Dear Derm: What Are These Weird Blackheads Around My Mouth?

Photo: Getty Images/ Boogich
Every once in a while—including on this very morning—I rub my lips together and discover that teeny, tiny blackheads have popped up around their perimeter. They're not painful like normal pimples, and honestly you can barely even see them, but it's more that they're just kind of... there, begging to be squeezed into oblivion.

Thanks to the near militaristic dedication of my skin-care routine, I rarely get blackheads anywhere else on my face, so I can't help but wonder why these pesky little suckers keep coming back to haunt me. And when I posed the question to my colleagues, I learned that mine aren't the only set of lips being targeted. So what gives?

"Blackheads are blockages within your pores that have a wide opening to the skin, so the trapped oil is easily visible. It is not uncommon to develop blackheads around the mouth, because of the high concentration of oil glands in this area," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, noting that these can also pop up on your chin, nose, and forehead.

There are a few things that can cause blackheads to emerge around your mouth, the most significant of which actually isn't your lip products—it's your hormones. "Sure, certain lip balms, lipsticks toothpastes or things that people use around their mouths can certainly irritate and clog the pores, but it’s usually more than just that. Usually it’s hormonal." says dermatologist Michele Green, MD, who also lists hair removal methods like waxing and tweezing as potentially exacerbating factors. "Stress or hormones are usually the main reason why things get clogged and you can get more pimples." 

Since these seemingly innocent blockages can lead to things like acne, pimples, cysts, and whiteheads, your best bet is to cut them off at the pass. Dr. Zeichner suggests adding a salicylic acid cleanser, like Neutrogena Acne Proofing Gel Cleanser ($7), to your routine to remove excess oil and keep pores clear, and to try and keep any heavy lip balms your using on your actual lips and away from the surrounding area.

If you, like me, are already dealing with these types of blackheads (and desperately resisting the urge to squeeze them), Dr. Zeichner suggests a spot treatment like Kamedis Acne Spot Treatment ($14), which uses salicylic acid and calming botanicals to "soothe skin and minimize irritation." If you're going to go in for the kill, Dr. Zeichner implores you to wash your hands and face beforehand, and apply gentle, downward pressure using two cotton swabs (not your fingers). "If the black head is ready to come out, it will. If it does not come out easily, do not continue to apply pressure or pick your face as it will inevitably causing more harm than good," he says. As someone who has done this and now has a smattering of microscopic scars around her mouth, I can confirm that he is right. If you do all of these things and the blackheads still won't go away, try ditching all of your lip products for a few weeks and see if it helps. If it doesn't, it may be worth hitting the dermatologist's office and getting your hormones checked. Just whatever you do, do. not. squeeze.

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