Whether it's from kissing, harsh weather, or simple allergies, dry skin around the mouth is a pesky skin situation to treat. Even worse, covering it up with makeup can feel like a mission.
But rest assured, there are many things you can do at home to hydrate thirsty skin around the mouth and prevent it from coming back again and again. To follow, the 101 on dry skin around the mouth and when you should see a derm.
Why the skin around the mouth is different.
Before we dive into the potential reasons you're experiencing dry skin around the mouth, let's touch on the basics. The first thing you should know is that the skin around your mouth is slightly different from the skin on the rest of your face and your body.
"The skin around the mouth is thinner and therefore more prone to redness or irritation than the rest of the face," medical esthetician and founder of JTAV Clinical Skincare Joie Tavernise tells mbg.
"This area of the mouth, upper lip, and chin also has fewer oil glands compared to the rest of the face, so you do not get the moisture from oil as you do in your T-zone," she adds. So if your skin is generally drier around the mouth, it's not a cause for concern.
However, if you're experiencing occasional dry and flaky patches, irritation, or tiny red bumps, there's more going on behind the scenes. To follow, a few of the most common causes.
Causes of dry skin around the mouth.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), "If you have a rash around your mouth, you may have perioral dermatitis." The rash may itch, burn, cause acne-like bumps, and will likely consist of skin flaking as well, the AAD notes.
However, in more severe cases, the skin can become so dry it may even bleed or become infected. But what causes perioral dermatitis?
However, there are a few specific causes that are more common, including:
- Fluoride toothpaste
- Diet (as food intolerances)
- Compromised immune function
- Sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate (foaming agent) in toothpaste, hair care, laundry, and skin care products
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, it's best to visit a dermatologist to get to the bottom of possible causes and put together an A+ skin care routine to calm the irritation. Additionally, the tips to follow will also help get you started.
If your dry skin around the mouth comes in and out seasonally, it may be due to environmental causes. Specific weather conditions like cold weather, increased sun exposure, or strong winds are other common triggers, Tavernise explains.
Allergies, colds & the flu.
General seasonal allergies or food intolerances can also cause dry skin around the mouth, Tavernise notes. If you suspect this might be the cause, try to keep a running note of when your dry skin flares and note any correlation between foods or exposure to common allergens.
What's more, when you have a cold or the flu, your skin barrier is likely going to be compromised due to dehydration, "Making it more susceptible to environmental aggressors and irritants," Tavernise explains.
"Once the skin barrier is compromised from allergies or sickness, you are more likely to experience dry skin. This is especially true if you are blowing your nose and wiping your nose and mouth more than usual," she adds.
Overexfoliation & friction.
As mentioned above, the skin around the mouth is more prone to dryness as is—so what you put on this area might exacerbate the flakes. Rubbing your face too harshly with a towel, overexfoliating, or using harsh topical actives like retinoids may cause increased dryness as well.
Dry skin around the mouth can also be from kissing, or what's more often called "beard burn." See, when you kiss someone, especially if that person has facial hair, your skin is naturally going to be exfoliated by the hair and friction. This could look like redness, flaky skin, and overall sensitivity. When the skin is overexfoliated, the barrier can be compromised. You can read more about treatments and tips for beard burn here.
Lack of sebum production.
You now know that the skin around the mouth produces less sebum than the T-zone—and that could be the simple cause of dry skin around the mouth. You'll want to prioritize deep topical hydration in this area if you're prone to dryness—more on that next.
How to treat dry skin around the mouth.
Now that you have an idea of why the skin around your mouth is more dry than usual, let's dive into how to treat it at home and when you should visit an expert. Remember: When your skin barrier is compromised, you should kick into recovery-and-repair mode with your skin care. Here's the 101:
Load up on topical hydration.
If your skin is dry and flaky, your skin barrier is compromised and thus will not be able to tolerate harsh exfoliants like AHAs, BHAs, manual scrubs, or actives like retinoids. Instead, keep the routine focused on hydration.
"I suggest using a serum that contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid under an occlusive moisturizer daily to help seal hydration (water) and moisture (oil) into the skin," Tavernise notes.
Ceramides are essential for mending dry skin. In fact, this clinical review1 analyzed 41 different studies on ceramides and found the use of topical synthetic ceramides effective at increasing water retention, restoring barrier function, and even improving the skin barrier in patients with atopic dermatitis.
