The term smoker’s lips refers to vertical lines around the mouth that can develop with smoking. Dermatology treatments may help soften the appearance of lines rather than diminish them altogether.

Smoking may also cause a dark discoloration of the lips, notes an older 2013 paper.

A person can help reduce the appearance of smoker’s lips by quitting smoking. Dermatology interventions, such as laser treatment, fillers, and Botox, may also help treat smoker’s lips. Topicals are another option, but dermatologists may combine them with other treatments to enhance results.

This article discusses smoker’s lips, including the causes and treatments. It also examines whether the condition resolves and how long it takes to notice an improvement.

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Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Kellie Reed, a board certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, TX, about smoker’s lips and ways people can treat them.

“Smoker’s lips — also called perioral rhytids — can occur from puckering up the lips in smoking, as well as with straw use or natural aging,” said Reed. The deep vertical lines that radiate from the lips are known as smoker’s lines.

In addition to smoker’s lips, smoking can cause other effects on the skin, including premature skin aging. This may be due to:

  • changes in the elastic fibers of the skin
  • reduction in vitamin A levels and moisture in the skin
  • cigarette heat burning the skin
  • narrowing of blood vessels, an effect that decreases blood supply to the skin, which can produce changes in elastin fibers and a loss of collagen — the skin’s main protein

Smoking may also cause a bluish-black discoloration of the lips. According to an older 2013 paper, this strongly indicates chronic smoking.

How smoking affects the body.

Quitting smoking is one of the main ways to help prevent or soften smoker’s lips. Various options are available to help people, including nicotine replacement therapy and medication. A doctor can advise on suitable interventions.

Dermatological treatment for lines and discoloration may also help:

Treatment for lines

“There is no miracle treatment to erase these, but several treatments may help,” said Reed. “Often the lines are challenging to treat and may need an ongoing series and multiple types of interventions.”

According to Reed, a board certified dermatologist can offer the following treatments:

  • Botox: This drug comes from a bacterial toxin called botulin. It helps relax lines and minimizes the repetitive contraction of muscles around the lips that lead to these lines.
  • Fillers: These are injections of substances that restore fullness. Most filler products contain hyaluronic acid, which can help the skin or lips appear more plump.
  • Laser treatment: This procedure involves the application of pulses of high energy light. From ablative to nonablative options, lasers can help stimulate collagen and decrease the irregularities of the skin in this area. Ablative options remove the top layer of skin, while nonablative procedures heat the underlying tissue and stimulate collagen production.
  • Topical medications: Although these often help minimally, doctors combine them with the above treatments to enhance outcomes. Examples include retinol, moisturizers, and hyaluronic acid. Retinol is a substance that speeds up cell turnover and comes from vitamin A.
  • Microneedling (SkinPen): This aims to increase collagen production and requires less downtime than other procedures. A series of treatment sessions may be necessary.
  • Chemical peels: These treatments use acids to exfoliate the skin. A series of sessions can help treat smoker’s lips.

Treatment for discoloration

A person may also experience discoloration of the lips and mouth. Treatment depends on the type of discoloration. For example, with brown discoloration, several therapies may help. Reed recommends the following:

  • lasers
  • chemical peels, which exfoliate the skin by dissolving the substance that holds cells together
  • topical treatments, such as hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent

Reed explained that doctors do not expect treatment to completely remove all lines and discoloration. Instead, the goal of interventions is to produce an improvement and softening.

“Treatment results can vary depending on the number and depth of lines,” said Reed. “With a multi-intervention treatment approach that includes lasers, the results can take about 6 months to manifest. However, this timeframe differs with the severity of the condition.

“Discoloration does not manifest as often as lines,” continued Reed. “This can be somewhat easier to treat in some people, perhaps taking about 3 months.”

Is smoker’s lips permanent?

According to Reed, vertical lines around the lips are permanent. However, various treatments, as noted above, can help soften them.

Smoker’s lips is a condition where vertical lines form around the mouth.

A person can consider quitting smoking to help reduce or prevent lines from worsening. Dermatology interventions, such as laser treatment, fillers, and Botox, may also help treat smoker’s lips. However, the lines will likely soften rather than disappear completely.

Lip discoloration may also occur, which is a common sign of chronic smoking. Dermatology interventions may include laser treatment and chemical peels.

The amount of time to experience the effects of treatment varies with the severity of smoker’s lips.