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Dark Lips: Is Hyperpigmentation the Cause?

happy woman pointing to her smile

There are a variety of reasons why you may be experiencing hyperpigmentation on your lips. It could be hormonal, related to a vitamin deficiency or even exposure to the sun.

While the rest of your skin is made up of multiple layers of cells, your lips are only made of five. So, what does this mean? Well, it basically means that because there are fewer cellular layers, your lip tissue is more visible and delicate, and shows the colorations of the blood vessels below.

What Causes Lip Discoloration?

The outline of your lips is known as the vermillion border. No one knows why this feature is unique only to humans, but it is fun to assume we were given this lip border for lipstick - wearing and smooching.

The vermillion of your lips usually appears as a light pink to brown. It varies from person to person and depends on your skin tone, but generally speaking, your lips will appear a darker or more red shade than the rest of your face. If you are paler, your lips will be lighter and the blood vessels underneath will appear more striking.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a common and typically harmless condition that occurs when areas of your skin become darker than the rest of your skin. This happens due to increased production of melanin, the pigment that produces color in your skin.

Hyperpigmentation is usually harmless and can be due to a number of factors such as sun exposure or a medical condition. It can occur in anyone of any age, race or gender.

Hyperpigmentation in Lips

There are many reasons you may be experiencing hyperpigmentation or discoloration in your lips. When this discoloration occurs, it is due to excess production of melanin.

Skin discoloration around the mouth is caused by excess melanin production in your skin. Hormonal changes, medications and sun exposure are related to hyperpigmentation. Nutritional deficiencies, skin trauma and other medical conditions may also cause skin discoloration.

Causes of Lip Discoloration

First off, there are some harmless reasons for lip discoloration, like from food or drink that stains the color of your lips giving them a new tint. This could be from a soda, berries, beets or likely any food or beverage with a darkened or strong pigment.

Before jumping to the worst of conclusions, maybe try tracking what foods or drinks you’ve consumed that might be contributing to the discoloration! However, if this isn’t the cause of your lip discoloration, there are some other reasons to take into account.

Hormonal Changes

As we know, your skin gets its color from the pigment known as melanin. There are many factors that create changes in melanin production, sun exposure, hormone fluctuation, medications and medical conditions being the most common.

Right now though, let’s focus on how hormonal changes may directly affect spots of hyperpigmentation on your lips and around your mouth.

Melasma is made up of dark brown and gray patches on your face, cheeks and upper lip. The patches usually occur when a woman has undergone some type of hormonal shift, such as becoming pregnant or taking an oral contraceptive. It will occur most frequently on the face, and prolonged exposure to the sun will make these patches more visible.


While birth control may be the first thing to come to mind with medications that enhance or cause hyperpigmentation on your mouth, there are some others that may increase your risk, including hormone replacements that are high in estrogen, the antibiotic known as doxycycline or medications used to treat chemotherapy.

Overexposure to Sun

Being in direct contact with ultraviolet rays from sun exposure may increase your risk for hyperpigmentation and dark spotting on your face. Remember when applying sunscreen to not skip the mouth area and to look for a lip balm or chapstick that contains an SPF as well.

Skin Trauma

After experiencing a severe acne breakout, burn or infection on your face or in the surrounding areas of your mouth, you may be at risk of developing hyperpigmentation in the same areas after the skin heals. This type of hyperpigmentation occurs after inflammation in the skin and usually fades within a few months.

If you are still experiencing this type of hyperpigmentation after a few months, it could also be due to irritation from a lip balm or toothpaste. Consider swapping out these products and seeing if that improves your pigmentation.

Vitamin and Nutrition Deficiency

There are many vitamin deficiencies that may be associated with hyperpigmentation in your lips, but the most common are those associated with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.

Lip Discoloration: Blue Lips, Dark Lips, and Light Lips

Blue Lips

If you are suffering from a blue coloring in your lips, this is likely a sign that you aren’t receiving enough oxygen. Poor oxygen circulation in the bloodstream may cause discoloration in your skin, known as cyanosis. Blue lips may indicate a decreased oxygen level in your blood which can be caused by several types of medical conditions.