Don't skimp on your water intake.
You can't forget the simplest step of all: internal hydration. "When our bodies are dehydrated due to lack of water consumption, it decreases skin elasticity and makes wrinkles more pronounced, causes chapped or cracking lips and even can prompt the body to produce excess oil and lead to acne," Tavernise says.
Be sure to drink 11 to 15 cups of water a day. If you're already doing so, consider adding a hyaluronic acid supplement to your routine for an extra boost—here are our top picks for the latter. (Of course, it's always smart to consult your doctor before adding new supplements to your routine.)
Look for naturally soothing ingredients.
If your dry skin is itchy or irritated, look for soothing ingredients in your products as well. "Formulas with natural ingredients like calendula, chamomile, rose hip seed can help soothe the skin and decrease inflammation," celebrity esthetician and holistic skin care expert Tammy Fender tells mbg.
Here are a few more soothing ingredients to prioritize:
As mentioned previously, do your best to stay away from ingredients that could irritate the skin until your barrier is repaired. A few no-no's for broken skin include:
- AHAs + BHAs
- Vitamin C
- Clay masks
- Astringents like witch hazel or tea tree oil
Skip the hot rinse.
Super-hot water is a well-known irritant for the skin, especially if your microbiome is compromised. Instead, opt for lukewarm water whenever you touch the dry area around your face. If a colder shower isn't for you (we don't blame you), then wait to wash your face until you step out.
Home remedy: A DIY soothing mask.
If you're looking for an easy and affordable at-home remedy, we've got you covered. Here's the recipe:
- 1 Tbsp. plain, full-fat yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. ground oats or oatmeal flour
- ½ tsp. honey
Lather this mask on and let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Follow up with a lukewarm rinse and your soothing, hydrating skin care routine.
Visit a derm.
The thing about dry skin around the mouth is that it's not a one-size-fits-all cause. As you can tell, there are plenty of factors that can contribute to dry skin around the mouth and not all of them are in your control.
If your dry skin won't budge with the protocol above, you should visit a dermatologist to get professional help and advice. Once there, they may even prescribe you a topical cream that will help nip the dryness in the bud ASAP.
How to prevent dry skin around the mouth.
The best way to prevent dry skin from popping up again is by determining what is causing your skin dryness in the first place and limiting exposure to the triggers.
If you notice that environmental factors are causing your skin to peel, then try your best to cover that area of the face with a mask or scarf when you go outside, and always wear SPF.
Allergies can be a difficult thing to prevent, so check with your dermatologist or another medical professional to get a handle on what may be causing your skin to dry out.
As for topical ingredients, lay off the harsh exfoliators and retinol—even if it's just in that area. For some people, sensitive areas like around the mouth and under the eyes are particularly prone to negative reactions from these products.
If this is the case, apply an occlusive moisturizer like a botanical oil balm before using these actives on the rest of your face. This will help minimize the exposure and prevent the product from migrating to your mouth area.
What's the difference between dry skin around the mouth and chapped lips?
Dry skin around the mouth can be caused by a number of factors from the environment to allergies to topical products and more. Chapped lips, however, can often be linked to dehydration, licking the lips, etc. If the corners of your lips are cracking, you may have angular cheilitis—you can read more about that here.
Can you get dry skin around the mouth from kissing?
When you kiss someone, especially if that person has facial hair, you may experience a "beard burn." This could look like redness, flaky skin, and overall sensitivity. See, the hair itself manually exfoliates the skin. When the skin is overexfoliated, the barrier can be compromised. You can read more about treatments and tips for beard burn here.
Dry skin around the mouth home remedies.
If your dry skin only pops up on occasion, you may want to have this easy DIY mask on hand. Mix together 1 Tbsp. plain, full-fat yogurt; 1 Tbsp. ground oats or oatmeal flour; and a ½ tsp. honey. Lather this mask on and let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Follow up with a lukewarm rinse and your soothing, hydrating skin care routine.
Having dry skin around the mouth is frustrating, to say the least. What you can do at home is take a break from potentially irritating topicals and replace them with nourishing ingredients. Take some time to figure out what's triggering your dryness and always listen to your skin. If it persists, visit a dermatologist for professional advice. Now, if you're experiencing dry, peeling skin on the corners of your lips—that's a whole other topic that you can read about here.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.