Reasons for Dark Spots on Lips

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Last updated June 14, 2017,  (originally published June 10, 2012)

By Stephen Kintz,  Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Unfortunately, the appearance of dark spots on your lips is
very common. In fact, it is so common that no one appears
to keep statistics on the number of people complaining
about dark spots on their lips. Lip discoloration is often
seen as a cosmetic issue, so lip discoloration is generally
harmless. Yes, the dark spots on your lips could be a sign
of cancer, but this is rare. You are more likely to be self-
conscious and ashamed than in danger.  

What causes dark spots on your lips? Can dark spots on
your lips indicate a serious health concern? Can any foods
or other natural remedies help reduce dark spots on your

Unfortunately, since lip discoloration is seen as a cosmetic
issue, no one is tracking the most prevalent and common
reasons for lip discoloration. Even when lip discoloration is
a symptom of a medical disease, the prevalence of the
symptom is rarely, if ever, independently tracked. And even
when the dark spots are an indication of lip cancer, the
cancer is categorized as a form of mouth cancer. So it is
next to impossible to know the most common causes of lip
discoloration by number of cases. Yet this does not mean
that we cannot create a list of some of the most typical
causes of lip discoloration.

Here, we'll walk through 7 common causes of lip

Numbers 1 through 5 are considered "labial melanotic
macules", which are defined simply as benign dark spots
caused by some random internal or external factors that
rarely produce any other systematic symptoms other than
the dark spots.

These dark spots most often occur on women between the
ages of 40 and 50, and most often occur on the lips and
inside the mouth on the gums, according to a 2013 study
led by Dr. S. Sutera at the University of Milan.

Number 6 deals with certain conditions and diseases that
produce dark spots on the lips. Number 7 deals with oral

It is important to get any newly formed dark spot on your
lip, mouth, or body checked by your doctor. While these
spots will typically be benign, if left unchecked, the
cancerous forms of these dark spots can spread quickly.

Sun/Age Spots (Liver Spots) Can Affect Your Lips

One of the most common causes of dark spots on the skin
and lips is sun exposure. Sun exposure usually causes
these harmless brown, gray, or black spots to form on the
skin. In common vernacular, these spots are known as age
spots or liver spots.

The National Institutes of Health claims that liver spots are
flat, colored, and painless spots typically presenting around
a person’s 40th birthday. Usually, the only problem these
dark spots will cause is emotional. Yes, liver spots are a
sign you are getting older.

If you wish to prevent these spots on your lips and other
body parts, you should wear sunscreen and avoid intense
sunlight. You should definitely avoid the tanning bed
because, otherwise, you might be a young person with
liver spots.


Liver spots may soon be a thing of the past, according to a
2016 report from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General
Hospital. Liver spots, technically called "seborrheic
keratoses" rely on a particular enzyme called AKT to
survive.  Several new compounds have been discovered
that inhibit AKT, including  A44 (A-443654), produced by
Abbvie Pharmaceuticals.]

Hormones Can Cause Dark Spots on Your Lips

For women, the darks spots on their lips might be caused
by their hormones. According to the American Academy of
Dermatology, melasma is a common skin problem that
produces brown to gray-brown spots on the skin.

Doctors are unsure of the true causes of melasma, but
since it is especially prevalent in pregnant women or
women on birth control (plus, it is rarely seen in men),
hormones are generally thought to play a role. The dark
spots will correct themselves within a few months after
delivery or the cessation of birth control.

For the few unlucky women with hormonal imbalances that
cause permanent dark spots, the only real treatment
options are laser removal or skin creams.

Amalgam Tattoo Can Give You Dark Spots on Your Lips

No, you didn’t wander into a tattoo parlor. Amalgam
tattoos are not caused by an artist --- they are caused by
your dentist.

Amalgam tattoos are created during dental work when
high speed dental equipment embeds small metallic
particles into your skin. These are sort of like graphite

Amalgam tattoos are a very common form of mouth
discoloration. There are no national or international
statistics, but for anyone with years of dental work, it is
almost guaranteed that the person will eventually get an
amalgam tattoo.

Also, a 2004 study published in Refuat Hapeh
Vehashinayim and conducted by Buchner at Tel Aviv
University in Tel Aviv, Israel found that .9% of the United
States population has amalgam tattoos of some form.
Luckily for most people, amalgam tattoos are common on
the inside of the mouth but less common on the lips.

