What causes upper lip darkening and how to get rid of it

Upper lip darkening

If you’ve noticed the skin above your upper lip looks darker after spending time in the sun, there’s a reason for that. Here’s what you need to know to get rid of this dark skin on the upper lip that looks like a ‘moustache’.

What is ‘sun moustache'?

Sun moustache presents as dark, shadowy-looking skin or spots on the upper lip. It stems from sun damage that deepens skin's pigmentation via excess melanin production (1).

While sun protection is a key part of keeping this type of lip discolouration at bay, even those who apply sunscreen every day can still end up with sun moustaches or ‘melasma moustaches’, as they are also known.

What causes upper lip darkening?

The upper lip is a prime target because it’s easy for sunscreen to unknowingly be wiped off in this area. Think about it: Every time you rub your nose, eat, sweat, take a drink, or remove a facial mask, there’s a chance that some of your SPF is being whisked away with it, leaving skin in this area more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays.

Does lip pigmentation go away?

Once you’ve acquired these dark patches on your lips, the sun moustache – also known as ‘melasma upper lip’ – is unlikely to go away on its own. This type of sun damage triggers changes in skin that are pervasive and stubborn, meaning intervention is required and you have to be consistent and diligent with your skincare routine to keep it at bay.

How to get rid of dark skin above the upper lip?

First and foremost, sun protection is crucial for getting rid of a sun moustache (2). The discolouration will only get worse with ongoing UV exposure, so applying (and reapplying) sun protection every day is your first line of defence.

Taking it a step further, layering SPF products can help bolster protection against developing a black spot on lips. For example, apply your facial moisturiser with sun protection, follow with a foundation with sun protection, and then finish with a powder that contains—you guessed it—sun protection. Layering isn’t failproof (meaning your sun protection can still wear off), but every little bit helps.

Next up, use skin-brightening products with proven ingredients such as tranexamic acid, vitamin C, retinol, arbutin, azelaic acid, and liquorice extract (3,4,5,6). Each of these hero ingredients work in their own way to help noticeably improve uneven skin tone.

Chemical exfoliants can also help to minimise sun moustache by removing the buildup of dead, dull skin that has accumulated on the surface (7).

If you want to tackle sun moustache in full force, using a combination of these treatments is a powerful way to go about it.

Can a darker upper lip be caused by anything else?

Hyperpigmentation on lips can be caused by other factors, most notably life changes (such as pregnancy) that may trigger excess melanin production, particularly on the face. Referred to as melasma or ‘pregnancy mask’, this may play a role in darkening skin above your lip, as well as on other areas of the face (8).

If you suspect these factors may be causing your skin discolouration, check with your dermatologist, who can discuss prescription options and laser treatments for hyperpigmentation (9). This combination of doctor-prescribed solutions and effective skincare products can make a dramatic difference.

References for this information:

1. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, September 2018, pages 1-44
2. Skin Therapy Letter, January 2016, pages 1–7
3. JDNA Drugs in Dermatology, February 2019, pages
4. Dermatology and Therapy, September 2017, pages 417-424
5. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, July 2017, pages 14-17
6. Phytochemistry Letters, September 2015, pages 35–40
7. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, November 2013, pages 281-288
8. American Family Physician, December 2017, pages 797-804
9. Dermatological Therapy, October 2020, pages 1-12

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