Why Do I Get Lip Pimples?

  • Seton Ayihongbe Master of Pharmacy (MPharm), Pharmacy, University of Hertfordshire, UK
  • Amy Murtagh Postgraduate Degree, Science Communication and Public Engagement, The University of Edinburgh
  • Katheeja Imani MRes Biochemistry, University of Nottingham, UK

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Overview

Pimples, also known as pustules, are acne and can be found anywhere on the body, including along the lip line. These red bumps with a white pus-filled centre form when clogged hair follicles become inflamed. However, various other factors can lead to pores becoming clogged, including excess oil on the skin, bacteria, and trapped hair follicles. 

There are home remedies or over-the-counter medications available that can help clear them. Persistent lip pimples can be extracted by a clinician through different methods like laser treatment. 

Pimples are not an indication of poor hygiene, and a pimple on the lip is typically not a reason for alarm. People should avoid popping or squeezing pimples on their lips and any other regions of their body, as doing so may cause the pimple to get infected and the skin to recover more slowly, eventually resulting in scar formation.

Causes of pimples on the lip

A variety of factors might have resulted in that sudden spot on or around your lips. Let us explore the various causes of lip bumps to help you assess whether it is a cause for concern and, if so, how to treat it.

Allergies

Allergic reactions are responses due to hypersensitivity of the immune system to a normally harmless substance. Allergies are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.2 

Environmental factors include:

  • Repeated exposure to foreign substances such as pollen, animal dander and dust mites2
  • Foods such as nuts, shellfish, fish, dairy, wheat, and soybeans1
  • Pollutants such as tobacco use, household chemicals and exhaust fumes2

Changes to these factors alone can help reduce the development of lip pimples. If you've noticed lip bumps after eating certain foods or if you've come into contact with certain airborne allergens, you should speak with your doctor. To check if you are allergic to anything, your doctor may order a few tests, such as a skin or blood test.

Consuming a high amount of sugar and wheat also causes inflammation in the skin, which can result in acne.

Hormonal

Pimples may appear due to hormonal changes such as your menstrual cycle and even menopause. AFABs (assigned female at birth) over 30 are also prone to developing late-stage acne.3 

Oestrogen hormone levels usually decrease near the last week of your period cycle (the week before your period), while androgen hormone levels increase. Androgen increases the production of oil, encouraging bacteria to settle in the pores of the skin, leading to blocked pores, skin inflammation and the formation of acne pimples. This same hormonal imbalance also occurs during menopause.4

Stress can also aggravate perimenopausal acne because excess stress hormone (cortisol) production causes the sebaceous glands to produce more oil.

Canker Sores

A canker sore, also known as an aphthous ulcer, is a tiny lesion that can develop inside your mouth and on the base of your gums. If the bump on your lip is within your mouth and causes burning or tingling, it might be a canker sore.5

Canker sores can be caused by minor oral injuries such as dental works or an unintentional cheek bite, food allergies and/or vitamin deficiencies ( lacking vitamin B-12, zinc, or iron). 

Consult your doctor if your canker sore is causing unbearable discomfort, if it is persistent, or if it extends into your lips, as you may require more urgent medical assistance.

Cold sore

Cold sores are bumps that can form on your lip as a singular lesion or a cluster around your lips. They are caused by a certain type of contagious herpes virus. Many people have these viruses in their bodies, but they may not always cause cold sores; however, those who have had a cold sore in the past will often continue to get them.6

Itching, burning, or tingling around the lips may occur for a day or two before a small, hard spot forms and subsequently boils. Small, fluid-filled blisters may then emerge around the edge of your lips, and the blisters may eventually merge and burst. The signs and symptoms will differ depending on whether or not this is your first breakout of cold sores. If this is your first outbreak, you may also have symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and aching gums. If your cold sores are very large, painful, or recurring, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication.10

Fordyce spots

Fordyce spots are groups of normal but enlarged oil glands on the surface of the lips. They are not infectious and not a health concern, but they should be checked by a doctor if they start changing.7

Signs and symptoms of pimples on the lip

The characteristics of a lip pimple include:

  • A clogged pore with dead skin, bodily oils, and/or microorganisms
  • Appearing on the lips' border but never directly on the lip
  • Appearing as a single blackhead or whitehead
  • Being possibly painful to touch

If your lip pimple breaks open, it can cause an infected sore, which is different from a lip ulcer/blister.

