Dark Circles Around the Mouth

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Several conditions can cause alterations in the skin’s melanin production and promote the formation of dark circles around the mouth. Among these causes are environmental exposures and certain medical conditions. Because dark circles around the mouth can be embarrassing and hard to conceal, it is important to understand what conditions can cause them to occur and how they can be treated.


According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, dark circles around the mouth can develop in patches, where the surrounding skin is lighter and more normal in appearance. If caused by the condition melasma, the circles may look dark brown with sharp margins. Dark mouth circles can occur at any age and in any race. Sufferers may also notice hyperpigmentation on the cheeks, forehead and temples, in addition to the mouth.


The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library notes that dark circles that appear around the mouth can be caused by a variety of situations and conditions. A physical mouth injury or burn can result in the formation of an inflamed circle around the mouth. The condition melasma, which typically develops during pregnancy and with the use of birth control medications, can also cause patches of facial and mouth hyperpigmentation, as can disorders such as Addison’s disease and primary biliary cirrhosis.


Topical prescription ointments and creams containing hydroquinone, cortisone cream or tretinoin can help treat dark mouth circles. These creams can help lighten the skin, making it more similar in appearance to the surrounding skin. There are also prescription and over-the-counter skin bleaches that can gradually fade hyperpigmentation. These medications may irritate sensitive skin, and it can take up to six weeks before results are noticed. A physician can also perform laser treatments to eliminate pigment.


In an article from the November 2003 issue of "American Family Physician," Dr. Daniel L. Stulberg and colleagues warn that many treatments for dark circles surrounding the mouth have side effects. These can include allergic reactions such as burning and rash, loss of pigment in the skin surrounding the dark circles and inflammation. If the hyperpigmentation is deep in the dermal layers of skin, bleaches and ointments may not be effective. Instead, the patient should consider using laser therapy, which is suitable for both superficial and deeper hyperpigmentation.


The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology warns that the sun can darken circles surrounding the mouth or cause them to appear more pronounced. This occurs because the skin’s melanin, which is responsible for the color of skin, easily absorbs the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Therefore, it is important that the sufferer refrains from tanning and overexposure to the sun, always wears a hat to shade the face and uses a broad-spectrum sunblock.