What Is a Melasma Mustache and How Do I Get Rid of It?

dark spots upper lip

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Key Takeaways

  • Spending time outdoors in the sun can put you at risk of developing a "melasma mustache."
  • A melasma mustache is a form of melasma—a skin condition that causes brownish patches on sun-exposed areas, including on the face and upper lip. 
  • Changes in hormones, sun exposure, medications and genetics can cause the condition.

If you’re spending any time outdoors this summer, there’s a high chance you’re being exposed to the sun. Without proper protection like wearing sunscreen, you can put yourself at risk for sunburn, sun damage, premature aging, skin cancer, or even a melasma mustache.

A melasma mustache—also known as sun mustache—is a pigmentary skin condition that causes dark brown or grayish-brown patches on the facial skin, most frequently found on the upper lip.

The condition tends to worsen during the summer months due to increased and frequent sun or heat exposure, Melanie Palm, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD, told Verywell. 

Even though melasma isn't a health threat or a sign of something like skin cancer, it can still be frustrating to live with.

Dermatologists share how sun mustaches are caused, tips on how to prevent them, and potential treatments to get rid of them. 

Is Melasma Dangerous?

Melasma is not considered dangerous. It is not a sign of illness and does not involve other organs. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, melasma is not skin cancer and does not develop into skin cancer.

What Causes a Melasma Mustache? 

Melasma occurs when there is increased activity of melanocytes—cells that produce the pigment called melanin—in the skin, Susan Massick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, told Verywell. 

She said several factors can contribute to this melanocyte activity, including:

  • Hormonal changes (pregnancy and birth control pills with estrogen)
  • Sun exposure
  • Genetics/family history
  • Medications
  • Other systemic diseases, like thyroid problems 

According to Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York, when someone has one or more of these factors, it can increase their odds of getting melasma or a melasma mustache. 

For example, if someone experiences a fluctuation of hormones like estrogen or progesterone due to pregnancy or the use of contraceptive pills and gets a lot of ultraviolet (UV) exposure, it may trigger melanocytes to boost the melanin in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. This can cause the skin to darken and result in hyperpigmentation or lead to the formation of melasma patches. 

What Does a Melasma Mustache Look Like?

Melasma can appear as hyperpigmentation or as dark and brown patches on the forehead, cheeks, upper lip, and other parts of the face or neck. Sun mustaches can also appear under each nostril or on the entire upper lip, giving off a mustache-like appearance. 

Melasma mustaches should not cause discomfort or swelling.

“It is typically asymptomatic and doesn’t cause any pain or itching,” Garshick said. “That said, it can make people feel self-conscious or embarrassed.” 

If you experience the development of brown patches along with itching or swelling, consult a board-certified dermatologist. 

Who Can Get a Melasma Mustache? 

A melasma mustache can affect anyone, but Palm said women of reproductive age (20 to 40 years old) are more likely to experience this skin condition compared to men. That’s because women have progesterone and estrogen hormones that can trigger skin cells to produce the pigment that causes melasma. 

“This is also why 15 to 50% of pregnant women experience melasma, or 'chloasma,' also known as pregnancy mask,” Palm said. “The heat and warmth also causes abnormal vascular changes that propagate the severity of melasma.”

Is Prevention Possible?

People can prevent the condition by avoiding the sun or limiting sun exposure and following safety behaviors, Mary Stevenson, MD, dermatologic surgeon at NYU Langone Health and associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told Verywell. These can include:

  • Wearing sunscreen with broad UVA and UVB protection, especially on the face and neck
  • Avoiding the sun at peak hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and other forms of light exposure, like tanning beds 
  • Using tools such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas 

Options for Treatment

If you notice discoloration of the skin of the upper lip or suspect you have a melasma mustache, Palm recommends going to see a board-certified dermatologist to get the condition diagnosed properly and to rule out other skin conditions or skin cancers.

Massick added the condition may disappear on its own if you're no longer pregnant or stop taking certain hormonal medications, but in other cases, it can last for a while.

“There is no cure for melasma—it can easily recur and worsen if left untreated or if exposed to the sun/ultraviolet light (including tanning beds),” Massick said. “If it recurs, it will be in the exact place it was before.” 

According to Palm, Garshick, and Massick, once you are properly diagnosed, health care specialists or dermatologists may advise certain medications or topical creams that require a prescription or are over-the-counter. They may include:

  • Topical over-the-counter treatments like vitamin C, retinol, azelaic acid
  • Topical prescription options, including skin-lightening creams with active ingredients such as hydroquinone, kojic acid, and retinoids 
  • Oral medications like tranexamic acid

If these topical treatments or oral medications are not effective, Palm said there are stronger treatments like chemical peels, lasers, and microneedling that can help with the appearance of melasma, but they typically require multiple treatments over the course of several months. 

In addition, Garshick noted that because melasma can be particularly sensitive to worsening hyperpigmentation, it is important to make sure to check with a board-certified dermatologist before doing any specific laser or treatment. 

“While many of the treatments available can help, there’s always the chance of recurrence, so even once it improves, it is important to remain vigilant about sun protection and maintenance strategies,” Garshick said. 

What This Means For You

A melasma mustache is a skin condition that can occur from extensive sun exposure, genetics, or fluctuations in hormones. If you notice any discoloration or hyperpigmentation on the skin, including the face, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to determine the best treatment for you. Treating a melasma mustache takes time, so have patience during treatment. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Melasma: Overview.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Melasma.

  3. Handel AC, Miot LDB, Miot HA. Melasma: A clinical and epidemiological reviewAn Bras Dermatol. 2014;89(5):771-782. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20143063 

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Melasma: Diagnosis and treatment.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.