Management and treatment for pimples on the lip

There are several ways, including prescription medications and natural therapies, which can help to get rid of your lip pimples whilst reducing the risk of damage to your skin.

Pharmaceutical treatment

There are a variety of over-the-counter products available to treat pimples, including: 

  • Alcohol and astringent-free products which are easy on the skin 
  • Benzoyl peroxide (an active ingredient in many topical treatments), works by killing the bacteria responsible for pimples and lowering inflammation. 

You should also consider seeing a pharmacist to help determine which type of product will be most effective in treating the lip pimple. If you get pimples regularly, you should visit your doctor or a dermatologist.12

Prescription-strength topical medications like isotretinoin or adapalene may be more effective than over-the-counter treatments. Oral medications like antibiotics may also be prescribed by your doctor to treat pimples in specific cases. These work by concentrating on the germs that cause pimples. 

You may also be recommended for other skin procedures, such as laser therapy, which includes using light pulses to eliminate the bacteria that produce pimples. Several sessions may be required to generate results.13

Pimple extraction can be done by a skin doctor to remove the pimple with sterilised instruments. Because these procedures are costly and time-consuming, they are usually reserved as a last resort after other therapies have proven fruitless.

Home remedies

Certain home remedies that may help get rid of pimples on the lips are:

  • Tea tree essential oil: Products containing tea tree oil can help heal acne as it helps to lessen inflammation. To use the product safely, follow the instructions on the package as directed14
  • Aloe vera: Provides anti-inflammatory, calming, and hydrating qualities, which may be effective in treating a lip pimple14,15
  • Apple cider vinegar: Contains antimicrobial qualities, which, when applied as diluted apple cider vinegar to a pimple, may help it heal faster. However, there is insufficient scientific evidence to back this claim16
  • Cold compress: Applying ice to inflamed pimples may help reduce swelling. Before applying ice to the skin, always wrap it in a clean cloth and avoid putting it directly on the pimple.

FAQs

How common are pimples on the lip?

It's normal to have lip pimples, and it is not something to worry about.

Who is at risk of pimples on the lip?

Those under stress, those under certain medications such as corticosteroids, lithium, vitamin B12, and thyroid hormones can increase your risk for pimples and worsen acne.17

How can I prevent pimples on the lip?

  • Zinc Supplements:  According to a study, there may be a link between low zinc levels and more severe acne breakouts. So taking zinc supplements or boosting your dietary zinc intake may help prevent lip pimples8
  • Omega-3 fish oil: Taking fish oil supplements may help minimise acne. Fish oil includes omega-3 fatty acids, which may aid in acne management when combined with other treatments9
  • Reducing stress: According to a 2016 study, people who experienced low levels of stress were less likely to acquire pimples than those who experienced high levels of stress10
  • Avoid touching your face: Your hands might carry bacteria and spread infection, and if you touch your cheek or lips, this might promote pimple formation.
  • Limiting dairy consumption: According to a study, dairy products increase the risk of pimples in people aged 7 to 3011
  • Following a low-glycemic diet: This includes prioritising fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains over white bread, cookies, candies, and other high-sugar foods.

When should I see a doctor?

Consult a doctor if you have frequent breakouts or signs of infection, such as pain, swelling, or fever. You might require medical acne treatment in such cases.

Summary

Pimples appearing anywhere on your skin can be painful and annoying, and lip pimples can be especially troublesome if you are trying to distinguish between a pimple and other types of mouth sores. Luckily, lip pimples are rarely serious, and there are plenty of treatment options regardless of the cause of the pimple or sore. You can explore various topical treatment options to find out which product works best for you. More severe or persistent pimples or acne should be seen by a doctor and treated with prescribed acne treatments if necessary. There are also some home remedies which can help get rid of the occasional lip pimples. Avoiding stress and maintaining clean and moisturised skin also helps reduce the chances of getting pimples on the lips.