If you do get an amalgam tattoo on your lip, the only
treatment available is to have the tattoo removed by a laser.

Injury Can Darken Your Lips

Dark spots on lips can be caused by injuries to the lips.
These injuries can be caused by biting or sucking on the
lips; they can also be caused by allergic reactions or
excessively dry or chapped lips. These injuries will usually
result in bruised or darker spots on the lips, but once the
injury has healed, the dark pigmentation will disappear.

African-Americans and other people with high melanin
content are also more likely to be a victim of post-
inflammatory hyper-pigmentation.

Post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation is caused when an
injury to the skin causes inflammation and the stimulation
of melanin production. This stimulation causes the skin
near the wound to darken.

Luckily, the discoloration will usually fade within a few
months with or without any intervention. As with most of
the other causes of dark spots on lips, post-inflammatory
hyper-pigmentation and other lip injuries do not cause
mortality. It can cause considerable emotional distress if
the discoloration happens right before big date.

Smoking Can Cause Dark Lips Spots

Smoking can darken your lips.  According to a 2007 study
conducted by Haresaku and colleagues from the Fukuoka
Dental College in Fukuoka, Japan and published in Oral
Disease, smoking is one of the main causes of lip
discoloration. The study found that 73% of the 213 males
examined that had lip discoloration were smokers.

The researchers also found a positive correlation between
the amount of cigarettes consumed daily and the likelihood
of having lip discoloration.

A dark spot caused by smoking is called
". The treatment of choice for smoker’s melanosis
is the cessation of smoking. The cessation of smoking will
also give the added benefits of lowering the person’s risk
of mouth and lung cancer.

Diseases and Conditions

There are three rare but very real diseases that present
with dark spots on the lips: Peutz-Jeghers syndrome,
Addison’s disease, and Luagier-Hunziker syndrome.

Luagier-Hunziker syndrome presents only with hyper-
pigmentation of certain body parts, including the lips. The
syndrome has no other symptoms, and if the dark spot can
be attributed to other sources, like smoking or cancer, it
excludes the diagnosis of Luagier-Hunziker syndrome.

Addison’s syndrome occurs when the body does not
produce enough hormones from the adrenal gland. This
causes hyperpigmentation, fatigue, weight loss, nausea,
joint pain, and depression. Generally, the patient will be
put on hormonal replacement therapy, and all
hyperpigmentation of the lips and skin will disappear.  
(Read more about
adrenal fatigue.)

The National Institute of Health describes Peutz-Jeghers
syndrome as a rare (1 out of 30,000 births) syndrome
where a person develops intestinal polyps. Peutz-Jeghers
syndrome will often produce multiple brownish or blue-
brownish spots on the lips, gums, mouth, or skin.
Unfortunately, the polyps are at high risk for becoming
cancerous. If you start to develop several dark spots on
your lips that cannot be attributed to smoking, injury, or
sun exposure, you should probably contact your doctor.

Oral Cancer Can Cause Dark Lips

There is a small chance that any dark spots on your lips
could be cancerous.

According to the American Cancer Society, lip cancer is
uncommon, but it does occur. Around 35,000 people will
be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2012, with 45% of the
newly diagnosed oral cancers presenting in the lips, gums,
and roof of the mouth. Unfortunately, lip cancer does not
appear to have separate statistics from other forms of oral

On the positive side, oral cancers appear most often on the
tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, gums, floor of the mouth
or other parts of the inner mouth, according to the
American Cancer Society. A smaller number appear on the

If you see the sudden appearance of dark spots on your
lips, you should have a dentist or doctor examine it for
signs of cancer. Dark spots that first appear as little bumps,
are irregular in shape, or grow and change shape are more
likely to be cancerous than flat, consistently shaped spots.

Of course, if you want to prevent lip cancer, you should
not smoke, drink heavily, or spend too much time in the

While there are other causes for dark spots on your lips,
these typically are the most common reasons for dark
spots (excluding food particles and bad make-up).

Consuming too much coffee or tea is also cited as causes
of dark spots. Generally, dark spots are nothing to worry
about, but you should get any new dark spots on your lips
or body examined by a medical professional. (Read more
about whether
coffee can help you lose weight.)

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