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What Can Cause Lip Discoloration?

By A. Gamm
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lip discoloration is the darkening or lightening of the lips from its usual coloring and is typically a benign symptom that indicates a hormonal change. Other times it may simply be the result of irritation and sun exposure or of a person’s diet. Rarely, lip discoloration is a sign of an oral cancer. Although this condition may happen to both genders, the majority of cases are with women.

Hormone changes are usually the primary cause of lip discoloration, especially in women, and most notably, women with darker skin tone. Pregnancy is often a time with discoloration of the lips and other areas of the face occur as the body produces more estrogen. Similarly, discoloration may occur while a woman is taking birth control pills. Anyone who is receiving hormone therapy is also likely to experience some degree of discoloration. In these cases, the discoloration is likely to disappear on its own over time, with minimal or no medical help.

Occasionally, if the area around the mouth is irritated by an acne treatment or from waxing, the lips may darken if the skin is exposed to the sun for a prolonged period of time shortly after the treatment. Prolonged sun exposure on its own may also cause the lips to darken. This is especially so in areas with warmer climates. People with darker skin tones are usually more prone to this type of discoloration. In these instances, treating lip discoloration may be done by using products that contain hydrocortisone, kojic acid, or topical retinoid. Doctors often suggest that the only way to prevent this type of discoloration is to use lip products that have SPF 15 or higher.

Other benign causes are usually a result from diet. People who drink excessive amounts of coffee or smoke may develop discoloring of the lips. Typically, the only way to get the lips back to their original pigmentation is to not take these substances or cut back. Furthermore, people who suffer from lip discoloration as a result from smoking may later develop an oral cancer.

On rare occasions, splotchy or white-ish lip discoloration is a sign of an oral cancer. This discoloration is usually subtle and largely goes unnoticed by most people. Typically, a dentist checks for this and other signs of oral cancers during regular check-ups. If an oral cancer is suspected, the dentist will refer the patient to a specialist for further inspection.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Jan 05, 2013

I'm out in the sun a lot in the summer and I've developed some discoloration on my lips.

To be honest, I use lip balm but not usually with SPF and that must be the reason.

It's been a few months since I was out in the sun but the discoloration is still there. I keep wearing dark colored lipsticks to hide it. I'm going to be more careful about wearing lip balm with SPF from now on but I don't know what I can do to treat the discoloration that is already there.

By ysmina — On Jan 04, 2013

@alisha-- Usually it goes away, but sometimes the discoloration can remain.

There are skin treatments you can do to get rid of it, like dermabrasion and microdermabrasion. Don't worry about it for now and hopefully it will go away on its own when your hormone levels go back to normal.

I'm thinking about getting one of these treatments as well. I have lip discoloration due to cold sores. I had cold sores come up on the same spot on my lip over several months and now there is discoloration there.

By discographer — On Jan 04, 2013

I'm pregnant and I have started developing skin and lip discoloration. My doctor said not to worry and that it will go away after pregnancy. But I'm not so sure because the discoloration is very dark. Does it ever happen that discoloration remains even after pregnancy?

Are there any remedies for this?

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