Tap water could be making your skin worse if you have perioral dermatitis

Did you know that breakouts, redness and irritation are all signs of perioral dermatitis? Janis McNicholas outlines the problem and explains why washing your face with tap water is making it worse. 

Just a few months ago we couldn’t have predicted life as we now know it. The stress and uncertainty of our new normal is likely to have etched its way onto your skin, showing up as sensitivity, breakouts and redness – so much so, it’s got its own hashtag: isoskin.

For me (and Hailey Bieber, ahem), the feelings of anxiousness and doubt have manifested into perioral dermatitis. It crops up around my mouth as irritation, breakouts and flaky skin when the weather changes, when I use active ingredients or when I’m stressed. The current climate (both seasonally and politically) means it’s the perfect storm for a flare up.

Here’s everything you need to know.

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What is perioral dermatitis?

Similar looking to a rash, perioral dermatitis affects the skin around the mouth, eyes and nostrils specifically. “It’s a common facial skin condition, where ‘dermatitis’ refers to a group of itchy inflammatory conditions characterised by epidermal changes,” explains Janis McNicholas, training manager for Avène.

“It results from a variety of different causes and has various patterns. Some include bacterial infections, climatic changes, friction, saliva, pacifiers for babies, unadapted skin care products and stress. It can [also] be embarrassing and hard to cover due to the sensitivity and exposure,” she says.

How do I know if I have it?

PD can often be mistaken for sensitivity, a rash or even rosacea. The best way to find out what’s going on with your skin is by visiting a dermatologist or skincare expert. Unfortunately that may not be on the cards right now, but if it’s bothering you, try a virtual consultation.

“Often mistaken for a rash, which could be caused from rubbing or scratching or in some cases it can be mistaken for rosacea,” explains McNicholas. “rosacea is a long term skin condition that typically affects the face, which leaves the skin very red, swelling with dilated blood vessels and sometimes pimples and pustules.

“With the pandemic we are currently facing, surgical mask contact dermatitis could also be mistaken for perioral dermatitis.”

How can I deal with a flare up?

If you’re like me and are dealing with sore, itchy and dry skin the best thing to do is protect it, and restore it with hydration and nutrients to help repair.

“Protecting the skin with the use of effective, gentle emollients or barrier creams, reducing friction that could cause irritation and trying not have too much fluctuation in temperature can help avoid and reduce flare ups,” says McNicholas. “Explore what causes the flare up or triggers the irritation, and try to limit or avoid them.”

Tap water could be making your sensitivity worse

McNicholas avoids washing her face with tap water as it can alter the pH of skin, leading to drying and irritation. “As someone who has sensitive skin, I have found great improvement avoiding cleansing my skin with tap water. It’s hard to understand the composition of water that comes from the tap. It can be drying, leading to tingling and pulling sensations,” she says.

Instead, she uses a non-rinse cleanser and a thermal spring water spray, specifically the Avene Thermal Spring Water ($25.95, at Adore Beauty) which has a unique composition with low mineralization so it’s non-drying and actually works to calm and soothe sensitivity.

What works best for treatment?

Now is the time to avoid any active ingredients, drying or stripping products and harsh exfoliants. Instead, look to gentle and hydrating lotions and creams designed for sensitive and sensitised skin.

“Use gentle, soap-free products, and use your hands to wash skin rather than a face cloth. Choose products formulated to minimise the risk of allergic reactions and always test patch first,” says McNicholas. Get into a habit of applying of an emollient cream directly after cleansing. I urge anyone with this skin condition to continue to apply emollients even when the skin condition has improved. It will reinforce the skin barrier, limiting severe skin dryness.”

Try these:

Avene Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream ($22.99, at Chemist Warehouse)

QV Face Ultra Calming Moisturiser ($15.99, at Chemist Warehouse)

The Beauty Chef Flora Fix Balm ($25, at Nourished Life)