If you’ve noticed the skin above your upper lip looks darker after spending time in the sun, there’s a reason for that. Here’s what you need to know to get rid of the dreaded “sun mustache.”

What is Sun Mustache?

One of the side effects of sun damage is that it can trigger your skin to produce an excess amount of melanin, which is what gives skin its color. Too much melanin clustered together leads to discolorations such as brown spots.

Sun protection (and, as some dermatologists stress, sun avoidance) is a key part of keeping this type of sun damage at bay, but even those who religiously use sunscreen can end up with a shadowy-looking upper lip.

The upper lip is a prime target because it’s easy for sunscreen to unknowingly be wiped off. Think about it: Every time you rub your nose, eat, sweat, or take a drink, there’s a chance that some of your sun protection is being whisked away with it. As that area is then exposed to the sun’s damaging rays with little to no sunscreen in place, it results in a darker upper lip.

Can a Darker Upper Lip be Caused by Anything Else?

Life changes (like pregnancy) can also trigger excess melanin production, particularly on the face. Referred to as melasma or "pregnancy mask," it can play a role in darkening the skin above your lip, as well as on other areas of the face. In that case, check with your physician about topical prescription options, which are your best bet in helping fade this type of discoloration.

How Can I Get Rid of Sun Mustache?

First and foremost, you must be good about applying sunscreen (at least SPF 30 or higher) 365 days a year, rain or shine. The discoloration problem will only get worse with ongoing unprotected sun exposure, so sun protection (and frequent reapplication) is your first line of defense.

A good idea: Layer products with SPF ratings. For example, each morning apply your facial moisturizer with sunscreen, followed by a foundation with sunscreen, and then finish with a loose or pressed powder that contains—you guessed it—sunscreen.

Next, use a product with hydroquinone. Hydroquinone steps in to help fade brown spots. It takes consistent use and patience, but visible results should kick in after 2–3 months of daily use. (If you want to know more about hydroquinone, read all about it here.)

What about “Skin-Brightening” Products?

Skin-brightening products, featuring ingredients such as vitamin Carbutinazelaic acid, and licorice extract, work in different ways to help noticeably improve uneven skin tone. If you want to tackle sun mustache full-force, using a combination of hydroquinone + daily sun protection AND a skin brightener is a powerful way to go about it!

References for this information:
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2016, pages 269–282
Skin Therapy Letter, January 2016, pages 1–7
Journal of Pigmentary Disorders, September 2015, pages 1–18
Phytochemistry Letters, September 2015, pages 35–40
BMC Biochemistry, October 2014, pages 15–23
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, August 2014, pages 13–17
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, March 2013, pages S32–S37