Melanotic macules, or freckles, as we more commonly know them, are little brown spots on the skin. They can develop anywhere on the body, including on your lips, inside your lips, and on your gums.
Freckles develop when the body produces too much melanin as a result of exposure to the sun. Melanin is a pigment that determines a person’s hair and skin color.
It’s important to monitor your freckles even though they’re generally harmless. There are several options you can choose from if you’d like to remove your freckles.
While lips might look different from the skin surrounding them, they’re still part of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. This means that lips are still sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun.
The skin contains cells that produce melanin, which might protect the skin from the sun’s UV rays. Freckles result from melanin accumulation on the skin’s outer layer due to sun exposure.
Freckles are common in people who have a genetic predisposition to them.
Thyroid conditions or pregnancy may also contribute to freckles on the lips. However, these conditions typically darken existing spots or make them more noticeable rather than create them.
Lip freckles are mostly harmless and a natural reaction to sun exposure. People with lighter skin might have a higher chance of developing freckles.
Your freckles might be permanent or may come and go. Both are normal. Despite this, it’s important to monitor your freckles, as it’s possible that a brown spot on your lip can be more than just a freckle.
The biggest risk factor associated with freckles is skin cancer. So how do you know if your freckle is harmless or a cause for concern?
Try a self-exam using the “ABCDE” method to determine what’s worth checking out:
- Asymmetry. If you draw a line through the middle of your freckle, do the halves match? If they don’t, it’s asymmetrical and you should arrange a visit to a doctor.
- Border. Notice the edges of your freckle. Flag for review by a doctor if they’re uneven and bumpy.
- Color. If you notice a variety of colors in your freckle, consider showing it to a dermatologist.
- Diameter. If your freckle is bigger than a 1/4 inch in diameter, talk with your doctor or dermatologist.
- Evolving. If you notice a change in shape, color, size, texture, or elevation, it’s worth seeing a doctor.
If you notice any of the above criteria, it’s important to make an appointment with a primary doctor or dermatologist.
Freckles are one of many lesions that can develop on the lips. Below are some other lesions that might resemble freckles:
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome is an inherited condition that has associations with a predisposition to certain types of cancers. Children with this condition may develop dark-colored spots on the mouth, lips, eyes, nose, hands, and feet. Doctors typically diagnose it by genetic testing and genetic counseling.
- Moles may resemble freckles and are extremely common. They can also be a product of sun exposure but do not require sun exposure to develop. Unlike freckles, which are typically flat, moles present as raised areas on the skin.
- Sunspots are usually larger patches of melanated skin that can form over the face, lips, and body. Like moles and freckles, they’re usually harmless.
- Chapped lips can cause dark spots to develop. To prevent chapped lips, try drinking more water, using a humidifier, and applying lip balm throughout the day.
The most effective way to prevent lip freckles is to protect your lips from the sun. As a start, you can:
- wear wide-brimmed hats when you go outside
- use lip balm with SPF
- limit your exposure to direct sunlight
While lip freckles are normal and typically harmless, there are a handful of options you can pursue if you’d like to remove them for either cosmetic or preventive reasons.
Keep lips moisturized
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While scientists haven’t proven that natural remedies work for freckle removal, they’re safe enough to try if you use them in moderation.
Try making a lip scrub with lemon juice, honey, and sugar. Many people believe that honey and lemon lighten skin. Always take care when using these ingredients, as the acidity and sugar levels might irritate the skin.
Additionally, some people believe that foods that contain lactic acid, like buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt, can lighten the skin. Apply directly to your lips and leave on for a few minutes.
If you notice any irritation to your skin while trying these methods, stop using the remedy immediately.
Topical retinoid cream
Retinoids are vitamin A compounds that can improve sun-damaged skin and lighten freckles. They’re available both over the counter and by prescription.
Retinoids may cause redness, dryness, and sun sensitivity to the area where you applied the product.
Consider applying extra sunscreen when using retinoids, and only apply the retinoid at night.
Topical fading cream
Fading creams are available both over the counter and by prescription. Most fading creams contain ingredients that suppress melanin production and lighten dark areas of the skin.
Exercise caution when applying topical fading creams to the area around the mouth, as these creams can be dangerous if you ingest them. Always check the warning labels before applying these creams, and speak with a doctor if you have any questions.
Cryosurgery is the most common treatment that doctors use to treat lesions on the skin. Essentially, it zaps the skin with extremely cold liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen freezes and destroys the targeted skin cells. Some possible side effects are hypopigmentation, bleeding, and blistering.
Lasers focus intense light on damaged areas of the skin with short pulses. A 2015 study indicated that several types of specialized lasers can treat or reduce the appearance of freckles.
Most doctors and healthcare professionals consider lasers to be safe. However, they might cause side effects, like itching, swelling, redness, peeling, and infection. Laser treatment is a relatively expensive and intrusive option.
Freckles are typically harmless and are common around the lip area.
Consider seeking a doctor if you:
- observe that your freckle meets any of the criteria of the ABCDE (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, evolving) method
- think that you might have a predisposition to skin cancer
- suspect that you have the gene for Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
- are considering a prescription topical cream, cryotherapy, or laser therapy for freckle removal
To be safe, it’s a good idea to schedule annual checkups with a dermatologist to monitor any potentially cancerous growths. This is especially important if you have a lot of freckles or know of any family members who have skin cancer.
To find a doctor or dermatologist in your area, consider using the Healthline FindCare tool.
Freckles are small, flat, melanated spots that can develop on the skin and lips. They typically appear due to sun exposure.
By limiting your overall sun exposure, you’ll reduce the risk of developing cancerous freckles and are less likely to develop freckles overall.
While freckles have few risk factors, it’s a good idea to be mindful of their shape, size, texture, and color. Consider seeing a doctor if your freckles appear abnormal.
Although freckles are very common, you can pursue several options if you would like to remove them for cosmetic reasons. Start with more low-risk options, like herbal remedies, and then work up to topical creams.
It’s possible to remove freckles surgically as a cosmetic procedure and to treat cancerous growths.