Written by:Desiree Stordahl
Medically Reviewed by:Corey Hartman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist
If you’ve noticed the skin above your upper lip looks darker after spending time in the sun, there’s a reason for that. Here’s what you need to know to get rid of the dreaded “sun mustache.”
What is sun mustache?
Sun mustache presents as a darkened or shadowy-looking upper lip, stemming from sun damage that deepens skin's pigmentation via excess melanin production (1).
While sun protection is a key part of keeping this type of discoloration at bay, even those who apply sunscreen every day can end up with a sun ‘stache.
Why does the sun give me a mustache?
The upper lip is a prime target because it’s easy for sunscreen to unknowingly be wiped off in this area. Think about it: Every time you rub your nose, eat, sweat, take a drink, or remove a facial mask, there’s a chance that some of your SPF is being whisked away with it, leaving skin in this area more susceptible to the sun’s damaging rays.
Does sun mustache go away?
Once you’ve acquired a sun mustache, it’s unlikely to go away on its own. This type of sun damage triggers changes in skin that are pervasive and stubborn, meaning intervention is required, and you have to be consistent and diligent with your skin care routine to keep it at bay.
How can I get rid of sun mustache?
First and foremost, sun protection is crucial for getting rid of sun mustache (2). The discoloration will only get worse with ongoing UV exposure, so applying (and reapplying) sunscreen every day is your first line of defense.
Taking it a step further, layering SPF products can help bolster protection against sun mustache. For example, apply your facial moisturizer with sunscreen, followed by a foundation with sunscreen, and then finish with a powder that contains—you guessed it—sunscreen. Layering isn’t failproof (meaning your sunscreen can still wear off), but every little bit helps.
Next up, use skin-brightening products with proven ingredients such as tranexamic acid, vitamin C, retinol, arbutin, azelaic acid, and licorice extract (3,4,5,6). Each of these hero ingredients work in their own way to help noticeably improve uneven skin tone.
Chemical exfoliants can also help minimize sun ‘stache by removing the buildup of dead, dull skin that has accumulated on the surface (7).
If you want to tackle sun mustache full force, using a combination of these treatments is a powerful way to go about it.
Can a darker upper lip be caused by anything else?
A darker upper lip can be caused by other factors, most notably life changes (such as pregnancy) that may trigger excess melanin production, particularly on the face. Referred to as melasma or "pregnancy mask," this may play a role in darkening skin above your lip, as well as on other areas of the face (8).
If you suspect these factors may be causing your discoloration, check with your dermatologist, who can discuss prescription options and laser treatments for hyperpigmentation (9). The combination of doctor-prescribed interventions and effective skin care products can make a dramatic difference.
Learn more about skin brightening.
References for this information:
1. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, September 2018, pages 1-44
2. Skin Therapy Letter, January 2016, pages 1–7
3. JDNA Drugs in Dermatology, February 2019, pages 1-4
4. Dermatology and Therapy, September 2017, pages 417-424
5. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, July 2017, pages 14-17
6. Phytochemistry Letters, September 2015, pages 35–40
7. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, November 2013, pages 281-288
8. American Family Physician, December 2017, pages 797-804
9. Dermatological Therapy, October 2020, pages 1-12