What is a Melasma mustache and how do I get rid of it?

Key points to remember

  • 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 the face and upper lip.
  • Hormonal changes, sun exposure, medications and genetics can cause the condition.

If you’re spending time outdoors this summer, chances are you’ll be exposed to the sun. Without proper protection like wearing sunscreen, you can put yourself at risk of sunburn, sun damage, premature aging, skin cancer, or even a melasma mustache.

A melasma mustache, also known as a sun mustache, is a pigmentary skin condition that causes dark brown or grayish-brown patches on the skin of the face, most commonly on the upper lip.

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

Although melasma is not a health threat or a sign of skin cancer, it can still be frustrating to live with.

Dermatologists explain how sunburn whiskers are caused, tips for preventing them, and potential treatments to get rid of them.

Is melasma dangerous?

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

What Causes a Melasma Mustache?

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

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

  • Hormonal changes (pregnancy and birth control pills containing estrogen)
  • Sun exposure
  • Genetics/family history
  • Medications
  • Other systemic illnesses, such as thyroid problems

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

For example, if someone experiences a fluctuation in hormones like estrogen or progesterone due to pregnancy or birth control pill use and has a lot of ultraviolet (UV) exposure, it can trigger melanocytes to stimulate melanin in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. This can darken the skin and lead to hyperpigmentation or lead to the formation of melasma patches.

What Does a Melasma Mustache Look Like?

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

Melasma whiskers should not cause discomfort or swelling.

“It’s usually asymptomatic and doesn’t cause any pain or itching,” Garshick said. “That said, it can make people embarrassed or embarrassed.”

If you notice the development of brown patches that are itchy or swollen, see a board-certified dermatologist.

Who Can Get a Melasma Mustache?

A melasma mustache can affect anyone, but Palm said women of childbearing age (20 to 40) are more likely to suffer from this skin condition than men. This is because women have the hormones progesterone and estrogen that can trigger skin cells to produce the pigment that causes melasma.

“It’s also why 15-50% of pregnant women suffer from melasma, or ‘chloasma,’ also known as pregnancy mask,” said Palm. “Heat and heat also cause abnormal vascular changes that propagate the severity of melasma.”

Is prevention possible?

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

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

Treatment Options

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

Massick added that the condition can go away 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 get worse if left untreated or exposed to sunlight/ultraviolet light (including tanning beds ),” Massick said. “If it happens again, it will be in the exact place it was before.”

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

  • Over-the-counter topical 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 aren’t effective, Palm said there are more powerful treatments like chemical peels, lasers and microneedling that can help melasma appear, but they usually require multiple treatments over time. several months.

Additionally, Garshick noted that because melasma can be particularly susceptible to worsening hyperpigmentation, it’s important to be sure to consult a board-certified dermatologist before doing any specific laser or treatment.

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

What this means for you

A melasma mustache is a skin condition that can occur as a result of prolonged sun exposure, genetics, or hormonal fluctuations. If you notice discoloration or hyperpigmentation on the skin, including the face, make an appointment with a dermatologist to determine the best treatment for you. Treating a melasma mustache takes time, so be patient during treatment.