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What Your Lip Color Says About Your Health

Your lips may not be the first body part that comes to mind when looking for health indicators, but think again! Lip color and health are, in fact, connected, so the color of your lips can actually tell you a few things about your health. We’ll walk through what lip color means when it comes to health and when lips of a certain color can be a warning sign for more serious health issues.

Lip Color: What’s Normal?

In scientific terms, “lips” refers to the entire structure that surrounds the oral aperture (which includes the mouth), but the part of the lips that we’re discussing here is called the “vermillion,” which can be identified as the “red part” of the lips. In contrast to the other skin on our face, the vermillion has no hair follicles and no salivary, sweat, or sebaceous glands. Normal, healthy lip color varies, depending on skin color and other factors, but should fall in the reddish-pink-to-brown range. The reason that our vermilion appear reddish is because they have fewer melanocytes (melanin-producing skin cells) and a high density of veins under the surface, which results in the prominent appearance of blood vessels, especially in people that have lighter skin.

Blue Lips

When lips turn bluish in color, this is typically caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. Why does this happen? We all have red blood cells that circulate in our bodies, bringing oxygen to body tissue. When carrying a full supply of oxygen, the red blood cells that pass through our veins are bright red in color, which causes the skin to be pinkish or red. Blood cells that don't have a full supply of oxygen appear dark bluish-red in color. So, those with a lack of oxygen in their blood can have lips that appears bluish in color.

Blue skin, or “cyanosis,” in medical terms, can alert you to many medical conditions that range in severity. Cyanosis can be caused by a problem in the lungs—such as drowning, being at a high altitude, bronchiolitis, or severe pneumonia—or problems in the airways that lead to the lungs—such as choking, croup, epiglottitis, or breath-holding. Cyanosis can also be caused by heart problems, including congenital heart defects, heart failure, and cardiac arrest. The following reasons may also cause the lips to turn blue:

  1. Long-lasting seizure
  2. Exposure to toxins like cyanide
  3. Drug overdose
  4. Exposure to cold air or water

As you can probably guess, most of the causes of blue lips are very serious and require immediate medical attention. However, if cyanosis develops due to exposure to cold air or water, staying in a well-heated environment and making sure to dress warmly before going outside are easy preventative measures you can take at home.ⅩⅢ

Grey or Pale Lips

Like blue lips, grey or pale lips also have to do with blood flow. Paleness, or abnormal loss of color, can be caused by decreased blood supply to the skin.ⅩⅣ Paleness should not be confused with loss of pigment, which has to with melanin rather than blood flow.ⅩⅤ Grey or pale lips may be caused by any of the following:ⅩⅥ

  1. Anemia from poor nutrition, blood loss, or an underlying condition
  2. Frostbite
  3. Shock
  4. Fainting
  5. Low blood sugar
  6. Circulatory issues
  7. Certain chronic diseases like cancer and infection
  8. Some vitamin deficiencies
  9. Some medications

The severity of these conditions vary, but immediate medical attention may be required to address blood circulation.ⅩⅦ Talk to you doctor about treatment plans if you think you may be experiencing grey or pale lips caused by the above reasons. 

We hope this guide to lip color and health has helped you better understand what your lip color says about your health. Explore more articles on lip health from Abreva, including resources on maintaining lip health in the winter and lip care vs. lip health. 


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