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Acne and Dermatitis

By Dana Severson ; Updated August 14, 2017

Acne and dermatitis are completely different skin conditions. Acne is the result of dead skin and excess oil clogging the pores, leading to active lesions. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by contact with allergens, irritants or other triggers. However, perioral dermatitis is a form of dermatitis that's often confused with acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This can be problematic because the two conditions are treated quite differently.


Much like acne, perioral dermatitis causes small, red papules and pustules to form on the surface of the skin. But these lesions are usually isolated to the area around the mouth. On occasion, they may spread out along the cheeks and nose. A mild burning or itching sensation often accompanies the lesions.


Although perioral dermatitis is regularly mistaken as acne, the papules and pustules have nothing to do with clogged pores. These lesions commonly stem from the prolonged use of topical or inhaled steroids. Moisturizers, face creams, fluorinated toothpastes and other skin conditions, such as rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis, can also trigger this condition.

Avoiding Triggers

Treatment typically involves discontinuing the use of any creams that may be causing the skin condition, advises the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. As your skin has developed an adverse reaction to the product in question, you must stop its use before you can see an improvement in your complexion. Switching from fluorinated toothpastes to regular ones may also be beneficial. However, it isn't uncommon for the papules, pustules and other symptoms of the condition to worsen after discontinuing use.


Once you've ceased the use of the trigger, your doctor may prescribe another topical medication to treat the condition. Benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, clindamycin and tacrolimus are commonly used to relieve the inflammation of the skin and its associated symptoms. More stubborn cases may require an oral antibiotic such as tetracycline, erythromycin or doxycycline.

Time Frame

When treated, most people see an improvement in roughly two months, advises the American Academy of Dermatology. Otherwise, it may take months or even years for the papules, pustules and other symptoms to subside.

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