References

  1. Food allergy - immune disorders [Internet]. MSD Manual Consumer Version. [cited 2023 Jan 24]. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/immune-disorders/allergic-reactions-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/food-allergy 
  2. Overview of allergic reactions - immune disorders [Internet]. MSD Manual Consumer Version. [cited 2023 Jan 24]. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/immune-disorders/allergic-reactions-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/overview-of-allergic-reactions 
  3. Khunger N, Mehrotra K. Menopausal acne – challenges and solutions. Int J Womens Health [Internet]. 2019 Oct 29 [cited 2023 Jan 26];11:555–67. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6825478/ 
  4. Geller L, Rosen J, Frankel A, Goldenberg G. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol [Internet]. 2014 Aug [cited 2023 Jan 26];7(8):30–4. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142818/ 
  5. Canker sores (Mouth ulcers): Overview [Internet]. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2019 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546250/ 
  6. Cold sores: Overview [Internet]. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2018 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525782/ 
  7.  Rapini RP. Preface. In: Rapini RP, editor. Practical Dermatopathology (Third Edition) [Internet]. London: Elsevier; 2021 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. p. viii. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780323417884099949 
  8. Rostami Mogaddam M, Safavi Ardabili N, Maleki N, Soflaee M. Correlation between the severity and type of acne lesions with serum zinc levels in patients with acne vulgaris. Biomed Res Int [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 Jan 30];2014:474108. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135093/ 
  9. Khayef G, Young J, Burns-Whitmore B, Spalding T. Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne. Lipids Health Dis [Internet]. 2012 Dec 3 [cited 2023 Jan 30];11:165. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543297/ 
  10. Schut C, Kottlors S, Gieler U, Kupfer J. High levels of stress go along with more skin symptoms: a study in German students. European Health Psychologist [Internet]. 2016 Dec 31 [cited 2023 Jan 30];867–867. Available from: https://www.ehps.net/ehp/index.php/contents/article/view/2220 
  11. Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy intake and acne vulgaris: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 78,529 children, adolescents, and young adults. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 Aug 9 [cited 2023 Jan 30];10(8):1049. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115795/ 
  12. Matin T, Goodman MB. Benzoyl peroxide. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537220/ 
  13. Pei S, Inamadar AC, Adya KA, Tsoukas MM. Light-based therapies in acne treatment. Indian Dermatol Online J [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2023 Jan 30];6(3):145–57. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439741/ 
  14. Mazzarello V, Donadu M, Ferrari M, Piga G, Usai D, Zanetti S, et al. Treatment of acne with a combination of propolis, tea tree oil, and Aloe vera compared to erythromycin cream: two double-blind investigations. Clin Pharmacol [Internet]. 2018 Dec 13 [cited 2023 Jan 30];10:175–81. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6298394/ 
  15. Sacchidanand SA, Lahiri K, Godse K, Patwardhan NG, Ganjoo A, Kharkar R, et al. Synchronizing pharmacotherapy in acne with review of clinical care. Indian J Dermatol [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Jan 30];62(4):341–57. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527713/ 
  16. Yagnik D, Serafin V, J. Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2018 Jan 29 [cited 2023 Jan 30];8:1732. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5788933/ 
  17. Pontello Junior R, Kondo RN. Drug-induced acne and rose pearl: similarities. An Bras Dermatol [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2023 Jan 30];88(6):1039–40. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3900370/ 

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Seton Ayihongbe

Master of Pharmacy (MPharm), Pharmacy, University of Hertfordshire

My name is Seton and I have pursued an MSc in Pharmacy, working to become a qualified pharmacist. Working within the community, I have observed the scarcity of trustworthy information that is available to the common public. Instead of providing basic information that might sometimes make you think a health condition is more severe than it is, my goal is to improve public understanding and assist in raising awareness to empower people and families. I hope you enjoy.

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