How can I get rid of my sun moustache?

The top lip ‘tan’ nobody wants

Pigmentation of the skin is one of the most common concerns for Dermatica customers, and what is often referred to as a ‘sun moustache’ can prove frustratingly difficult to fix using over the counter products. So how can Dermatica help?

Most of us know about the power of the sun, and how sun damage can be irreversible or even lead to skin cancer. And yet it’s only comparatively recently that sunscreens have become accepted as an essential part of any skincare regime. In fact, daily application of SPF is arguably the most effective anti-ageing skincare of all. 

Sadly, for many of us, the damage has been done. A carefree youth spent chasing the sun without adequate protection is often cited, but the danger is ever-present. How many times do we still forget to apply SPF or find a murky day suddenly turns into an absolute scorcher?

The good thing is, our knowledge of the sun’s effects on skin is far more sophisticated and widely publicized than ever before, and the tools we have to mitigate skin ageing and prevent further damage are vastly improved.

But before we discuss the specific concern of the unsightly sun moustache let’s remind ourselves of the dangers.

Dangers of the sun on your skin

The sun emits UVA and UVB rays, which we absorb in our daily lives, all year round. And our skin, as the barrier to all environmental ‘aggressors’ takes the brunt of that radiation. When UV rays penetrate the surface, harmful free radical molecules form that damage collagen and elastic fibers. Over time this leads to signs of aging such as wrinkles, broken blood vessels, loss of elasticity, sagging and textural changes. UV rays can also have an adverse effect on skin tone, leading to sun spots, and blotchy, uneven pigmentation.  

What causes pigmentation? 

Melanocytes are special cells found in the skin that produce a pigment called melanin, and it’s melanin that is responsible for the unique coloration of each person’s skin. (It’s also the pigment that colors our eyes and hair, too.) When excess melanin is produced – as a result of inflammation, hormones or sun exposure, for example – it causes skin to darken, a condition called hyperpigmentation. 

Deposits of melanin are also found in freckles, age spots and in melasma, a common pigmentary condition in which light to dark brown patches may appear on the cheeks, nose, forehead, temples or upper lip. Hormones are believed to play a key role since melasma is observed in pregnancy and in women on oral contraceptives. The so-called “sun moustache” is a classic case of melasma. 

How can you reduce sun damage/pigmentation?

The key to reducing sun damage and pigmentation is fairly straightforward. Sun protection. Keep the sun off of your face by using a sunscreen (SPF 30+) every single day and you’re far less likely to suffer skin damage or discolouration. There are hundreds of sunscreens available, and all make different claims. We recommend barrier-style zinc oxide-based sunscreens because they physically shield and deflect harmful UV rays. 

Of course, there are other ways to beat or lessen the effects of the sun. Hats with a wide brim (better than a one-sided baseball cap) are essential. Many hats are now rated for sun protection. Select a hat that is UPF50+ (a measure of its sun-blocking properties) or one that is made of densely woven material. The denser the better, because more rays will be blocked. Bear in mind that if you see light through fabric, any fabric, it means UV rays will get through and reach your skin. 

We know that even very little sun exposure may cause melanocytes to produce pigment, so, in addition to applying SPF each morning, always have a hat and extra SPF available. Never leave the house without your SPF!

The sun moustache

A classic example of uneven pigmentation caused by excess production of melanin is the “sun moustache”, an ombre shadow that can seemingly appear out of nowhere across the upper lip area after exposure to the sun. It can be faint or quite dark, depending on your skin; either way, it’s rarely a welcome sight. Nobody wants a moustache they haven’t intended to grow!

How to get rid of a sun moustache 

The first step is to consult a dermatologist. While many over-the-counter products claim to reduce unwanted pigmentation, they contain very low concentrations of active ingredients and offer a lower chance of success. A prescription-based treatment, like those available at Dermatica, will provide the quickest and best results. 

The pigment lightener hydroquinone (HQ) is a popular choice of skin experts, and is the most extensively studied through scientific research. The Dermatica dermatology team may combine HQ with a topical retinoid to improve penetration, or with other skin lighteners to boost its effect. 

Azelaic acid is also used to treat hyperpigmentation. It does so by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme that partly controls the production of melanin pigment. The less melanin your skin produces, the lighter it becomes.

And it goes without saying – or should – that regular application of SPF on the top lip, not forgetting other areas of the complexion, will help prevent further pigmentation. 

How does hydroquinone work, and does it have side effects?

Hydroquinone (HQ) blocks a key enzyme needed for melanin production. When your skin produces less melanin, darker areas will eventually fade or blend into the surrounding lighter areas until your skin tone becomes more even. 

Hydroquinone does not “bleach” the skin and is usually well-tolerated but, like any medication, it can have side effects. These may include redness, irritation, dryness, itching, or stinging. Rarely, if used for prolonged periods or in high concentrations, hydroquinone can exacerbate hyperpigmentation or result in an extremely rare condition called ochronosis. 

The bottom line is, when treating a “sun moustache”, or any type of pigmentation, the safest and most effective approach is to have a dermatologist guide you at every step. That’s one of the beauties of Dermatica, where skin experts are always on hand.

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Originally published August 06 2020, updated August 06 2020

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