What Are Lip Fillers? One Editor Tries Them to Find Out

Updated 09/25/19
Product Disclosure
lip fillers—Sacha Strebe
@Sacha.Strebe

Earlier this year, I finally decided to get under-eye fillers, and it was the best thing I ever did. I was a little hesitant to try lip fillers at first because you always hear about people who end up with oversized lips that look like a caricature. But what I soon learned is that, thankfully, that is not the norm. So many people have lip fillers, and the secret is in how much you have each time. I went to see Jennifer Hermann, MD, of the celeb-frequented practice, Moy, Fincher, Chipps Dermatology, in Beverly Hills—she also did my under-eye fillers—so I could find out what lip fillers are, and whether I'd be a good candidate for them.

I loved Hermann's layered approach to fillers. She fills your face a little at a time, so you don't appear puffy, overdone, or unnatural. I have seen her twice now for lip fillers (I wanted to take it slowly). The difference is minimal, but noticeable. 

@Sacha.Strebe

BEFORE LIP AND UNDER-EYE FILLERS

With Age Comes Bone Loss, Collagen Loss, and Fat Loss, Hence Lip Filler

It just happened one day. I looked in the mirror and noticed that my lips looked thinner. My lips were never really big to begin with, but as I progressed into my late 30s, they started to appear less plump. I also noticed some fine lines developing around the upper lip that I wanted to fill out. Turns out, these facial changes are fairly normal parts of the aging process, and are all due to bone loss, collagen loss, and fat loss.

But, as Hermann points out, while many people think fillers fill lines, this is not always the case. Fillers are better for addressing volume loss, while other injectables, like Botox or Dysport, may be more appropriate for lines caused by muscle movement (forehead, angry 11s, and crow’s feet). "As we age, we lose volume from collagen loss, fat loss, and bone loss, so by replacing what time has taken away, fillers can restore a youthful appearance and smooth lines indirectly," she explains.

Luckily, there are many different types of fillers now with different consistencies and stiffness, so you can really address many concerns. For areas that need structure (think the cheekbones), Hermann says thicker products offer more lift, while in an area like the lips, very soft fillers create a natural, subtle augmentation.

No, Lip Fillers Won't Make Your Lips Look Cartoonish

From many conversations I've had with friends and colleagues, a lot of people think that their lips are going to be hard, too big, and appear unnatural after having lip filler, but that's simply not true. In fact, Hermann tells me this is one of the biggest misconceptions around lip injections. "When starting out, I often use a very soft product called Volbella, which you can't feel after injection because it integrates into the lip tissue well," she says. "I also inject micro-amounts for subtle augmentation. If someone desires very large lips, I often say no, if it will create an obviously 'done' look." 

@Sacha.Strebe

NUMBING CREAM IS APPLIED FIRST

It's Not That Painful, and Bruising Is Minimal to None

The other misconception is that lip fillers hurt. I'll be honest, the idea of having needles injected into my lips wasn't something I was excited about, but what I conjured up in my mind was way worse than the reality. Sure, there is minimal discomfort, because the lips are very sensitive, but Hermann applied a numbing cream all over and on the outside of my lips so that when she did inject the filler, I only felt a slight pinch each time. She also prepared me before she did each injection so I could brace myself, but honestly, it wasn't bad at all. Hermann is very gentle.

If you are concerned about the pain, Hermann can also do small injections with numbing medication inside the lips or a nerve block, which makes the pain almost imperceptible. But the whole treatment takes less than 10 minutes to perform, so often the topical numbing cream, followed by ice packs for the swelling, will suffice. This also helps to minimize any bruising, which is always possible (but thankfully it didn't happen to me).

To keep bruising to a minimum, Hermann says it's important that you don't take blood thinners for 10 days prior to injections. Aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamin E, and many supplements containing herbs or spices can also increase bleeding risk, so please ask your doctor if what you currently take is okay prior to injections. 

If You're Nervous, Here's What to Look Out For

With any injections where you're altering the shape of your face, there are things to look out for and questions to ask first. Before you go in for lip injections, Hermann says it's important to show your doctor what types of lips you like, as this will give them an idea of whether your goals are achievable. "Everyone's anatomy is different, and not all lips respond similarly to products," she explains. "For very thin lips, we may need to use a slightly stiffer product to achieve the projection that someone wants."

She also stresses that you make sure you physically see your doctor open the filler box and that they are using FDA-approved products. "I've seen very unfortunate cases of patients who have had unknown substances injected in the lips, which has caused chronic inflammation, scarring, and deformity, requiring surgical removal of the substance," she says. 

Always communicate your goals and concerns with your doctor. "We are here to help you look your best, and it is okay to start with a tiny amount and gradually add more," says Hermann. "Don't feel pressured to adopt a look from someone else's Instagram feed. Your lips are unique to you." Hear, hear.

AFTER THE FIRST ROUND OF LIP FILLER INJECTIONS

These Are the Best Filler Products to Request

Typically, Hermann prefers soft fillers like Juvederm, Volbella, or Restylane Silk, as these provide a natural texture and augmentation. "I only use hyaluronic-based products in the lips, which bind water and give plumpness with very few side effects," she says. "These fillers tend to last six to 12 months, and can be dissolved if needed." Very important.

Good News: It Can Be Reversed If You're Not Happy

One of the biggest concerns for many people is that they'll get lip fillers and loathe them. But the good news is, you can reverse it if you're not happy with it. As long as a hyaluronic acid product is used, it can be easily dissolved with an enzyme product. However, Hermann explains that right after injections, your skin can swell in an uneven fashion, so it’s best to wait two weeks to see what your final results are before immediately dissolving. 

what are lip fillers—Sacha Strebe
@Sacha.Strebe

AFTER THE SECOND ROUND OF LIP FILLERS

It's Affordable When You Consider Cost-Per-Wear

Since everyone's lips are different and the desired end goal varies, so too does the price. Volbella comes in a 0.5cc syringe, which keeps cost down and is often enough for subtle augmentation. Most offices range from $400 to $1000 for lip filler. However, depending on the type of product used, lip fillers typically last between six to 12 months, so if you paid $400, that's just $2 over six months or around $1 for a year. Not bad. 

Courtesy of Moy, Fincher, and Chips

BEFORE AND AFTER

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