My Awful Secret AKA Managing Perioral Dermatitis.

Its the cruellest of jokes, played on women in their twenties upwards and of course its usually caused by what we love most; product. I am speaking of course about Perioral dermatitis; a skin condition that usually affects women (between the ages of 20 and 45 years) and can leave you with painful, scaly and irritated skin in the areas around your mouth, nose and in some cases eyes.

In the great scheme of things I am pretty lucky. A Google image search shows pages and pages of women with localised and wide spread, red, itchy papules, some times weeping and looking altogether terrible. My “POD” is localised in 4 small spots around my mouth and typically look like hyper pigmented, flaky spots. There is no pain or discomfort just some dryness with peeling and redness.  Its not always there, it occurs maybe five times a year and through trial and error I now can manage to get it to go away in a matter of a few weeks rather than a few months.  As far as I am aware there is no “cure” as such but you can manage it in the form of avoiding certain chemicals and products.

I don’t know what originally “caused” this for me (although I have VERY strong suspicions which seem to be proven after I purged this brand from my beauty routine) but I have been suffering from it for about 10 years. Until recently, my main treatments were absolutely counter effective. I did exactly what one would think to do which ended up being the absolute opposite of what is helpful.

Dry, flaky skin = Exfoliate and moisturise right? WRONG!!
Irritated red skin = Cortisone cream should help yeah? NOPE!!

And so for years every time this rash appeared I would slather on high end intensive moisture repair serum cream lotion potions in the hope that it would get rid of the dryness. I would gently scrub away at the little spots trying to get rid of the flaking skin ( it even got to the point that I would use sticky tape to try and lift it off.. I know .. I know) but a few hours later the next layer of skin would be lifting off along with any of the makeup I had packed on to try and hide it.

So, what causes it? Well according to Dr Google, the exact cause is unknown but it seems to be aggravated by a few of the nasties that cosmeceutical companies like to put in our products as well as chemicals used in every day items.  The main culprits seem to be SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate), steroid creams, fluoride and sulfates and parabens in general. It would appear that there might be a hormonal link to the condition as evidence has shown that symptoms ease at the onset of menopause

Changing my routines from including this.. using this

As mentioned previously, in the last twelve months I have been in the process of “detoxing”  I have eliminated as much SLS from my life as possible. Gotten rid of all those products* which were supposedly doing me all that good and looked for gentler alternatives, switched to a “herbal” tooth paste, changed shampoo and got rid of any chemical exfoliators ( I still use a clarisonic.. but that’s another post) and tried to stick to natural products such as oils to nourish my skin.

It is absolutely amazing that these chemicals that are known to cause problems for people are so widely used in the beauty industry. Im not talking just about your cheap and cheerful products.  I recently went to a high end skin care company looking for  a cleanser and there was 1 product amongst the 100 or so lines they produced that were SLS free!  Chances are.,, if something foams, then it is full of SLS and not in small quantities. If you check the back of your shampoo bottle you will probably find that SLS is the second ingredient listed after aqua/water.

I have not given up makeup, I’ve just become smarter about how I apply it and how I protect my skin from it. Most days I will cover my face with a thin layer cream such as Sudocrem or Invisible zinc to create a physical barrier between me and the products. I also use a primer every day.  I am taking off my makeup more thoroughly (previously mentioned clarisonic) and am finding that not only is my dermatitis less of a problem but my skin has cleared up a lot and I’m less affected by the occasional acne spot.

Has it worked? Yeah… mostly. My affected areas are MUCH less irritated and when I do get a bout of it it will take one to two weeks to clear up (and is easy to cover with makeup) as opposed to the months it used to take. There is very little peeling and it is much less noticeable.

I am actually at the end of a bout as I type this. After not having a single spot of dermatitis for months I (stupidly) tried a fee sample of face cream from my favourite make up brand and within two days was itchy and red in “my spots”

The thing that has changed the most is my attitude towards skin care products. Yes, I do still wear makeup and yes I still buy products that some might deem unnecessary but I am so much more aware of what is actually going on my face (and absorbed into my skin) Ive become a major label reader and question asker.  Also my bathroom drawers are a lot emptier.

I hope if you have come here, looking for POD cures you have not been disappointed but take solice in the fact that this condition is manageable with better choices made through lots of trial and error. There is a lot of information online (from people with actual qualifications) about treatment so get out there and try some things for yourself.

* I still use an eye cream that I paid way too much for to throw away. Still looking for a great alternative.
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Nostalgic transition
Reply August 24, 2014

Can I please have a list of all the non SLS products you use please?

Reply April 16, 2015

I was diagnosed with POD, when I was 20. The doctor advised me to eliminating fluoride from my dental care and caffeine and wheat from my diet. He, also, advised me to eliminate chemical cleansers and moisturizers from my daily routine. I clean with glycerin soap - no chemicals, dyes or fragrances! - and I use liquid glycerin as a moisturizer, for my face, ears and neck. Except for when I break down and have a cup of coffee, I have been completely clear of the ailment...going on almost 30 years.

Sarah T
Wilmington, NC

Reply September 22, 2016

I started to use argon oil as a moisturiser every night before bed and I'm pretty sure this is what cause my POD. It was red and very bumpy with a lot of pustules. I had it around my mouth and a little around my eyes and nose. And although it wasn't as bad as some of the pictures I've seen on google, it was still very upsetting. I went to see the doctor who prescribed my Metronodazole gel (an antibiotic gel) I used this for 2 nights without seeing a difference. I understand treatments will take longer but I was really desperate to clear this up before my holiday in a weeks time. In the day time I was putting makeup on my face to try and hide it- which was probably making it worse. I had done HOURS of research online and found an article that said Sudocrem worked wonders. So the next day I decided to try it. I used 100% Raw Coconut oil to remove my makeup as it's very moisturising and it's 100% natural (I absolutely LOVE Coconut oil and use it for everything!) after removing my make up with Coconut oil I applied a thick layer of Sudocrem to the affected areas and went to bed. In the morning I could not believe the difference! Although the area was still red, I would say 90% of the little pustules had disappeared!! It was noticeably smoother, and a lot less angry! I was so pleased with the result, I used the same routine for about 4 days. When applying my makeup, I actually mixed my makeup with Coconut oil and a little Sudocrem (so that it was still working even whilst having makeup on). It actually made my makeup so much nicer to apply which surprised me! My skin was nearly completely healed a week later when I went on holiday (although still a little red). After coming home from Portugal my skin looked the best it has in a long time- obviously the tan helped! I did burn my face a little on holiday (oops!) I just used 99.9% Aloe Vera gel. Now I just use the Coconut oil to remove makeup and dirt. I am currently going through a slight bought of it, but I'm hoping to catch it early. This may not help everyone, but if it helps one person I'd be happy. :)

Reply September 21, 2018

Zinc oxide has worked wonders for me. I use it at night to protect my skin and heal it as well as prevent the rash from returning. I use natural vitamin e oil to moisturize and Cetaphil to wash my face. Its just completely cleared for the 1st time in a year, after just one week:)

Reply June 11, 2019

Nice article! Never thought of sudocreme myself. Struggled with PD since my early twenties after going on the birth control pill. Tried lots and lots of creams, lotions and potions. I'd read that calendula aka marigold helped with eczem and was fortunate to find an eczema cream that contained calendula. It also had geranium and cape manuka. Skin has never been better. It is also SLS free!

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