultation with one at no extra cost when you start your Curology free trial.* Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin.
Your medical provider will prescribe you a Custom Formula with a mix of three active ingredients chosen to treat your unique skin. For no extra cost, you can opt to try the cleanser, your choice of moisturizer, and a lip balm—they’re designed to not clog pores! So what have you got to lose? Start your skincare journey today.
If you’ve got pimples around your lips, one of these may be a trigger:
D&C red No. 27. Synthetic pigment especially in lip products.
Some kinds of toothpaste contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).
A dirty touchscreen might be contributing to breakouts.
Many different comedogenic ingredients could be in your favorite lipstick.
Excess androgen hormones.
Diet. Pay attention to what could be triggering breakouts.
Perioral dermatitis is one skin condition that occurs around the mouth.
Apply petroleum jelly around your lips.
Wear sunscreen daily, with at least SPF 30.
You can use a cool compress to help alleviate swelling and pain.
Don’t pick. Only pop a pimple when your dermatology provider says it’s okay.
Don’t touch. It can make it worse.
Choose a non-comedogenic lip balm.
Speak to a medical provider, if your acne is persistent.
Use a hydrocolloid patch. They can help speed helping and suck out pus and oil.
Wash your face twice daily with a gentle face wash, like the Curology Cleanser.
Apply moisturizer. Dry skin can become irritated and prone to acne breakouts.
Apply acne treatment evenly on your face.
Check new products. Check the ingredients.
Use the right products. Consistent use of acne-fighting products (like Curology’s!).
Consistency is key.
Toyoda, M., & Morohashi, M. Pathogenesis of acne. Medical electron microscopy : official journal of the Clinical Electron Microscopy Society of Japan. (2001).
Fulton J. E. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (January 1984).
Mills, O. H., Jr, & Kligman, A. (1975). Acne mechanica.Archives of dermatology. (April 1975).
Elsaie M. L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. (2016, September 2).
Andrea L. Zaenglein, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J AM ACAD DERMATOL. (May 2016).
Jasna Lipozencic and Suzana Ljubojevic. Perioral dermatitis. Clinics in Dermatology (March- April 2011).
Katiyar, S. K., Ahmad, N., & Mukhtar, H. Green tea and skin. Archives of dermatology. ( August 2000).
American Academy of Dermatology. Pimple popping: why only a dermatologist should do it. (n.d.).
This article was originally published on March 16, 2020, and updated on July 19, 2022.
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Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C