What Causes a Lip or Mouth Rash & How to Find Relief
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A lip rash can be an uncomfortable condition associated with redness around the mouth or small blisters on the lip. Common causes for rash around the mouth include irritation like constantly licking your lips, an allergic reaction, and side effect of medication, or an infection or STD. Read below for more related symptoms and treatment options.
Lip and mouth rash symptoms
It's understandable to be frustrated about a lip rash since it's likely visible and difficult to cover up. Your rash may also be painful and affect the surrounding skin or inside of your mouth, and interfere with activities like eating and drinking. Most of the time, the cause of the lip rash is treatable. However, some causes are likely to recur in the future.
Common characteristics of a lip rash
Symptoms that may present with a lip rash include the following.
What causes rashes around the lips and mouth?
The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
A lip rash may occur due to an infection such as the following.
- Viral infection: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease and herpes simplex are examples of viral infections that can affect the lips. Both of these cause small blisters that may be painful. In the case of the herpes virus, the infection is chronic and may lead to recurrent outbreaks of blisters.
- Bacterial or fungal infection: An infection of the corners of the lips, (cheilosis or angular stomatitis) which can be bacterial or fungal, can cause painful cracks in the skin along with crusting and scaling. One type of bacterial infection that is most common in children classically causes crusty yellow patches on or around the lips.
- Sexually transmitted infection: Syphilis can cause an ulcer on the lip. Depending on the stage of infection, the lip rash may or may not be painful, and a rash on other parts of the body can be present.
Irritants affecting the lips may lead to a lip rash.
- Dryness: Children who lick their lips excessively can develop a characteristic rash around the lips. Similarly, irritation from cold, dry weather can cause the lips to become chapped.
- Allergen: Exposure to an allergen such as in lipstick or foods can cause redness and cracking of the lips.
Some conditions can present with a lip rash, such as the following.
- Drug reactions: Some types of severe systemic reactions to medications can cause a widespread rash that often involves the lips.
- Vitamin deficiency: A lack of some vitamins in the diet or medical conditions that prevent absorption of these vitamins can cause oral symptoms including cracking at the lip corners and mouth ulcers.
- Kawasaki disease: A rare disease occurring in children, this condition causes lip redness and cracking along with high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash on the trunk.
Rarely, a lip rash could be cancerous. Skin cancer of the lip typically occurs on the lower lip and presents as a non-healing blister or ulcer. Bleeding and growth over time may occur.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Non-specific skin rash
Common causes of rash are contact dermatitis, sun damage, or allergic reaction. However, many rashes are a symptom of disease and should not be ignored.
Nonspecific rashes have widely varied symptoms:
- May be flat and smooth; slightly raised or with swollen welts; clean and dry; or blistered and oozing.
May spread widely over the body, or be confined to one site.
- May appear after eating certain foods; or after exposure to certain plants or to insect stings or bites.
Other symptoms may be present, including pain anywhere in the body; nausea; vomiting; fever; headache; or abdominal pain and upset.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination to determine the exact type, location, and history of the rash, along with any other symptoms that may be present.
Those symptoms will be investigated with blood tests or imaging. Skin swabs may be taken and tested. After the process has ruled out as many causes as possible, a course of treatment can be determined.
Top Symptoms: rash
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific skin rash: rash
Urgency: Wait and watch
Non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation)
Nonspecific dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, simply means inflammation of the skin from many different causes.
Most nonspecific dermatitis is caused by skin contact with a substance that provokes a reaction, which could be anything from plants to soap to jewelry to fabrics. Some may be due to an autoimmune condition, where the body's immune system attacks itself.
Risk factors include a family or personal history of allergies, asthma, or other condition which weakens the immune system; or constant contact with metals, plant life, or chemicals.
Symptoms commonly include red, swollen skin rash with itching, blistering, or oozing, which may become painful and infected.
Dermatitis itself is not contagious but can interfere with quality of life. A medical provider can help with managing the symptoms.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes skin biopsy and patch testing.
Treatment involves using protective measures if the substances cannot be avoided; making nutritional improvements to strengthen the immune system; using corticosteroid or other creams; and phototherapy.
Top Symptoms: red rash, itchy rash, painful rash
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation): red rash
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
Pityriasis rosea is a common skin rash and is thought to be due to a type of herpes virus. It is not contagious and is not sexually transmitted. Most susceptible are teenagers and young adults.
Symptoms include a single large scaly patch somewhere on the body. In the next 7 to 14 days similar oval pink patches on the arms, legs, and trunk appear, sometimes in a pattern of lines.
