Darkening of the upper lip is more often a problem for women than men. And obviously it’s more troublesome to women because it can look like a mustache! But today, I’m only going to talk about actual darkening of the upper lip skin, not hair, which is a different topic.
So, this darkening often looks like a horizontal tan or brown band across most of the upper lip, and it usually doesn’t touch the lip line. As a result, there’s a very thin strip of normal colored skin between the actual lip line and the dark appearing band. And this thin normal colored strip actually makes the band look darker because of the contrast of it’s normal color with the darker area.
The darkening is made up of hues of two different colors… Tan to brown hues from excess melanin pigment, and red to purple hues from tiny enlarged blood vessels. Usually, the tan browns are more prominent than the red purples.
The excess melanin causing the tan browns is caused by unprotected ultraviolet exposure of the affected skin. But, the reason it appears there and not elsewhere is because those skin cells were abnormally sensitized by normal female hormones, estrogen, to make excessive melanin pigment in response to UV damage. The estrogens can be from birth control pills, current or prior pregnancies, or just normal levels of estrogens. It’s almost like a localized form of melasma or cloasma. And as a point of interest, we don’t know why those cells become so exquisitely susceptible to making extra melanin pigment.
Unprotected UV exposure and subsequent UV damage also causes the tiny enlarged blood vessels that are responsible for the subtle red to purple hues… but again… it’s a mystery why they occur JUST in that band distribution.
The treatment of the tan browns is the same as treating chloasma… Use strict sun protection with chem-free sunscreens, topical depigmenting bleaches and gentle chemical exfoliants. The red purples can only be fixed by laser treatments that remove the enlarged blood vessels… Unfortunately, there still are no topical products that safely and effectively treat enlarged or broken blood vessels.
So while there is a way to treat dark upper lip skin, just remember, it got that way in the first place because it was so sensitive, and as a result, all of the treatments I’ve mentioned have to be very gentle.