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Can your lips change color naturally?

The color of your lips can say a lot about your health. While some discoloration is normal, significant or sudden changes to lip color may indicate an underlying condition.

What causes lips to change color?

There are a few key factors that impact lip color:

  • Blood circulation – Increased blood flow causes lips to appear redder.
  • Melanin – The natural pigment that also colors your skin and hair.
  • Environment – Exposure to sun, cold weather, and wind can lighten lip color.
  • Smoking – Chemicals in cigarettes can stain lips.
  • Medications – Some prescriptions may alter skin/lip pigmentation.
  • Age – Lips thin with age and collagen loss, appearing lighter.
  • Hormones – Changes in estrogen and testosterone impact melanin production.

Common reasons for lip discoloration

There are many reasons your lips may change color, including:

Poor circulation

Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. When circulation is poor, lips may turn blue, purple, or gray. This is often triggered by:

  • Anemia – Low iron reduces red blood cell production
  • Low blood pressure
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon – Blood vessel spasms limit circulation
  • Exposure to extreme cold temperatures

Vitamin deficiencies

Certain vitamin deficiencies can cause pale, spotted, or inflamed lips:

  • Iron deficiency or anemia leads to pale lips and tongue
  • Vitamin B2 and B3 deficiencies may cause angular cheilitis – cracked corners of the mouth
  • Cracks at lip corners may also signal vitamin B6 deficiency


Not drinking enough water causes lips to become dry and chapped. Dehydration concentrates chemicals that naturally color your lips, causing them to appear darker.

Medical conditions

Some medical diagnoses can impact lip pigmentation as well:

  • Cyanosis – Bluish discoloration from heart or lung conditions
  • Liver disease or hepatitis may cause pale, yellowish lips
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome – Genetic condition with dark spots on lips and mouth
  • Melasma – Hormone-triggered condition causing brown patches on lips


Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications may trigger lip discoloration. Common culprits include:

  • Antibiotics like tetracycline
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Antimalarial medications
  • Amiodarone – Antiarrhythmic drug

Sun exposure

UV radiation activates melanocyte cells that produce more melanin. This causes darker pigmentation on sun-exposed lips.


Chemicals in tobacco smoke stain lips yellowish-brown. Tar and nicotine also deplete oxygen, causing a darker lip color.


Lips get thinner and lose collagen with age. This causes the red inner lip to show through, creating a lighter color. Lip pigment may also fade over time.

Chemical exposure

Industrial chemicals like arsenic and lead impair red blood cell production, leading to a bluish lip tint. Cyanide poisoning also causes blue lips.

Lip staining foods

Foods and drinks with strong pigments can temporarily stain your lips, such as:

  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Pomegranate
  • Beets
  • Red wine
  • Coffee

Lipsticks and cosmetics

Lip colors with poor quality ingredients can discolor lips even after removal. Long-term use of lip plumpers may also irritate lips and leave discoloration.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, subtle lip color changes are harmless. But see your doctor if you notice:

  • Sudden change in lip color
  • Loss of lip color or extreme paleness
  • Blue, purple, white, or extremely dark lips
  • Rashes, swelling, or crusting on or around lips
  • Pain or numbness in lips
  • Sores, lumps, or lesions on lips
  • Discoloration that doesn’t go away within 2 weeks

Significant lip color changes, especially when combined with other symptoms, may require medical testing to diagnose an underlying issue.

Diagnosing causes of lip discoloration

To determine the cause of abnormal lip color, your doctor may:

  • Ask about symptoms, diet, medications, and exposure to chemicals/sun
  • Examine your lips and rule out rashes, ulcers, or other lesions
  • Order blood tests to check iron, vitamin levels, kidney/liver function
  • Do allergy testing to identify reactions to foods, cosmetics, or medications
  • Get a lip biopsy to analyze tissue
  • Arrange imaging tests if circulatory disorders are suspected

Treating lip discoloration

Treatment targets the underlying cause of lip color changes. Options may include:

  • Iron or vitamin supplements if deficiencies are found
  • Switching medications if drug side effects are the culprit
  • Steroids, antihistamines, or emollients for lip inflammation
  • Surgery for persistent cyanosis from heart/lung disease
  • Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, limiting sun, and staying hydrated
  • Treating illnesses like anemia, hepatitis, or hormone disorders
  • Using concealer makeup temporarily until color normalizes

Can you prevent lip discoloration?

While some causes of lip discoloration can’t be avoided, you can take steps to minimize changes:

  • Use SPF lip balm before going outdoors
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Be gentle when scrubbing/exfoliating lips
  • Avoid excessive lip plumping products
  • Limit intake of foods that can stain lips
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Get regular blood work done to catch deficiencies early

When are lip color changes normal?

Mild fluctuations in lip color happen routinely and are no cause for concern. Common examples include:

  • Redder lips from heat, spicy foods, exercise, or alcohol
  • Paleness from chapping, cold weather, or moisturizer wear-off
  • Slight darkening from suntanning or natural melanin increases
  • Bruising after an injury that changes color during healing
  • Post-inflammatory darkening after a cold sore heals

As long as the change is temporary and lips return to normal within 1-2 weeks, there’s likely no reason to worry.


While lips can naturally change color due to circulation, melanin, environment, and other factors, significant or persistent discoloration may signal an underlying health issue. See your doctor promptly for an evaluation if your lips turn very pale, blue, spotty, or show other abnormal changes lasting longer than a few weeks. With diagnosis of the root cause, treatment can restore your lips to their natural pinkish hue.