If you are a smoker, you may begin to notice certain changes in your skin. Regular smoking not only starves your cells of the oxygen needed to replenish your skin, but may also darken your lips. Knowing the cause of your lip discoloration and when to see a physician about skin changes ensures that you skin stays healthy and vibrant.
The smoke from a lit cigarette can blow back onto the lips, causing the blood vessels on the lips to lose oxygen. When less oxygen is present, the blood vessels narrow. With less oxygen, pigment cells can die, leaving areas of skin discolored. Lip discoloration also can be the result of small burns to the lips.
Lip discoloration may make the lips a deeper red, brown or black in color. If you look closely at the discoloration, you may notice red stripes, or striations, on the skin. These may appear slightly elevated when compared to the rest of the lip. You also may observe small white patches on or around your lips.
Addressing the root of the problem -- smoking -- will help to put an end to lip discoloration due to smoking. If you quit smoking, your lips may not return to their previous color, but over time the skin will lighten. Devices such as a nicotine patch or gum are available to help smokers quit successfully.
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Apply a lightening cream to reduce smoking-related lip discoloration, suggests Oprah.com. Examples of active ingredients in creams include hydroquinone, kojic acid or a topical retinoid. These creams require a physician’s prescription. You may wish to combine a prescription cream with hydrocortisone cream, which increases the effectiveness of the lightening cream. Wear a lip sunscreen daily because the sun’s ultraviolet rays can further discolor your skin.
If your skin discoloration is accompanied by an ulcer-like projection, especially one that doesn't heal within two weeks, seek medical treatment. Cancer of the lip can begin as an ulcer-like projection on the lip, the Merck Manuals reports. These are most common in those older than 65 years old.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.