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Dear Matt:

I'm hoping you can settle a bet between my boyfriend and I. I say my lips have gotten pale from the use of lipstick over the years. He says my lips are pale because I have fair skin, that it's all about pigmentation.

-- Colleen, the net

Your lips are disappearing? You used to have lips, but now they're leaving your face? Not knowing quite where to start with this one, the elves decided to examine Grandma Alice under a bright light, which is much more difficult than it sounds. She still has plenty of fight in her. Anyway, once we got Grandma's head positioned and wiped off the Maybelline "Fire Engine Red," we were shocked to discover that she's losing her lips too! Other features appeared intact, but there was clear evidence of once full, luscious, pouty perioral protuberances now barely distinguishable from her nose or chin! Grandma retreated to her room in her usual state of boo-hooness, and we had to fix our own dinner that night. But really we were too stunned to eat.

I won't even ask how you decided lipstick could suck color from your skin. Boyfriend is a bit closer to the mark, but still no bullseye. Lips consist of a very, very thin translucent layer of skin covering mucous membrane, nerve endings, and blood vessels, with our mouth muscles sandwiched inside. Actually, if you look in a mirror and pout, you'll see that your lips are an extension of the lining of your mouth. Depending on the darkness of your skin, there is more or less melanin pigmentation in your lips. In the case of most "white" or fair-skinned people, there's virtually no melanin, and lip color comes from the visible blood vessels. So if we understand your situation clearly -- if you once definitely had lips but are now approaching liplessness -- you're only suffering from a common symptom of aging: reduced blood flow in the mouthal area. You can also expect a loss of collagen and muscle tone in the lipal region, which will make them wrinkly and narrow, and they'll sort of retreat back into your mouth. Glad we could be of service.

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