It started with what I thought was acne. Tiny, little blemishes that covered my chin. While breakouts were out of the norm for me, blemishes happen to the best of us. I trotted off to the drugstore to grab whatever I could find to fight these sudden pimples. Day after day, I applied potions of benzoyl peroxide hoping my chin would clear up by the next day. And day after day, it was still there.
Not only was it still there, these tiny red bumps got angrier and my poor skin dried out like the Sahara desert. So I did the next obvious thing. I packed a one-two punch with more benzoyl peroxide, and the heaviest moisturizers I could get my hands on. Except this didn’t work. Months went by, and nothing worked. The bumps persisted, and the extreme dryness would wake me up in the night, itching and burning.
After nearly six months trying to simultaneously clear up and cover up my chin, I gave up and made an appointment with my doc. Turns out, this thing happening on my face was not acne, nor was it your usual dry skin. I sat in the doctor’s office in both surprise and relief as she explained this heinous red condition on my skin was perioral dermatitis. Translation: inflammation around the chin and mouth that manifests in painful red pumps and scaly, flaky dry skin. While it usually appear around the mouth (hence the name), it’s possible it can appear around the nose or eyes as well.
While the pros aren’t entirely sure what causes it to appear, it seems to be linked to inflammation, hormones, stress, and is highly reactive to topical irritants.
The course of action was a 10-day stint on some pretty hefty antibiotics, and a steep learning curve to discover what flares it up, and how to keep it at bay. Since this discovery I’ve been able to keep it under control with using the right skincare and paying attention to my diet.
So what worked? Here’s a run-down of my top six strategies that have helped me deal with perioral dermatitis over the past six years.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). A common additive in many skin and hair care products, it causes all the foaming and cute little bubbles in your products. But you know what? Those bubbles are absolutely not necessary to the effectiveness of your products. (Fun fact: soap bubbles first became popular in the late 19th century as a result of an advertising campaign, but I’ll save that story for another time.) SLS is a known skin irritant, and the Environmental Working Group ranks SLS as a “moderate hazard” on their Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. If there is one thing you do to deal with perioral dermatitis, get used to reading labels and steer clear of anything containing SLS.
- Check your toothpaste. Fluoride is known to irritate and cause perioral dermatitis flare ups, in addition to SLS being common in many toothpaste brands. Read the labels to avoid both, and while there aren’t a lot of options, Sprout’s or Whole Foods usually has at least a few brands that are worth a try. Experiment with a few brands to find something that will keep your skin happy and keep those pearly whites polished.
- Just say no to steroids. This means cortisone cream too. While many skin conditions clear up with a topical steroid, this is where perioral dermatitis differs. In many cases the bumps, redness, and inflammation may clear up for a couple of days, only to come back with a vengeance. Even if you’re tempted, just don’t.
- Detox. This one was not easy for me. I wanted to cure this problem, and my old ways told me to medicate with lotions and potions. Resist that impulse, friends. Try to go at least a few weeks wearing no makeup, or at least as minimal as possible. Wash your face with warm (not hot) water and a gentle washcloth. Avoid any moisturizer or other products on the affected area.
- Go green. No, I don’t mean start recycling, although you should definitely do that too. What I mean is that after you’ve detoxed your skin, give it some TLC. What I’ve found works best is using botanically based products free of SLS (I can’t reinforce this enough), free of synthetic fragrances, dyes, sulfates, and parabens. Seek out products that boast nourishing plant-based ingredients – like cucumber or mallow flower extract – that are safe for sensitive skin. Plain old organic coconut oil is also always a good option to soothe and moisturize your skin.
- Look for a policy. If you’re experimenting with new, friendlier products, a return policy is helpful. But that’s not what I really mean. What I mean is to find brands that have an ingredient policy that they stand by. While this may not be the majority of US skincare and makeup brands, there are awesome options out there that stand by a policy to never use known skin irritants, and they should be specific on what that means. This has been one of my biggest keys to success to find quality brands that I trust, and stick to them. My skin has been happier for it.
Yes, you may have to change a few of your habits to adopt this “less is more” strategy to manage your perioral dermatitis. And you are definitely going to have to learn to sleuth out those yucky ingredients that appear on all too many ingredient labels. With a bit of trial and error, you can clear up this pesky skin condition and manage it to keep flare ups to a minimum!
Cheers To Your Health,