In addition to your lips, you would also notice this in the tips of your fingers and toes. If this sounds familiar to you, or if you notice this occurring in your skin, you should consult a doctor immediately.

Blood that is rich in oxygen will be bright red, while oxygen with a low oxygen level will appear as a darker red or even purple. Other causes of blue lips may be serious medical conditions, ranging from ones affecting the heart, circulatory system or lungs.

Dark Lips

Hyperpigmentation in your lips will cause darkness in your lips. This can be brought on by a multitude of factors.

  • Smoking. Smoking can lead to the darkening of both your lips and gums, and enhance the pigmentation in both.
  • Injury. If you are experiencing dry or cracked lips, your lips will also turn dark. In the same way, a bruise can form on your lips after experiencing an injury. They may turn purple or black.
  • Spotting. Spotting may occur from sun exposure or be a symptom of a medical condition. Either way, spotted lips may be the cause of your discolored lips.

Light Lips

Lightness in our lips may often go hand in hand with an all-around pale complexion in your face. If you are pale in your face, around your eyes, and even in your nails, it’s more likely that you will have lighter lips.

While being pale is natural, it can also stem from certain medical conditions such as anemia. Things leading to anemia may include:

  • Iron deficiency
  • B-12 deficiency
  • Heavy Menstruation which leads to blood loss
  • Intestinal tract bleeding
  • Oral thrush
  • Low blood sugar
  • Circulation problems
  • Frostbite
  • Certain medications or vitamin deficiencies

Treatments for Dark Lips

Hyperpigmentation around the mouth may be a little more tricky to deal with than other areas of your face, because, as mentioned before, the skin on your lips is dedicated and not made of the cellular layers of the rest of your face. There are, however, some effective at-home remedies to help reduce lip hyperpigmentation, depending on the severity of the case.

Home Remedies

The most important habit to adopt in your skincare regimen is to wear sunscreen every day. Oftentimes, the mouth and areas surrounding it get overlooked during application. So, while we may apply sunscreen on a regular basis, there are some simple ways to help keep the lips looking and feeling healthy.

Use Lemon, With Care

Lemon is commonly used as a home remedy for skin lightening due to its citric acid properties that helps remove dead cells and exfoliate the skin. Simply cut a slice of lemon and hold it to the lips for no longer than one minute. Then, rinse with warm water. However, it is important to keep in mind that lemon can irritate the skin due to its acidity. Make sure that your lips have no cuts or irritation prior to using lemon.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough fluids is one of the best ways to look after the lips. Simply add a slice of cucumber and lemon to a glass of water for a refreshing drink.

Apply Almond or Coconut Oil

Massages can help moisturize the lips and boost circulation. As blood vessels help give them color, this can help boost a healthy blood flow. Use a high-quality oil as a natural remedy by gently rubbing the oil into the lips at least twice per day.

Who Is Prone to Lip Discoloration?

While anyone may be affected by lip hyperpigmentation, those with dark skin are typically more prone to it all in all. This is because dark skin produces a higher amount of melanin compared to lighter skin tones.

Age also affects your skin, and you may notice more spotting around areas of your skin that are exposed to the sun such as your face and chest as you get older.

If you notice discoloration on your mouth, you might notice that it’s worse during the summer months due to increased sun exposure. Exposure to the sun increases melanin production and makes pigmentation darker, and hyperpigmentation more pronounced.

So, grab that wide-brimmed hat, load up on some sunscreen and remember to enjoy those UV rays while also being mindful of its potential effects on your skin.

When To See a Doctor

You will likely notice when discoloration around your mouth fades, perhaps when you stop taking medication or introduce an exfoliant or brightening serum into your skincare routine. However, if your symptoms don’t improve, it may be time to consult a dermatologist.