Guess What? Your Lips Lose Color As You Age: Here's What To Do, From A Derm
Your poor lips take quite a beating over time. The delicate skin is one of the thinnest on your face (apart from the fragile eye area), so it's quick to betray dehydration (ahem, cracks and flakes), and it's one of the first areas to reveal signs of aging. With the latter, you may know that the lips lose volume and become thinner over time—we've certainly waxed poetic on the topic—but did you know your lips can lose their color, too?
Yep, your lips become less vibrant as you age. Don't panic, though: It's totally natural. But if it bothers you, there are some ways you can hold on to the rosy hue.
How your lips lose pigment with age.
First, a little lip anatomy: Your lips are composed of two parts—the cutaneous lip and the mucosal lip, which includes the vermilion (aka, what's responsible for the different shade of pigment on your lips compared to the rest of the face).
"The mucosal part of your lip is thinner compared to the rest of your skin, as it is made up of fewer layers and also contains many capillaries or tiny blood vessels," says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD. "Taken together, this accounts for the color of the lips." Essentially: The skin on your lips is super thin and delicate, which makes the underlying blood vessels more noticeable.
Of course, everyone has a different lip pigment: Lips come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, all of them equally stunning and unique. (And for what it's worth, many people can have two-tone lips as well.) No matter your specific lip color, though, it does tend to be most vibrant when you're young, fading over time.
"As you get older, the lips tend to thin and [face] increased moisture loss, causing the lips to dry out, which may change the overall appearance and color, as having dry skin on the lips can make them appear dull," says Garshick. When your skin's collagen levels wane as you age (which can happen as early as your 20s with about a 1% loss every year after), your skin's structural integrity declines—which can lead to loss of volume and moisture, with loss of pigment not too far behind. Adds Garshick, "With loss of plumpness and hydration comes a loss of vibrancy."
Since the colored part of your lips is already so thin (told you that anatomy lesson would come in handy!), you might notice these changes, both in volume and pigment, much quicker. Not to mention, sun damage and smoking also contribute to collagen decline, which only speeds up those pigmentary changes.
What to do about it.
If your fading lip color concerns you, there's much you can do to keep your lip color vibrant for as long as possible:
1. First, keep collagen levels up to par.
While collagen loss happens naturally as you age, you can certainly help delay an early decline. Research points to collagen supplements, which work by supporting your cells' fibroblasts (aka, the parts of the cells that actually create collagen and elastin). In fact, studies have shown that these collagen peptides are able to support skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density.* And as we mentioned above, hydrated, plump lips look vibrant.
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And to make sure you're not inadvertently accelerating the pigment-fading process, do what you can do to protect the lip area—meaning, stop smoking if you are, and protect your pout from UV damage. "Protecting your lips from the sun is just as important as protecting your face," Shawna Jones, PA-C, aesthetic nurse practitioner, previously told mbg about thinning lips. "Look for products that have a physical sunblock [titanium dioxide and zinc oxide]. Some also contain other moisturizing actives, like hyaluronic acid, to hydrate and smooth the lips."
2. Keep your pout hydrated.
Says Garshick, hydrated, happy lips look more vibrant—all the more reason to save your raw, cracked lips right now. Make sure you're correctly moisturizing your pout, especially during the winter, by layering your lip products: Apply a water-based hydrator first, topped with an occlusive balm or oil.
You may also want to slap on a lip mask, if you so choose; friendly reminder that the skin is more permeable at night, so applying a mask packed with nourishing actives can help you wake up to baby-smooth lips.
3. Use makeup to your advantage.
At the end of the day, you cannot delay collagen loss forever. With time, your lips may appear less rosy than they did when you were young—that's natural and OK!
If it bothers you, however, you can always rock a bold, red lip or find your favorite "my lip, but better" balm in your exact shade (or, rather, the youthful-looking shade you're after) to add some color back to your pout. Clean options typically come loaded with hydrating ingredients as well, so you're effectively piling on moisture at the same time—which, we noted above, can help your lips look plumper and vibrant.
Your lips lose pigment as you age, for the same reasons they may become thinner—with a loss of collagen and moisture, they appear less vibrant. It's a natural part of aging, but there are some ways to make sure you're not accelerating the process.