Both impetigo and perioral dermatitis can look very similar, but require very different treatments, so you really need to know which one you’ve got!
Both conditions are characterised by pustular (fluid-filled) bumps on the skin, accompanied by inflammation, soreness and sometimes itching.
But how to tell the difference?
Perioral dermatitis is not contagious, i.e. it can't be passed from person to person, even though it can be compounded by a secondary bacterial or fungal infection. It can usually be managed with a multi-pronged skincare strategy, although it’s likely to come and go throughout your life.
It appears around the mouth and nose, whereas impetigo can appear anywhere on the body.
Treatment of perioral dermatitis consists of:
- Identifying and avoiding triggers (common ones include fluoride, sun screen, topical steroids, perfumed skincare)
- Instituting an appropriate skincare routine, using safe cleansing, moisturising and conditioning products
- Medication from your GP or dermatologist, usually topical or oral antibiotics, immunosuppressants and/or acne medication
Impetigo can look very similar to the pustules of perioral dermatitis; it too has fluid-filled bumps or blisters, and can appear around the mouth. It too can feel hot, sore and sometimes itchy.
Unlike perioral dermatitis, which is something that some people are more prone to than others, impetigo is caused by a bacterial infection, either staph or strep. It can be passed on to other people, either with direct skin-to-skin contact, or via clothing or objects you’ve touched.
Impetigo should clear up within a week once treated, and treatment consists of antibiotic creams or tablets.
Who gets what?
Maybe the most obvious difference is between who’s most affected by the two conditions: over 90% of patients with perioral dermatitis are women aged 20-50, while impetigo mostly affects children. If you’ve got a rash around your mouth and you’re a 35 year old woman, suspect perioral dermatitis first! If you’re parent and you’re wondering what the pustular rash is on with your 5 year old’s face, consider impetigo.
Whether or not the rash clears up with antibiotics will confirm diagnosis!
For more information about perioral dermatitis, see our article How To Treat Perioral Dermatitis.
Recommended products for perioral dermatitis:
Balmonds Scalp Oil
with tea tree, nettle, borage & rosemary
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.