March 23, 2023/Skin Care & Beauty

What Is a Melasma Mustache and How To Avoid Getting One

The upper lip discoloration is caused by factors like sun exposure, hormones and medications

A person receiving a medical skin treatment above their lips at a doctor's office

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you know how important it is to protect your skin while you’re in the sun.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Not doing so can put you at risk for sunburn, photodamage, premature aging or even skin cancer. Another thing that can happen: You could end up with a melasma mustache, also known as a sun mustache.

While a melasma mustache isn’t on the same level as skin cancer or sunburn, it can still be bothersome and unsightly, leaving you wondering, Why is my upper lip dark?

Dermatologist Asfa Akhtar, DO, shares the science behind melasma mustaches and gives a few tips for how you can prevent them.

What causes a melasma mustache?

Before we go into the formation of melasma mustaches, we have to take a step back and talk about their main component — melanin.

“Melasma mustaches are the result of excess melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives our eyes and skin their color,” says Dr. Akhtar. “Melanocytes, which are pigment cells that reside in the innermost layer of the epidermis, are responsible for producing melanin. When excess melanin is produced, it causes the skin to darken. The result of this is known as hyperpigmentation.”

When you have upper lip discoloration after sun exposure, you’re left with a melasma mustache.

“Melasma is also known as chloasma or mask of pregnancy,” notes Dr. Akhtar. “But you don’t have to be pregnant to get melasma.”

She adds that melasma is a commonly acquired pigmentary disorder and is essentially hyperpigmentation. Melasma can appear as symmetrical or asymmetrical darkened patches on exposed areas of your body, especially your face.


So, what are some melasma mustache causes?

“A melasma mustache is caused by a complex interplay of sun exposure, family history, hormonal influences, thyroid disease and medications that lead to molecular signaling within the skin,” Dr. Akhtar explains. “The result is excessive melanin in the inner and outer layers of the skin.”

She also points out that skin care products can contribute to the development of melasma mustaches.

Excessive or improper use of ingredients like hydroquinone, retinol and alpha hydroxy acids can make melasma mustaches worse. If you’re using these products, she recommends talking to a board-certified dermatologist to determine a best course of action.

Melasma mustache treatment

Melasma mustaches are often hard to treat because they can recur (come back) frequently. Dr. Akhtar suggests a multimodal approach to successfully treat this skin condition.

Treatment regimens usually include sun avoidance and/or sun protection, one or more topical agents, oral medications and light or laser therapy.

But she notes that some treatment options for melasma mustaches can actually make them worse.

“Treatment options for melasma can include whitening agents, chemical peels, lasers and light therapy,” Dr. Akhtar says. “However, some of these solutions can cause adverse effects like spots of hyperpigmentation, acne, irritation, as well as rebound hyperpigmentation — a form of the condition that is much harder to treat.”


Lastly, tranexamic acid is a promising treatment option for people whose skin doesn’t respond to the standard measures above. This off-label medication consists of amino acids and may be administered as a pill or cream, depending on your preference.

If you’re looking for ways to get rid of melasma, again, talk to a board-certified dermatologist first. They can help prevent additional complications and find treatment options that line up with your cosmetic goals.

Melasma mustache prevention

Limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen, especially on your face, can help prevent melasma mustaches.

“When choosing a sunscreen, I recommend one that has physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” Dr. Akhtar says. “You can even find physical sunscreens that contain iron oxide as an inactive ingredient making them tinted so they won’t leave a white film on the skin. Physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin, so it physically shields it and deflects harmful UV rays.”

But she adds that just applying sunscreen isn’t enough protection. You’ll need to add a stylish, yet helpful, accessory as well.

“Hats with a wide brim that are rated for sun protection should be used. Look for an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50 plus.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Man sitting down at beach workout area with head in hand, eye closed
April 8, 2024/Primary Care
Why Does the Sun Make You Tired? Here Are 7 Reasons

Your body works overtime to keep you cool on hot summer days, bringing on sun fatigue

Person lying on their back on a tanning bed.
October 9, 2023/Skin Care & Beauty
Are Tanning Beds Safe?

The simple, straightforward and hard-lined answer is no

girl with severe sunburned tan lines on shoulders
August 8, 2023/Skin Care & Beauty
7 Sunburn Relief Tips (and How To Prevent It Next Time)

Soothe your red, burning skin by applying aloe vera, moisturizing and using a cold compress

person in the sun, with sun burn
July 24, 2023/Skin Care & Beauty
Are Sunburns and Sun Poisoning the Same? Not Quite

A sunburn will leave you itchy and red, while sun poisoning can feel like an allergic reaction

person getting a spray tan
April 19, 2023/Skin Care & Beauty
Are Spray Tans Safe?

Compared to other tanning methods, they’re the safest choice — but they’re not entirely risk-free

person on beach applying sunscreen
March 22, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
Love Outdoor Workouts and Sports? Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen

Make sure you use a high SPF formula, apply enough and reapply throughout the day

Closeup of nasal tanning spray being used in nose.
October 31, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty
Why You Should Never Use Nasal Tanning Spray

You risk serious and even life-threatening health complications, from muscle injury to melanoma

Woman and children wearing UV protective clothes at the beach.
June 28, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty
Does Sun-Protective Clothing Actually Work?

Apparel provides an easier and larger barrier against UV rays

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey