Periorificial dermatitis in children

Author: Dr Katherine Allnutt, Research and Education Fellow, Skin and Cancer Foundation Inc, Melbourne, Australia. DermNet Editor-in-Chief: Adjunct Assoc. Prof. Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. December 2018.

What is periorificial dermatitis?

Periorificial dermatitis in children typically presents as multiple small papules around the mouth, nose and eyes.

While the name is suggestive of an eczematous condition, periorificial dermatitis is actually more like rosacea.

Periorificial dermatitis in children

Who gets periorificial dermatitis?

Periorificial dermatitis mostly affects women aged 16–45 years and is less common in men [1,2]. It can also affect children as young as three months of age, with the average age in children being 6.6 years [3]. Periorificial dermatitis is slightly more common in girls than in boys and is seen most frequently in children who have applied topical steroids to the face [3,4].

What causes periorificial dermatitis?

The cause of periorificial dermatitis is poorly understood.

  • Children with periorificial dermatitis commonly have a background of atopic dermatitis; impaired skin barrier function may increase the impact of external irritants on the skin [5].
  • Corticosteroid exposure has been noted in 58–72% of paediatric cases [3,4] including topical [3,4,6], oral [7], and inhaled corticosteroids [8]. It is thought this may be due to damage to the epidermis [2], interaction with collagen synthesis [9], or due to a change in follicular flora [10]. It is unclear whether corticosteroids induce periorificial dermatitis or exacerbate pre-existing disease.
  • Fluorinated dental care products, dental fillings, cosmetics, sunscreens, chewing gum and hormonal changes have been associated with periorificial dermatitis [1,11].
  • Fusobacterium and Candida albicans may also contribute [12].

What are the clinical features of periorificial dermatitis?

Periorificial dermatitis is characterised by multiple grouped erythematous papules, pustules or vesicles with or without any scale.

  • The papules usually occur around the mouth, sparing a narrow area adjacent to the vermillion border of the lip. Other areas of the face, including around the nose and eyes may also be involved.
  • Sometimes there is itch, tenderness or a burning sensation [11].
  • Unlike acne, there are no comedones [11].

Granulomatous periorificial dermatitis is a variant mainly reported in dark-skinned prepubertal children in which there are multiple small discrete flesh-coloured or hyperpigmented papules.

  • The papules occur on the face and sometimes on other sites.
  • In contrast to the usual type of periorificial dermatitis, erythema, papulopustules and papulovesicles are absent [13, 14].
  • Granulomatous periorificial dermatitis is sometimes associated with blepharitis or conjunctivitis [15,16].

How is periorificial dermatitis diagnosed?

Periorificial dermatitis is usually diagnosed from a typical history and clinical features.

Skin biopsy is rarely required but may distinguish periorificial dermatitis from other disorders when the diagnosis is unclear.

  • Histopathology often shows non-specific inflammation with perifollicular lymphohistiocytic infiltrate, epithelioid cells and occasionally giant cells [17]. Early papular lesions may demonstrate mild acanthosis, epidermal oedema and parakeratosis [17].
  • Non-caseating perifollicular granulomas are seen in granulomatous periorificial dermatitis [15].

Swabs, skin scrapings and potassium hydroxide preparation may exclude bacterial or fungal infection.

Patch testing may be indicated if a contact allergy is suspected.

Blood tests are not useful in the diagnosis of periorificial dermatitis.

What is the differential diagnosis for periorificial dermatitis?

The differential diagnosis for non-granulomatous periorificial dermatitis in prepubertal children includes [11,18]:

In older children, the following conditions should also be considered.

The differential diagnosiss for the granulomatous variant includes [18]:

What is the treatment for periorificial dermatitis?

Suspected causative agents such as topical corticosteroids should be discontinued [1].

  • Periorificial dermatitis can temporarily flare when topical corticosteroids are ceased but may subsequently resolve within a few months without additional treatment [11].
  • The indication for inhaled or oral steroids should be reviewed [3]. Inhalers should be wiped clean to minimise steroid exposure.
  • Skin products that may irritate or occlude the skin should also be avoided.

Mild periorificial dermatitis may be treated with a topical antibiotic such as metronidazole, clindamycin, erythromycin and sulfacetamide [3,4,11,19]. Clearance typically takes 3 to 8 weeks [11].

Refractory or moderate to severe disease is treated with oral antibiotics.

  • The typical course of treatment is 4–8 weeks [1]
  • Oral tetracyclines should be avoided in children less than 12 years of age [1,11].
  • In younger children, erythromycin, azithromycin and clarithromycin are used [3,4].

Other treatments reported to be effective for periorificial dermatitis are:

What is the outcome for periorificial dermatitis?

Periorificial dermatitis in children is generally benign and self-limiting and often improves spontaneously within 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Periorificial dermatitis was reported to resolve in 72% of children in an average time of 3.8 months [3].
  • Corticosteroid use may prolong the disease course [4].
  • Lesions typically resolve without scarring; however, pigmentary changes may occur [3].
  • Recurrence in children is common in those dependent on a corticosteroid [3].

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Related information



  1. Tempark T, Shwayder TA. Perioral Dermatitis: A Review of the Condition with Special Attention to Treatment Options. Am J Clin Dermatol 2014; 15: 101-13. DOI: 10.1007/s40257-014-0067-7. PubMed
  2. Wollenberg A, Bieber T, Dirschka T et al. Perioral dermatitis. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 2011; 9: 422. DOI: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2010.07329.x. PubMed
  3. Goel NS, Burkhart CN, Morrell DS. Pediatric periorificial dermatitis: clinical course and treatment outcomes in 222 patients. Pediatr Dermatol 2015; 32: 333. DOI: 10.1111/pde.12534. PubMed
  4. Nguyen V, Eichenfield LF. Periorificial dermatitis in children and adolescents. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006; 55: 781. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2006.05.031. PubMed.
  5. Dirschka T, Szliska C, Jackowski J, Tronnier H. Impaired skin barrier and atopic diathesis in perioral dermatitis. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 2003; 1: 199. PubMed.
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  7. Clementson B, Smidt AC. Periorificial dermatitis due to systemic corticosteroids in children: report of two cases. Pediatr Dermatol 2012; 29: 331. DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1470.2011.01651.x. PubMed
  8. Peralta L, Morais P. Perioral dermatitis -- the role of nasal steroids. Cutan Ocul Toxicol 2012; 31:160. DOI: 10.3109/15569527.2011.621918. PubMed.
  9. Gupta R, Fonacier LS. Adverse Effects of Nonsystemic Steroids (Inhaled, Intranasal and Cutaneous): a Review of the Literature and Suggested Monitoring Tool. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 2016; 16: 44. DOI 10.1007/s11882-016-0620-y. PubMed
  10. Takiwaki H, Tsuda H, Arase S, Takechi H. Differences between intrafollicular microorganism profiles in perioral and seborrhoeic dermatitis. Clin Exp Dermatol 2003; 28: 531-34. PubMed.
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