Dry Skin Around The Nose: Why It Happens, 5 Common Cause & Skin Care Fixes
There are a few areas of skin that tend to get drier faster than others: knuckles, elbows, corners of the mouth, and—you guessed it—the nose. If you've ever been one to get little patches of red, flaky, inflamed skin around and under nostrils, you may find its trigger particularly perplexing. You've thought you'd nailed it down to winter colds, but then you get a flare-up in the dead of summer; you think it's the new skin care product you've been testing, but then it continues on long after post use.
It's a tricky little area; that's for certain. So when you are trying to identify what your dry nose's cause is, you have several avenues to consider. But don't worry; we outline them here—with some fixes, too:
A very common skin condition yet not well understood by the general public. "The most common cause of dryness around the nose is a condition called 'seborrheic dermatitis,' also known as dandruff on the face. Seborrheic dermatitis is not a fungal infection but is your body's inflammatory response to the presence of fungus that we all have on our scalp and face. While it usually appears as dry, red, scaly skin in the folds on the sides of the nose, it can also affect the eyebrows or any area of the face," says Ife J. Rodney, M.D., FAAD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics.
We all have a plethora of fungal and bacterial strains on us (called the microbiome), and this is actually what helps keep our skin strong, healthy, and barrier protected. However, sometimes something triggers us internally to respond negatively to these organisms; that's when you get eczema (or dermatitis). When this reaction is localized around the nose, we call it seborrheic dermatitis, or eczema. At this time we don't fully understand why some people's bodies react this way; however, some mechanisms (like our skin's protein structure and our genes) seem to be involved.
So often when we are looking for answers to skin woes, we overlook the obvious: the environment we live in. Immediately, we'll turn on our newest skin care product or bemoan changes in our diet. And while those can always be part of the problem, so are things like sun exposure, the weather, pollution, and the like. It makes sense, no? One of our skin's main functions is to protect us from what surrounds us, so those things will likely wreak havoc a time or two.
"A common cause is environmental exposures," says board-certified dermatologist Raechele Cochran Gathers, M.D. "Environmental conditions like cold or dry air, cold wind, windburn, sunburn, or chronic sun exposure can all irritate the sensitive skin around the nose and cause dryness."
This is why the condition tends to be more prominent in the colder months or for those who live in arid environments.
Skin care products
OK, I know we just said it's not always your skin products' fault, but sometimes it is. "Skin care products can also cause dryness, peeling, and irritation around the nose," says Cochran Gathers. "For example, retinoids, whether used for acne or wrinkles, can irritate the sensitive skin around the nose. Similarly, other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid (common in many OTC acne products) can irritate the area and cause dryness and peeling."
But it's not just the powerful actives that can do damage; sometimes it's your standard exfoliants or cleansing agents. "Your beauty regimen is another common culprit," Rodney agrees. "Beauty products, like harsh scrubs, toners, and foaming cleansers can dry out the skin and lead to irritation and inflammation. The areas around the nose and mouth are especially sensitive. When dryness appears, many people try to exfoliate, or peel off the dry skin, which usually makes it worse."
Allergies or colds
Now, this is more to do with behavioral habits than intrinsic triggers. When you have a cold or seasonal allergies, you're more likely to rub your nose, sneeze, and touch the area more. All of this may trigger irritation in the area. "Seasonal allergies can also cause dryness around the nose. If you're constantly rubbing and blowing your nose with tissues, you'll be more prone to dryness and peeling," says Cochran Gathers.
When you are dehydrated, it shows up in your skin. No, it's not immediate (read: not drinking your daily ounces won't immediately trigger redness), but over time it can lead to flakes in the region. "Dehydration can lead to dry skin," reminds Cochran Gathers. "If you're not taking in enough water, your skin won't get the hydration that it needs, and you might notice it more around the sensitive skin of the nose."
Why is the nose prone to this?
It almost seems counterintuitive for the nose to have this pesky problem. The nose, after all, is home to oil-producing pores; should it not be oiler? And for some it is, but for others, this actually causes the issue itself. "The dry and scaly skin around the nose is usually not due to a lack of oil production in that area," says Rodney. "Instead, the trigger of the scaling is skin irritation and inflammation. One possibility is that there are more fungal organisms and mites within these pores, which trigger inflammatory conditions seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea."
And as Cochran Gathers notes, it's also more exposed, or at least was pre-COVID: "The nose is a common area for dry, irritated skin because it's almost always exposed to the elements. It sticks out from the face, making it a high-exposure area."
Even now, as we enter a reality where we wear masks far more frequently than not, the constant rubbing may also contribute to irritation in the area.
How to treat dry skin around the nose.
"For dry skin around the nose, prevention is easier than cure. Best skin care practices, like using a gentle creamy cleanser and moisturizing consistently, should be done every day, and not only when the dry skin appears," reminds Rodney. After all, those with acne need to be diligent about acne care year-round, not just during breakouts.
Cochran Gathers agrees, advising a simple, gentle skin care routine stripped of irritating ingredients so as not to trigger inflammation or irritation. "When cleansing the skin, try to avoid harsh cleansers and soaps. Looks for gentle, hypoallergenic face washes," she says. "After washing, pat your skin dry, leaving it a little damp, and apply a rich moisturizer. Moisture is key to fixing dry skin around the nose. Look for a moisturizing cream with ceramides to protect your skin's moisture barrier and hyaluronic acid to help your skin retain moisture. Wearing a good sunscreen is key to helping prevent dry skin around the nose."
And while you're washing, be mindful of the water temperature: "Avoid washing or rinsing your skin with hot water, as this can make dryness worse. Wash with tepid water instead," says Cochran Gathers. Too hot of water, we know, can strip the skin of its natural lipids, compromising the skin barrier and adding to dryness.
Finally, you may need to make your way to the derm's office: "If your dry skin is caused by seborrheic dermatitis or other inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, then you should see your dermatologist for prescription-strength medication."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.