Lip Color Changes as a Symptom

Lip color changes are often due to the presence of underlying conditions. Learn more about what the color of your lips can say about your health in this article.
Lip Color Changes as a Symptom

Last update: 03 October, 2021

Lip, skin, and mucous membrane color changes indicate problems as these are the main defense barrier of the human body. In general, they express the state of internal health. However, there are times in which they may indicate the presence of some condition, deficiency, or illness. Continue reading to find out more about what color changes in the lips mean!

The lips are one of the most sensitive and delicate tissues and have over a million nerve receptors. Their color is due to the presence of many blood vessels that run under their surface. The amount of melatonin that determines pigmentation also plays a role.

Generally, a healthy appearance is anything from a light pink to a brownish hue. However, some lip color changes can indicate that something isn’t right. These variations range from partial stains to blue or purplish, whitish, and blackish colorations.

Causes of lip color changes

The skin of the lips is often susceptible to external factors that alter its composition and physiology. Smoking is an example of this. In turn, many diseases manifest as lesions or alterations. Some studies claim the appearance of facial soft tissues reflects the condition of the underlying hard tissues.

Lip color changes could be due to a long list of conditions such as dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and exposure to sunlight, among others. However, they’re also often a clinical expression of cardiovascular, respiratory, oncologic, and hematologic pathologies.

Whitish lips

The manifestation of white or pale lips is usually due to dehydration and a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the blood or anemia. This sign is usually an obvious paleness that includes the conjunctivae, gums, and under the nails.

Estimates indicate that diarrhea is the most common cause of dehydration, especially in children and teenagers. In addition, fluid loss may be correlated with internal or external bleeding — such as heavy menstrual flow.

In most patients, anemia is usually the result of nutritional deficiencies. Such is the case of low intake or absorption of iron, vitamin B 12, and folic acid. In addition, some hereditary diseases such as thalassemia or hemophilia can cause it.

A tired child.
Anemia manifests as paleness, tiredness, and exhaustion. It can affect performance in children.

Blue lips

Bluish lips, skin, and other mucous membranes are clinically diagnosed as cyanosis. The red color of the blood is a result of the concentration of hemoglobin in the blood. However, it becomes dark or purplish at a low oxygen level, which determines the manifestation of cyanosis, according to studies.

Evidence of blue lips, fingers, and mucous membranes is usually the result of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Also, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, mechanical asphyxia, and respiratory failure are frequent here.

In addition, heart failure, shock, sepsis, low temperatures, and pesticide poisoning can cause this condition. In addition, some congenital disorders, such as ventricular septal defect and vascular malformations, are associated with blue lips.

Black lips

Blackish lip coloration is usually due to lesions of the oral mucosa or processes that promote melanin production. Hyperpigmentation of the lips and skin is common in Addison’s disease. Its main characteristic is the deficiency in the production of cortisol and aldosterone.

Also, studies estimate that the continuous consumption of tobacco and cigarettes influences the dark pigmentation of the labial, gingival and periodontal mucosa. In addition, bruises from trauma and burns can give a black or purplish coloration to the lips.

Lip stains

The presence of stains of variable diameter and shape on the lips can be due to a long list of agents. Pigmentation by ultraviolet rays from the sun is the most common cause.

They usually manifest in shades ranging from beige to dark brown. Lip color changes due to staining can also manifest in the following cases:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Laugier-Hunziker disease
  • Peutz-Jeghers disease
  • Oral neoplasms
  • Antipsychotic drugs, such as chlorpromazine

Diagnosis and treatment of different lip color changes

This kind of diagnosis is based on a comprehensive physical examination by the physician. Similarly, they should consider the presence of other associated clinical manifestations, such as variations in skin tone in other parts of the body.

The presence of cardiovascular or respiratory signs and symptoms is helpful for diagnostic guidance. In addition, the physician must consider the patient’s habits, as well as family history and any previous illnesses. Biopsies may be useful in the suspicion of neoplasms in some cases.

Treatment usually aims to treat the underlying disease that’s causing lip discoloration. For this, the specialist can use hydration, nutrient replacement, and oxygen administration.

In addition, the use of laser, intense pulsed light, cryotherapy, and phototherapy are for treating hyper-pigmentary pathologies causing lip color changes. Furthermore, a doctor may prescribe some topical medications as part of the therapy.

A child with chapped lips.
Lip color changes often indicate oral or systemic conditions and treatment will depend on what they are.

Lifestyle and prevention

The skin of the lips is delicate and you must take continuous care of it. Thus, use moisturizing balms and sun protection and also reduce direct exposure to the sunlight.

A balanced diet that includes all the vitamins and minerals also helps reduce the risk of anemia and lip color changes. In addition, drink enough water to ensure proper hydration.

Quitting smoking leads to an improvement in oral, respiratory, and cardiovascular health. So you can start by setting goals and establishing a cessation plan by consulting a specialist.

When to consult a doctor if you notice lip color changes

Early identification of lip color changes improves the prognosis of most patients. In this respect, consult a doctor if you notice an increase or decrease in color, especially if it manifests with other symptoms.

Seek emergency medical assistance if there’s evidence of bluish or cyanotic coloration associated with respiratory distress. This is because some treatments of any serious pathology are time-sensitive to prevent possible complications.

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