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There are numerous possible causes of dark spots on the lips. Examples include vitamin deficiency, dehydration, too much iron, smoking, and more.
Home remedies may be able to reduce the appearance of these spots, but there are times when a doctor should get involved.
In this article, we look at 13 causes of black spots on the lips. We also discuss prevention, remedies, and when to seek professional diagnosis and treatment.
Many of the causes listed below are easy to manage at home or require simple treatment:
1. Vitamin deficiency
Vitamins such as B-12 help to give the skin an even tone.
If the body is deficient in these vitamins, the skin may change. Dark spots on the lips or an uneven skin tone can indicate a vitamin deficiency.
Deficiencies should be diagnosed by a doctor, who may recommend adding vitamin-rich foods to the diet or taking a multivitamin supplement, depending on the severity of the deficiency.
In extreme cases, a doctor may recommend vitamin injections.
Dehydration can have many harmful effects on the body. Where the face is concerned, a lack of water in the diet can lead to chapped, irritated skin and lips.
The lips may become rough, and layers of skin may peel off, leading to small injuries. These could cause scabs, scars, and other changes of color in the lips.
Drinking plenty of water and eating liquid-rich foods throughout the day will usually prevent or treat minor dehydration.
3. Too much iron
An excessive intake of iron can lead to discolored skin.
A person may have too much iron in their body because they are taking too many iron supplements or receiving multiple transfusions of iron-rich blood.
Or, a person may have a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis. This causes the body to absorb too much iron from food, which may lead to changes in skin color.
If a person has an excess of iron, a doctor will carefully monitor and regulate levels over time. The doctor may recommend that they donate blood on a regular basis. Prescription medications may also help to remove the iron.
Chemical medications can also cause skin color changes and the formation of black spots on the lips.
Most of these medicines fall into the following categories:
- cytotoxic drugs used during cancer treatment
- antipsychotic drugs, such as chlorpromazine
- antimalarial drugs, such as quinine sulfate
- anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin
- antiarrhythmic medications, such as amiodarone
Anyone taking these medications should contact a doctor if black spots form on their lips. The doctor may recommend a change in medication or a different treatment option.
Hyperpigmentation, or melasma, is a common and harmless skin issue.
Melasma occurs when patches of skin become discolored and appear brown or greyish. These can appear anywhere, including the lips.
Hormones may play a role in hyperpigmentation, and the pregnant women are often affected.
Protecting skin from the sun will often stop areas of hyperpigmentation from becoming more distinct. The patches may fade over time, and dermatologists may recommend topical medications to lighten the dark spots.
An allergic reaction may be responsible for dark spots on the lips. This allergy is called pigmented contact cheilitis.
Potential irritants include:
- lipstick or lip balm that may have expired
- face makeup
- hair dye or hair-lightening creams
- green tea, which may irritate sensitive skin
Anyone with an allergic reaction should stop using products they suspect may be responsible and contact a doctor.
7. Hormone disorder
Dark or black spots on the lips can indicate a hormone disorder. Levels of thyroid hormone that are either low or high can cause spots or hyperpigmentation to occur on the body.
Contact a doctor to receive a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
8. Venous lake
A dark spot on the lip may be a venous lake.
This will look like a single, dark purple spot that is raised and feels soft when pressed. They can vary in size and usually appear in areas exposed to sun, such as the lips or ears.
Venous lakes are associated with sun exposure, though the direct cause is unknown. They usually do not indicate skin cancer.
Laser therapy can remove a venous lake if the person finds it unsightly. Protecting lips from the sun may help to prevent their development.
These are areas of discolored skin that may feel hard or scaly. The medical community refers to sunspots as actinic keratosis.
Sunspots can appear on any skin that is exposed to sun.
They may have:
- a flat or raised surface
- a tone that matches the rest of the skin, or they may be slightly pink, red, or dark brown
- a rough and dry surface
- a crusty or flaky texture
- a size ranging from very small to about 1 inch across
Actinic keratosis is considered a form of precancer, as the affected areas contain abnormal cells that could progress into cancer over time.
A doctor should inspect all sunspots. They may recommend freezing any abnormal cells, scraping or cutting them away, or removing them with chemical peels.
An angiokeratoma is a skin lesion. Angiokeratomas vary in size, shape, and color, but they are usually dark red or black and hard to the touch. They may have an uneven surface.
These lesions tend to appear in older adults and may look like warts. Though they are usually harmless, a doctor should carefully inspect each angiokeratoma to ensure that it is not cancerous.
If a person wants an angiokeratoma removed, this is usually achieved with a laser or by freezing.
11. Dental fixtures
Any fixture in the mouth that does not fit well can cause pressure sores to appear on the lips or gums. Braces, dentures, and retainers are often responsible.
After a sore heals, it may leave behind a dark spot, and these may darken further if they are not protected from sunlight.
Treatment involves having an orthodontist correct the fit of the device and protecting the spots from sunlight as they heal.
12. Smoking and alcohol
Harmful chemicals and toxins in tobacco products can damage the lips and mouth.
Drinking too much alcohol can also disrupt the balance of toxins in the body and cause dark spots to appear on the lips.
Quitting or limiting consumption of these products can help to prevent this symptom.
Cancerous growths on the lips have a variety of appearances. Look out for the following symptoms:
- a growth with an irregular shape
- a growth that has rapidly increased in size
- an open or bloody sore
- a shiny growth
- a growth with an unusual color
- scaly red patches of skin
- scar-like tissue
Cancerous growths on the lips are usually removed surgically, or by freezing or radiation.
Many home remedies are said to eliminate black spots on the lips. They may do so by making skin healthier or lightening its color.
However, several of these remedies have not been scientifically tested. None of these remedies should replace the advice of a doctor or dermatologist.
The following products may help to eliminate black spots on the lips:
- lemon juice
- apple cider vinegar
- glycerin (glycerol)
- rose petals
- white tea
Rubbing a small amount of any of the above ingredients onto the lips a few times a day may help to reduce the appearance of black spots. If the ingredient is liquid, use a few drops. Otherwise, use a pinch.
Protecting the lips from sunlight may aid the healing process or prevent further damage. Some lip balms can protect the skin from ultraviolet rays. These balms are available for purchase online.
To reduce the appearance of a black spot, a person may find exfoliating with a sugar or salt scrub helpful. This can remove dead, discolored cells and reveal healthier new cells below.
Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water can prevent some causes of black spots on the lips. Avoiding spicy foods may also be beneficial.
Visit a doctor to ensure that black spots on the lips are correctly diagnosed.
If any skin lesion has an irregular shape, grows rapidly, is shiny, or has an unusual color, see a doctor right away.
Black spots on the lips are usually nothing to worry about and can be easy to treat when following a doctor’s plan.