Lips are soft and usually reddish or pinkish in color. Lips may discolor or become darker due to a variety of causes, including contact with environmental elements, underlying skin ailments, systemic conditions, lifestyle aspects, and electromagnetic, chemical, physical, or mechanical damage of lip tissue.
It may be noted that lips usually never attain a completely black color.
Causes of lip discoloration
Lip discoloration may occur due to below listed underlying causative conditions and factors:
- Anemia: The condition of low hemoglobin levels, caused by reduced red blood cells or reduced hemoglobin in RBCs, is known as anemia. It is one of the most prevalent causes of lip discoloration, especially in females after puberty till menopause. Hemoglobin imparts the red color to blood and the lip has tiny blood vessels just below the lip skin surface. This is the reason behind the reddish/pinkish color of lips. Hence, deficiency of hemoglobin can cause the lips to become darker. Iron deficiency anemia is another common cause of lip discoloration. Severe instances of anemia are marked by bluish discoloration of lips; the blue tinge is more evident in cold weather.
- Dermatitis: It is an inflammatory skin condition marked by a host of symptoms, including itching, skin rash, and lip discoloration, etc. Use of low quality lip care products, lipstick, lip gloss, cosmetics, etc., can inflame and darken the lips. Most of these products have dyes that discolor lips and not to be used on human skin.
- Cyanosis: It is a severe health problem wherein many areas of the body have extremely high amounts of deoxygenated blood. Blue lip discoloration is often observed in cyanosis patients. The condition can be triggered by underlying ailments of the blood, lungs, or cardiovascular system. Cold weather and strenuous physical activity can worsen bluish discoloration. Patients need to visit a doctor for treatment; if symptoms like cold, clammy lips, reduced awareness, respiratory issues, and fainting, etc. occur with lip discoloration, then emergency medical care is needed.
- Melasma: The condition of hyper-pigmentation of skin marked by abnormal levels of melanin deposits is known as melasma. It often affects the face, but can also occur in body areas constantly exposed to sun. In addition to symmetrical spaces of lip discoloration, the forehead and cheeks are most prone to darkening.
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome: It is a genetic disease which causes hyper-pigmentation, mucosal membrane darkening, and polyps in gastrointestinal system. Lip discoloration often occurs along with increased pigmentation of the mouth’s mucosal wall. Patients are at increased risk to developing intestinal cancer.
- Lentigo: This skin condition causes flat brown or black spots on skin and lips. Lentigo-associated lip discoloration may be caused by increased sun exposure or systemic health problems.
- Dry lips: Moisture present in skin is instrumental in maintaining its soft texture and good health. Unlike other body areas, the lips do not have many layers of skin and hence more prone to moisture loss. Habits like smoking, licking lips, and breathing via mouth, etc., can cause dry lips, which can then lead to chapping and persistent cracks on lips. Such damage can trigger lip discoloration. Dry lips are usually whitish and pale or may become brownish in severe instances.
- Lifestyle: Lip discoloration may occur due to smoking, alcoholism, and/or regular use of illegal drugs. It is in fact a distinctive sign of crack cocaine or meth use. Those who smoke cigarettes for several years may elicit darkening of lips as well as inner wall of oral cavity. Drinking home brewed alcohol or unregulated alcohol, often containing fermentation-quickening acidic agents, can also trigger dark spotting on lips.
- Other lip discoloration causes: Conditions like jaundice, medicine side effects, eating disorder induced nutrition deficits, hormonal problems, and contact with harmful toxins, chemicals, and poisons, etc., can also trigger lip discoloration.
Treatment of lip discoloration
Lip discoloration is treated as per diagnosis of underlying causative factors or disease.
A few home remedies are listed below:
- Lip balm, chapsticks, and petroleum jelly can treated and prevent dry lips and subsequent cases of lip discoloration
- Avoid/restrict eating hot, spicy meals; coffee, tea, caffeinated drinks; smoking; alcohol consumption
- Drink adequate water to remain hydrated and retain skin moisture and eat a healthy nutrition rich diet for healthy skin
- Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight. Use sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, etc., when going outside
- Exfoliation of lips with moisturizers like purified butter and circular rubbing motions of the lips can help get rid of discolored lips. Apply honey on exfoliated lips and remove it after 10 to 20 minutes
- Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice have bleaching qualities. They can be applied on lips to clear lip discoloration. Lemon juice can also be used with honey or almond powder/paste.
- Other home remedies for lip discoloration are glycerin and crushed rose petals mix; beetroot juice; aloe vera juice; cocoa butter; milk cream and pomegranate paste; and scrub made of banana, honey, and yogurt.