- Lip pimples can be caused by lipstick, sweat, poor diet, and hormonal changes.
- If you have a lip pimple, don’t squeeze it, apply salicylic acid, and use a warm compress.
- If you get acne frequently, talk to your dermatologist about getting prescription acne medication.
If you’ve ever gotten a pimple at the edges of your lips, you know how painful it can be. It is not uncommon for people to get pimples in this area, says Christine Ko, MD, a dermatologist at Yale Medicine.
Like pimples you get elsewhere, these pimples are also caused by blockages or inflammation in your pores. However, they tend to hurt more because the skin around your lips — with over one million nerve endings that sit close to the surface — is thinner and more sensitive than your other skin, says Ko.
“Both lip pimples and cold sores can pop up on the border of the lips, and a lip pimple can be mistaken for a cold sore,” says Ko. However, cold sores, also known as oral herpes, are caused by the herpes simplex virus and treated with antiviral medication. Ko says cold sores look more like blisters than pimples and are often accompanied by flu-like symptoms or a tingling sensation before the sore appears.
Here’s what you need to know about pimples around your lips and what to do if you get one.
How to get rid of a pimple around your lips
If you do get a pimple around your lips, here are some steps you can take to help it heal:
- Don’t squeeze it: It can be tempting to pop a pimple, especially if it’s painful, or if it’s making you self-conscious. “It’s generally not a good idea to pop pimples as it can result in scarring,” says Ko.
- Cleanse your skin: “Cleanse your skin well with a gentle cleanser and either a washcloth or your fingertips,” says Ko. This can help get rid of any dirt or bacteria that could make the acne worse. Use a mild cleanser to wash your face twice a day. Scrubbing your skin hard or using harsh chemicals can irritate your skin and worsen acne.
- Apply a warm compress: Ko recommends applying a warm compress to the pimple to help it heal. This is especially helpful for pimples that have developed whiteheads. Soak a washcloth in hot water and apply it to the pimple for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day, until the pimple releases pus and the skin heals.
- Avoid touching your face: Apart from resisting the urge to squeeze the pimple, you should also try to avoid touching your face, as that can introduce dirt and germs to the site.
- Wash up after you sweat: Perspiration can worsen your acne, so make it a point to wash up if you get all sweaty. You should also wash your hair every day if it tends to get oily.
- Use benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid: Benzoyl peroxide can help unclog your pores and kill the bacteria at the site. Salicylic acid can help reduce inflammation and dry out the pimple. Both products are commonly used to treat acne and Ko says they can help treat a pimple around your lips as well. You can buy creams, gels, lotions, and cleansers that contain these ingredients over the counter, although stronger ones may require a prescription. Follow the directions on the package or apply a small amount to the pimple once or twice a day for three days. If you experience discomfort or a reaction, stop using it and consult a doctor for safe alternatives.
- Take prescription medication: If you are prone to frequent breakouts or persistent acne, you can visit a dermatologist for treatment. Retin-A is a common oral prescription medication for acne. “If you have a prescription for Retin-A, that can also be helpful as a longer-term preventative treatment,” says Ko.
What causes pimples on lips?
The skin at the edge of your lips is loaded with pores that each contain a sebaceous gland that secretes oil. When that oil gets blocked underneath the surface by dirt, grease, make-up, or something else, the pore can become irritated and inflamed, causing a lip pimple.
While some people may be genetically more prone to acne, these are some factors that can contribute to pimples around your lips:
- Greasy foods: When you eat greasy foods, some of the grease can get transferred to the skin around your lips and cause acne, says Ko. Cleaning your face with a mild cleanser can help get rid of this grease and reduce your chances of developing acne.
- Lipstick: Lipstick, lip gloss, and lip balm can get into the pores around your lips and result in acne, according to Ko. If you’re prone to acne, pick non-comedogenic beauty products; these are products that are specially formulated to not block your pores. Also, beware of getting lipgloss on the skin above your lip. This is called the vermillion border and getting thick lip gloss on it can clog your pores.
- Hormonal changes: Hormones known as androgens can cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. These hormones increase during puberty and may also fluctuate at certain points in a person’s menstrual cycle. Medication and birth control pills can help regulate hormonal imbalances and treat acne.
- Medication: Some medications, like those containing testosterone, corticosteroids, and lithium can cause acne. If these medications are the culprit, talk to your doctor about other options.
- Diet: Some foods, like desserts, fried foods, or dairy products, may cause acne in some people. For instance, research shows that consumption of dairy products is linked to a higher chance of developing acne, although the American Academy of Dermatology says the reason why isn’t known; one theory is that the hormones in dairy products may cause inflammation. If you notice that a certain food is triggering acne, try to avoid that food to prevent breakouts. Additionally you can also improve your skin by treating your microbiome (the ecosystem of healthy bacteria in and on your body) through daily probiotic use.
- Stress: According to the Mayo Clinic, stress may not necessarily cause acne, but it can exacerbate it. Try to find healthy ways to manage your stress levels; doing yoga, meditating, and making time for hobbies can help.
Pimples around your lip are a form of regular acne and are not uncommon; however, they may hurt more because the skin in that region is thinner and more sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body.
Avoid popping these pimples or touching your face as far as possible; instead, apply a warm compress to the zit, cleanse your face with a mild cleanser, and wash up if your skin gets sweaty or your hair gets oily.
You can use products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to help dry the pimples out, or see a dermatologist for prescription medicine, to treat the problem long-term.