You should not self-diagnose any skin condition. If a competent clinician or dermatologist tells you the dark spots around your mouth are hyperpigmentation, what are your treatment options?
Hyperpigmentation is a form of discoloration that can develop around the mouth. Ways to get rid of mouth hyperpigmentation include:
- Red Light Therapy
- Laser Therapy
- Intense Pulsed Light Therapy
To get the deep detail on how hyperpigmentation forms, see our article The Four Types of Hyperpigmentation and What Causes Them (opens in a new window).
What are the Dark Patches Around the Mouth?
Discoloration around the mouth, also known as hyperpigmentation, is a common issue that can affect anyone.
Melanin is the pigment that colors our skin, eyes and hair. Certain triggers can create an overproduction of melanin. This causes dark patches on the skin, sometimes around the mouth.
While not usually serious, you should never self-diagnose a skin condition. Once a dermatologist tells you that you have hyperpigmentation, what are your treatment options?
5 Causes of Mouth Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation can have more than one cause. The mouth area can develop extra melanin due to medical, lifestyle, and medication situations. Three of the most common causes of mouth hyperpigmentation are:
- post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)
- hormonal melasma
- medication side effects
- ultraviolet light exposure
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) Around the Mouth
Skin trauma causes inflammation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is the overproduction of melanin pigment in response to trauma and the inflammation that causes it. The inflammation can be a response to acne, infection, a burn or blunt trauma.
PIH is most likely to develop in the area of injury and inflammation. That is why injury and acne around the mouth cause dark patches around the mouth as well.
Hormonal Melasma Around the Mouth
Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation that can occur around the mouth. The patches are gray or brown. Melasma commonly develops on the chin just above the upper lip, as well as the cheeks and forehead.
Melasma is hyperpigmentation that is triggered by hormone changes. That is why pregnant women and women on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy are prone to developing it.
According to a study of melasma in Asian women, melasma is acquired (it is not genetic). It affects sun-exposed areas, including the mouth. The dark areas have irregular borders. In Asian populations, melasma is a more important sign of aging than the development of wrinkles. (source)
Medications that Cause Dark Areas Around the Mouth
Several medications can trigger hyperpigmentation around the mouth.
Hormone replacement therapy can trigger melasma around the mouth.
Antibiotics such as doxycycline increase sensitivity to the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet rays then trigger brown and gray spots around the mouth.
Some chemotherapy drugs can trigger hyperpigmentation too.
Age Spots Around the Mouth from the Sun (and other Ultraviolet Light) Exposure
Ultraviolet light damages skin. The ultraviolet wavelengths are the cause of tanning and sunburn.
When your sun is exposed to the sun or tanning bed, the ultraviolet light can trigger the production of age spots. Also known as lentigines, or liver spots, these can develop as dark pigment around the mouth.
5 Mouth Hyperpigmentation Treatments
Red Light Therapy Removes Mouth Hyperpigmentation
Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses red light wavelengths to improve skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and age spots.
The therapy works by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, which helps to even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of pigmentation. The treatment is painless and can be done at home with a red light therapy device.
The mechanism of action for red light therapy is through the stimulation of cells by red light. Mitochondria in skin cells can absorb the light particles emitted by the red light, leading to an increase in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. ATP is the energy source for all cells, and by augmenting cellular energy, cells are able to repair themselves rapidly, returning skin pigmentation to normal levels.
Consequently, the levels of collagen in the skin increase, which reduces other skin conditions, including melasma and hyperpigmentation. The levels of elastin also increase, aiding in the fight against aging and promoting a lift in the skin’s appearance and a more youthful glow.
Laser Therapy Removes Dark Areas Around the Mouth
Red light therapy and laser therapy are very different. Red light therapy delivers light with low energy to absorb in the mitochondria. Laser delivers high-energy light to alter the structure of the skin. Laser therapy is “ablative” when the laser heat removes skin.
Dermatologists have several types of lasers to use for hyperpigmentation. The practice of reducing the pigment tone using laser is well-established and is a common procedure.
The friendliest laser treatments are with Q-switched and picosecond lasers. They can erase mouth hyperpigmentation with less pain and healing times. They are less destructive and so require less time to heal.
How Microdermabrasion Tackles Mouth Hyperpigmentation
Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure that gently exfoliates the outer layer of the skin. It is commonly used to improve the appearance of age spots, fine lines, and acne scars. Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure.
Microdermabrasion can be performed on the face, neck, chest, arms, and hands. The procedure is generally safe and does not require any downtime.
The results of microdermabrasion are not permanent and may require multiple sessions to achieve the desired effect.
How Retinol Banishes Mouth Melasma
Retinol is a popular ingredient in many skincare products. It is a proven ingredient for erasing dark spots including those around the mouth.
Retinol works by increasing cell turnover, which helps to slough off the top layer of dead skin cells and promote the growth of new skin cells. This process can help to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and improve skin texture and tone.
When using retinol for hyperpigmentation, it’s important to start with a low concentration and gradually increase the strength over time. This can help to minimize irritation and other side effects, such as dryness and redness.
It’s also important to use sunscreen daily when using retinol, as it can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun and increase the risk of sunburn and other skin damage.
Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) for Mouth Spots
I’ve had intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy many times to reduce my rosacea. Every article and clinician will claim that there is only mild discomfort.
They say things like “It just feels like a rubber band snapping on your face.”
My answer to them is, “Yes, sure, if the rubber band has spikes and it’s on fire, that’s exactly how it feels.”
On the other hand, IPL works. Why else would you put up with something that hurts?
IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is a non-surgical cosmetic treatment that uses high-intensity pulses of light to change the structure of the affected skin.
IPL is often used to treat hyperpigmentation, sun damage, acne scars, rosacea, and other skin discoloration issues.
During the treatment, a handheld device is used to deliver short bursts of light to the skin. The light is absorbed by the targeted pigment or blood vessels, causing them to break down and eventually be absorbed by the body. The treatment is typically performed in a series of sessions, with each session lasting between 15 and 30 minutes.
Wear sunscreen after treatment. Depending on your provider and their IPL machine, you might look like an Ultimate Fighter Champion loser. So plan your social life accordingly. I’ve had people ask me if I was run over by a car after IPL treatment.
Mouth hyperpigmentation can be distressing. Fortunately, you can choose from medically established procedures to get rid of it. Red light therapy and some forms of retinol are at-home remedies, which would be more convenient than laser, IPL, and microdermabrasion.