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Melanin is a pigment compound produced by melanocytes, which lie deep within the skin. A higher concentration of melanin leads to hyperpigmentation of the upper lip. This buildup of melanin causes darkening of the upper lip.
Many factors can make your lips and their surrounding skin turn dark such as negligent skin care, incorrect hair removal techniques, smoking, tobacco consumption, (1) excessive alcohol intake, a stressful lifestyle, sun damage, (2) side effects of some antibiotics, (3) and hormonal variations. For some, especially women, the lips can naturally turn dark with age.
This article will take you through various treatment options to lighten the hyperpigmentation in and around your lips, ranging from medical interventions to home remedies and self-care measures.
Medical Treatment for Upper Lip Hyperpigmentation
The dermatologist will first conduct the necessary examination to diagnose the root of the problem and then suggest the appropriate interventions to address it.
Some of the treatments to lighten upper lip hyperpigmentation include the following:
- Your doctor may suggest topicals such as medicated moisturizers, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and skin-lightening products containing azelaic acid, arbutin, mandelic acid, licorice extracts, mulberry extracts, or vitamin C.
- Topical steroids might be prescribed if the upper lip hyperpigmentation is caused by dermatitis.
- In-office chemical peeling using acidic solutions such as kojic acid or glycolic acid may be recommended depending upon the severity of the hyperpigmentation. Retinol acid peels might be suggested for resilient pigmentation.
- Q-switched Nd:YAG 1064 nm laser may be recommended to treat deeper pigmentation.
- For upper lip darkening due to thick hair growth or faulty hair removal methods, laser hair reduction is recommended. This is preferred over razors and waxing as they can further darken your skin.
- If the doctor suspects that an underlying hormonal disorder is causing the hyperpigmentation, he/she will first conduct a hormonal evaluation and then prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Medical Conditions Associated With a Dark Upper Lip
Some underlying conditions that may cause your upper lip to turn darker include:
- Waxing-induced dermatitis
- Irritant dermatitis caused by hair removal creams, bleach, waxing, or threading
- Dermatitis caused by compulsive lip licking
- Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD)
- Diabetes – acanthosis nigricans
- Benign and malignant neoplasm
Home Remedies to Lighten a Hyperpigmented Upper Lip
Here are some home remedies that you can run by your doctor. These can be used as the main or complementary treatment for a darkened upper lip.
Caution: Always conduct a patch test before trying a new topical remedy to rule out adverse reactions. Also, don’t experiment with unverified home remedies that you find on the Internet or elsewhere as they can irritate the sensitive skin of your lip area and worsen the pigmentation.
1. Alpha hydroxy acids
Alpha hydroxy acids are known to promote skin regeneration and diminish hyperpigmentation. (4) Milk, yogurt, milk cream, and Indian gooseberry are all great sources of alpha hydroxy acids.
How to use:
- Mix any of the above-mentioned ingredients with 1 tablespoon of rose water to prepare a skin-lightening mask.
- If the paste is too runny, add a little bit of sandalwood or oatmeal powder.
- Apply the paste to the affected area.
- Let it dry before washing it off with lukewarm water.
2. Rose extracts
Rose extracts are a popular beauty remedy and may help lighten a dark upper lip.
How to use:
- Take some raw milk in a clean bowl and soak a few rose petals (5) in it. Set the mixture aside for about an hour.
- Grind the mixture to make a paste. If you want, you can put ½ teaspoon of honey in it.
- Smear the paste over the affected area.
- Let it sit for about 15 minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water.
Honey can help fade the hyperpigmentation on your lips. Use either raw organic honey or medical-grade honey for your preparation. (6)
How to use:
- In a bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of rose water and ½ teaspoon of honey.
- Apply this mixture to the darkened area and leave it on until it dries.
- Rinse it off with lukewarm water.
Turmeric may prove helpful in returning your darkened upper lip to its natural color. (7)
How to use:
- Mix 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder with a few drops of milk or yogurt.
- Apply this mixture to the affected area.
- Let it sit for 20 minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water.
5. Pomegranate juice
Pomegranate juice is full of phenolic compounds that work as antioxidants to counter the skin damage caused by free radicals. (8) These antioxidant effects of pomegranate juice can also be used to repair and lighten your darkened upper lip. (9)
How to use:
- Simply apply pomegranate juice to the affected area.
- Wait for it to dry before rinsing it off.
6. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel contains aloin, which has been shown to induce skin lightening. (10)
How to use:
- Extract the gel from a freshly cut aloe vera leaf.
- Apply the gel to the hyperpigmented upper lip.
- Let the gel sit on the skin for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off.
7. Skin-lightening oils
Certain oils are credited with skin-lightening properties that might help fade the hyperpigmentation on and around your lips. The best ones in this regard are rosehip oil, (11) sandalwood oil, (12) or any vitamin E-rich oil such as almond oil.
How to use:
- Massage your upper lip with the above-mentioned skin-lightening oils.
- Alternatively, add these oils to your DIY skin-lightening masks.
Caution: Do not apply these oil blends too close to your mouth to avoid accidental ingestion, which can lead to complications.
Here are some tips to protect your lips from darkening and promote the repair of the skin on and around your lips if damage does occur:
- Wear good-quality sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from the UV rays of the sun, which stimulate the melanocytes into producing more melanin, leading to hyperpigmentation of the exposed skin. (13)
- Consume a diet rich in antioxidants, especially vitamins A (14) and C. (15)
- Quit smoking.
- Your upper lip may appear dark due to the shadow cast by the hair growing over it, but removing the hair through waxing, plucking, shaving, or hair removal creams can irritate the underlying skin and make it darker over time. So, don’t use these methods too frequently or incorrectly.
- Take proper measures to control metabolic conditions such as diabetes or hormonal disorders such as PCOD, which have been associated with skin hyperpigmentation. The first thing to do in this regard is to maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise along with diet control.
Most-Asked Questions About Dark Upper Lips
Can I use lemon juice to lighten my darkened upper lip?
Lemon or lime juice contains ample amounts of vitamin C, which is an antityrosinase agent. (16) But its use is not advised by experts, especially on the thin skin of the lips, as it can be caustic and can render the area highly sensitive to solar damage.
Does rubbing potato slices on darkened upper lip lighten it?
Probably not. The enzyme catecholase in potatoes is believed to have bleaching abilities that may help lighten hyperpigmented skin, but this is a mere supposition.
Can orange peels help reduce lip hyperpigmentation?
The extract derived from the peel of Newhall navel orange (Chinese variety) is known to inhibit tyrosinase. (17) This effect is attributed to ethyl acetate extract, which can only be prepared in a clinical setting and not at home. Simply using orange peels might not have the same skin-lightening effect as the extracts.
Can I bleach my hyperpigmented upper lip to lighten it?
It is best to avoid bleaching as it can further irritate the upper lip and may cause burns.
Upper lip hyperpigmentation can be quite stubborn, so it is important to be patient and manage your expectations when treating it. The end goal is to restore your natural color and not make your skin lighter than it naturally is. All the treatments and remedies mentioned in this article will help lighten your dark upper lip efficiently.
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