There may also be itching, fatigue, and body aches along with the rash. Anything that raises body temperature, such as exercising or a hot bath, may worsen the rash.
The condition may last for a few weeks and is normally gone after three to four months. Sometimes flat brown spots are left as the rash fades.
Pityriasis rosea can resemble other conditions, so getting an accurate diagnosis is important. Diagnosis is made through blood tests and skin cultures.
Treatment involves topical medications for itching, as well as antiviral and anti-inflammatory medications by mouth to aid healing. Cool baths and reduced exercise will also help.
Top Symptoms: rash, itchy rash, curved rash, rough patch with red spots around it
Symptoms that always occur with pityriasis rosea: rash
Symptoms that never occur with pityriasis rosea: blue-colored skin changes, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi..
Lip and mouth rash treatment and relief
Most causes of lip rash do not require urgent evaluation. However, the presence of other symptoms may indicate that the lip rash is due to a severe medical condition such as a drug reaction.
Some at-home treatments that may help relieve lip rash include the following.
- Protect your lips: To prevent a rash associated with dryness, avoid licking your lips and cover the lips when outdoors in cold weather.
- Limit irritants: Avoid applying lipsticks and other products to the lips.
- Pain medication: If the rash is painful, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help.
When to see a doctor
In some cases, even if emergency treatment isn't necessary, you may need medical evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:
- You have a lip rash that persists or grows over time
- The lip rash is causing significant pain or itching
- The rash keeps going away but then recurring
- You have had sexual contact with someone who may have syphilis
- You also have a rash on other parts of the face
- You or a child with a lip rash have had contact with someone known to have impetigo
Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your lip rash:
- Antibiotic or antifungal ointment: This can treat any infection.
- Antiviral medication: Although herpes infection typically resolves on its own, you may be prescribed an antiviral medication as a preventative measure if you are suffering from frequent outbreaks.
- Supplements: Vitamin supplementation or treatment for a condition preventing vitamin absorption can address lip rash if a nutritional deficiency is to blame.
- Penicillin: This is used to treat syphilis.
When it is an emergency
You should seek treatment without delay if:
- You have systemic symptoms: Such as fever and fatigue
- You have a rapidly developing rash over other parts of the body
- You have large areas of skin peeling off
- You are concerned about a child who has had a fever for several days: Especially if he or she has swollen lymph nodes, or a rash on the hands in addition to the lips.
FAQs about lip rash
What's the difference between a lip rash and a cold sore?
A rash around the mouth can be due to a number of conditions. Cold sores are one example of a lip rash caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). Other examples include impetigo, a bacterial infection characterized by honey-crusted lesions, and thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth that can extend to the lips.
Does a lip rash mean I have an STD?
Not necessarily. Cold sores are one type of lip rash caused by HSV, which can transmit through sexual contact or shared saliva. These HSV infections are most contagious when there are visible sores. Other causes of lip rash such as impetigo and thrush are not transmitted sexually.
Is it normal for my child to develop a lip rash while teething?
Yes. Some children will develop lip rash while teething due to the increased production of saliva, which can then irritate the skin. This process can be reduced by regularly wiping the saliva from your child's face with a soft cloth.
Why won't my lip rash go away?
You could have a rash on your lips for a number of reasons including HSV, impetigo (a bacterial infection), thrush (a yeast infection), or contact dermatitis (an allergic reaction). You should consult a physician to establish a diagnosis and receive treatment.
Can allergies cause a lip rash?
Absolutely! An allergic reaction can cause a rash on your lips just like it can in other locations on your body. If you notice a rash consistently after application of certain lip cosmetics or dental products, you should avoid those products as they may be the cause of your rash.
Questions your doctor may ask about lip rash
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Are there bumps on your rash?
- What color is the skin change?
- Is your rash raised or rough when you run your hand over the area of skin?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Lauren is a resident physician in family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania and her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College. Lauren also has an interest in teaching as well as experience with college tutoring and writing MCAT preparatory materials. She believes family medicine challenges her to maintain a broad field of medical knowledge and she hopes to work in an academic setting in the future. In her free time, Lauren enjoys running, reading, and visiting historic sites.
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated November 1, 2018. CDC Link
- Devani A, Barankin B. Answer: Can you identify this condition? Canadian Family Physician. 2007;53(6):1022-3. NCBI Link
- Red rash around your mouth could be perioral dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link
- Srivastava R, Bihari M, Bhuvan J, Saad A. Fixed drug eruptions with intraoral presentation. Indian Journal of Dentistry. 2015;6(2):103-6. NCBI Link
- Kawasaki disease. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Published 2009. NORD Link