What Is A Melasma Mustache + How To Lighten Upper-Lip Dark Patches
Dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and melasma are often used interchangeably in casual conversation. While these general discolorations may look similar to some, they are not all caused by the same thing (think post-acne hyperpigmentation versus sun damage) and thus may call for a slightly different approach when it comes to both fading and preventing them.
However, even to the untrained eye, one type of hyperpigmentation may stand out among the rest: the "melasma mustache," as many call it. Here, we'll explain what causes this concentrated hyperpigmentation and what to do about it.
What is a melasma mustache?
A "melasma mustache" is essentially just hyperpigmentation gathered over the upper lip, hence the name. Some may experience melasma in other regions of the face, like the forehead and the cheeks, but the upper-lip area is super common.
"Although melasma can occur in men, it's much more common in women and more common in those taking oral contraceptive pills and during pregnancy," board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, M.D., tells mbg.
Clinical studies1 show that UV radiation is the most common initial trigger of melasma, as well as the main factor exacerbating preexisting patches. "Even a tiny bit of sun can cause melasma to flare in those who are susceptible, and even heat, in the absence of sun, has been known to cause a flare," Marcus says.
Hormones are also a common cause of this kind of hyperpigmentation (which is why it's commonly triggered by birth control pills and pregnancy), though it's unclear if the upper-lip area is more frequently affected by one of these triggers or the other.
However, if you are only experiencing hyperpigmentation above the lip, you may want to look into your skin care practices as well—hair removal methods included. "I believe that melasma flares in the upper-lip area are frequently triggered by hair removal. Whether laser (heat plus light) or mechanical trauma from waxing or threading, certain hair removal modalities can trigger inflammation that may lead to a melasma flare-up," Marcus explains.
So while the exact reason for the melasma mustache is still slightly unknown (especially if other patches of hyperpigmentation aren't present), hair removal may be something to consider.
What to do about it:
If you want to lighten your melasma patches at home, mustache area included, look for brightening topicals. "Lightening agents such as tranexamic acid, hydroquinone, kojic acid, and even vitamin C can be helpful," Marcus explains. (You could also opt for hydroquinone's plant-based alternative, alpha arbutin.)
Kojic acid, specifically, has been shown to work wonders in fading dark spots in clinical studies2. What's more, this ingredient doubles as an antioxidant, which can enhance the brightening effect. In fact, one study3 showed that participants with melasma have also been found to have higher markers of oxidative stress when compared to healthy volunteers—so the antioxidant boost in kojic acid may be even more beneficial than you think.
Kojic acid isn't quite as popular as vitamin C in the world of skin care products (as of now); however, the Multi-Bright Tranexamic Acid 5% Serum by Naturium is a kojic acid winner for skin brightening. According to the reviews, it's A+ for melasma patches in particular.
At the clinic.
If you're looking to invest in an in-office procedure, Marcus recommends microneedling rather than laser treatments. "Most lasers should be avoided as the heat generated by lasers will most often make melasma worse," she explains.
A healthy reminder: "Sunscreen is an absolute must, as even a small amount of UV exposure can cause melasma to flare or rebound after treatment," Marcus says. In other words: All your at-home work and in-office treatments will go to waste if you don't protect your skin afterward.
The melasma mustache (aka, hyperpigmentation concentrated over the upper lip) is extremely common, especially among women. While hormones and UV exposure are the main triggers of hyperpigmentation in general, hair removal tactics may be another cause of this kind of melasma, especially if you're not experiencing hyperpigmentation elsewhere on the skin. In order to treat it, look to topical brightening agents and in-office procedures, like microneedling. Don't forget to keep up with adequate sun care, too.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.