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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Tjai Kang Jie and Dr Eki Wari on September 28, 2022

What Does Your Lip Color Say About Your Health?

Lip discoloration can be as harmless as eating certain foods or as severe as an underlying health condition. Learn what your lip color means here.

Healthy lips min scaled

Have you ever wondered if your lip color is normal? Maybe you’ve noticed some slight lip discoloration or your lips don’t appear as healthy as they should be.

While you might not think about the color of your lips often, this can tell you a lot about the health of your organs and internal parts of your body that aren’t visible.

In this guide, we’ll discuss why lip color is important and what color your lips should be. You’ll also learn tips for improving your health to maintain optimal lip color.

What Does Lip Color Say About Your Health?

Healthy lips should be pinkish-red and moist, but the color may depend on your natural skin color.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), lip color reflects the state of our digestion. It also reflects our overall circulation and abundance of qi and blood. 

“In the 5 Organ System of TCM, the lips are part of the Spleen system. Thus, the color and radiance of our natural lip color reflects the health of the Spleen, which is in charge of digestion,” TCM Physician Tjai Kang Jie explains.

According to Physician Tjai, “Your natural lip color should be pinkish-red and moist. However, it can vary based on your natural skin color.”

Different lip colors may indicate various TCM syndromes. For example:

  • Pinkish, red, and moist lips are healthy
  • Bright red lips may indicate Heat Syndrome. This is most commonly seen in acute infections and is accompanied by fever and flushed complexion. See a healthcare professional immediately.
  • Bluish-red lips may mean you have Cold Syndrome. This is when you feel cold easily, especially in your extremities. Avoid cold food and drinks.
  • Pale lips indicate a Blood Deficiency, which occurs when you have a pale complexion and feel tired easily. Consume more nutritious and easily digested food.
  • Purple lips may mean you have Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis. This is when you feel frustrated and stressed easily. You may have scaly skin on your limbs if Blood Stasis has persisted for a long period. To remedy this, regulate your emotions and practice mindfulness.
  • Cracked lips mean you have Yin and Essence Deficiencies. This is when you feel hot, especially in the evening and at night. You may also have dry eyes. Consume more nutritious and easily digested food and drink warm water regularly.

What Causes Lip Discoloration?

The skin located on most of your body is made up of multiple layers of cells. However, your lips are only made up of three to five layers.

This makes your lips much thinner than the rest of your skin and more prone to showing underlying blood vessels.

There are a few reasons why you may have discolored lips, ranging from harmless things like eating certain foods to more serious underlying health conditions.

From a Western medicine perspective, here is what could be causing your lip discoloration:

Blue lips

Lips with a blue or purple tint could indicate a circulatory problem.

Blue lips can show low levels of oxygen in the blood. This can be caused by conditions that affect your lungs, heart, and circulatory system.

Examples may include choking, lung diseases, asthma, heart failure, blood poisoning, extremely cold temperatures, a blood clot, or shock.

Seek emergency medical treatment if you think you may be experiencing low oxygen levels in the blood.

White lips

White lips accompanied by pale skin could mean that you have anemia or a low red blood cell count. This could be due to low levels of iron or vitamin B12 in your diet.

Oral thrush could also cause your lips to turn white. Other possible causes include low blood sugar, certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, and circulatory diseases.

Spotted lips

In some cases, lip discoloration may include spots. Spotted lips may be due to overexposure to the sun, lip cancer, and disorders that affect iron levels in your body, such as hemochromatosis.

Black lips

Black lips may be caused by smoking, injury or trauma to the oral cavity, or dry, cracked lips. It may also be caused by Addison’s disease, which is a disorder that affects the hormone levels your adrenal glands produce.

How To Maintain Healthy Lip Color

From a TCM perspective, you can maintain healthy lips holistically by correcting imbalances in the body. You can do this by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

Physician Tjai recommends eating regular nutritious meals, avoiding cold food and drinks, getting sufficient sleep and consistent exercise, and managing stress and emotions.

Here are some other ways to treat lip discoloration:

Try collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s found in connective tissues and plays a significant role in skin cell regeneration.

Research shows that oral collagen supplements may help increase elasticity, dermal thickness, and moisturization levels, which can help keep your lips vibrant and healthy.

You can also add more foods rich in vitamin C to your diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Research shows that vitamin C assists in collagen production.

Take preventative measures

Applying lip balm with sunscreen can help keep them hydrated and prevent sun damage.

There are several things you can do to protect your lip color. Start by quitting smoking, wearing lip balm that contains sunscreen, and protecting your lips from sun exposure.

Stay hydrated and nourish your body with herbal soups and teas. Antioxidant-rich foods, such as goji berries, can help fight free radical damage and promote blood circulation to help your lips maintain a healthy color.

Consider medical treatment

For severe cases of lip discoloration, you may want to consider medical treatments, such as:

  • Surgery
  • Topical medicated ointments
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Intense pulse light (IPL)

You can also use herbal medicine to help correct imbalances in the body that lead to discolored lips. Physician Tjai recommends the following formulas:

  • Gui Pi Tang: Replenishes qi and blood, helping to address Qi and Blood Deficiency
  • Si Jun Zi Tang: Replenishes qi, helping to address Qi Deficiency

Stimulating these acupoints may also help:

  • Zu San Li (ST36): Regulates stomach qi, helping to replenish qi and blood
  • San Yin Jiao (SP6): Replenishes Spleen, Liver and Kidney yin, helping to address Yin Deficiency
  • Zhong Wan (RN12): Regulates stomach qi, helping to replenish qi and blood
  • Qi Hai (RN6): Replenishes Kidney qi, helping to address Qi Deficiency

Rule Out Disorders That Affect Lip Color

If you notice a change in your lip color, it’s best to meet with a medical professional to determine the cause and address any underlying health issues.

TCM physicians can assess your body constitution and suggest treatment options based on your unique needs.

He or she may also check to see if you have a healthy tongue. Just like your lip color, this can say a lot about your health!

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