How a person treats dark lips depends largely on the cause of the discoloration, but simple techniques that often work are using an SPF lip balm, quitting or changing lipsticks and similar products, staying more hydrated and exfoliating away dull, dead skin. Visiting medical professionals can help, as well, because they can diagnose and treat underlying causes. Lifestyle and dietary changes, natural or commercial lightening products, medical cosmetics and permanent makeup are additional solutions.
Although some people have naturally dark lips because of genetics, other factors also can contribute to a deepening color over time. One of the most common is getting too much sun — the ultraviolet radiation triggers cells called melanocytes to produce more melanin, or pigment. Some cosmetics are problematic because they contain dyes and other chemicals that can cause dryness, irritation or mild contact dermatitis. Excessive dryness, which can happen because of the environmental factors, not drinking enough water or habits such as breathing through the mouth is another issue linked to darkening, because it causes dead skin cells to build up and hide the real, lighter pink shade underneath.
Certain medical problems such as anemia, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances also can influence pigment production and the availability of hemoglobin, the compound that gives blood its red color and carries oxygen through the body. Lifestyle choices can produce an unwanted coloring, as well. Smoking, for example, can cause a condition known as smoker’s melanosis, because nicotine stimulates the melanocytes in the tissue that lines the mouth. Using products such as coffee or tea in high amounts is a problem, as well, because they contain caffeine, which restricts blood flow. Drugs, including prescription medications, can be another cause of darkening.
Lip Balm Use
With sun exposure being one of the main reasons for darkening, in some cases, the simplest solution is to start wearing a basic lip balm that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. In general, a minimalistic product with few ingredients is best. Shea butter and coconut oil are two examples of natural substances with some ability to block ultraviolet radiation.
Lipsticks and similar items usually are problematic when they are from less-than-reputable companies, or when their age has allowed some breakdown of their ingredients. It isn’t necessary to stop these products altogether, but it’s a good idea for a person to throw out old ones and to look for versions with ingredients that work with her skin type. It’s also beneficial to remove them when they aren’t really necessary, such as when relaxing at home.
Discoloration that happens because of dryness has several solutions, the first being to remove or adjust environmental factors, such as air conditioning. From there, the next step is to get more fluids, preferably plain water. Not all of it has to come from drinks, because many foods, such as watermelon and lettuce, contain a high percentage of water. Some foods, drinks and medications can have a diuretic effect, so it might be necessary to take in more fluids when using these items. Intake also should increase the more exercise someone does, because moisture is lost when a person sweats, aiding cooling through evaporation.
Another tip is to apply a natural lip balm or oil. These products form a protective barrier against the environment, sealing in moisture. Many also penetrate the upper layers of skin, softening them and preventing the irritation and cracking that sometimes can cause discoloration.
The buildup of dead skin cells can cause lips to look dull and slightly darker, so regular, gentle exfoliation sometimes can yield improvements in appearance. Moisturizing first makes it much easier to remove the cells, and it makes irritation less likely. One of the best times to exfoliate is while in the shower, using a clean, soft washcloth or even the fingertips. Some people like to make a naturally antibacterial scrub from honey, sugar and olive oil. The newly exposed layers of skin usually are sensitive, so it’s important to protect them afterward by putting on some SPF lip balm or other moisturizer.
Medical Treatment and Consultation
Sometimes the only solution for dark lips is to visit a medical professional. He or she can perform a basic examination or run specific tests to determine whether the cause is biological or from a current treatment. Once the cause is identified, making a progressive health plan becomes possible. Getting better might include starting or stopping a medication, changing diet or undergoing additional procedures.
When the cause of lip darkening is because of habits like smoking or caffeine use, quitting the behaviors sometimes can prevent the problem from getting worse or allow some degree of reversal. Frequently, this is a matter of willpower and consciously changing what a person does, such as purposely selecting water over coffee. Physical addiction sometimes is involved, however, which complicates the issue. Symptoms of withdrawal such as headaches and shakiness might occur, and in some cases, it is necessary to seek rehabilitation treatment. Many medical experts recommend slowly weaning off products when dependence is present, because quitting all at once or going “cold turkey” can be extremely hard on the body.
What a person eats ties directly to physical processes, so making dietary changes sometimes can correct the nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that directly or indirectly connect to lip color. A varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and lean meats such as fish and chicken usually improves health. Foods with Vitamin C such as kale, oranges and chili or bell peppers are especially good choices, because this substance is known to reduce melanin production. Balance is still important, however, because the amount of one chemical in the body often influences levels of another, and because even necessary nutrients can be toxic at extremely high doses.
General Lightening Products
For some individuals, the best option to use a natural or commercial lightening product. Lemon juice is well known as a chemical exfoliant that has bleaching properties. Milk and yogurt are also good for removing cells because they contain lactic acid. Experts recommend using potato slices or pastes, as well, because this vegetable contains the lightening enzyme, catecholase.
Many different commercial lightening creams and gels are available, many of which are available over the counter. Others require a prescription because of their strength or because one or more ingredients they contain are regulated. In many cases, these products should be a last resort, because they can have potentially harmful side effects. Hydroquinone, for example, has long been criticized as a potential carcinogen, endocrine system disrupter and neurotoxin. Even “safe” versions usually are not intended for long-term use.
Medical Cosmetics and Tattooing
Some cosmetics, including lipsticks, are formulated with ingredients designed to treat a variety of skin conditions, including hyperpigmentation. These medical-grade products can be a very convenient and aesthetically pleasing way to hide and treat the darkening at the same time. Another alternative is cosmetic tattooing, also known as permanent makeup. Only a trained, qualified and certified tattoo artist or technician should perform this procedure, and although the coloring can fade over time, there’s no good way to reverse it.