First, let me preface by saying this is a story I never thought I'd be writing. Or if we're going the point-blank route, I just never thought I'd be getting lip injections. Alas, here goes.
What Are Lip Injections?
Cosmetic procedure used to increase fullness in lips by using injectable fillers such as hyaluronic acid, fat, or implants.
One of the most stupendous perks of being a beauty editor is having the opportunity to work with the best and brightest brands, products, and experts in the business. It's definitely not something I (or my amazing co-workers) take for granted. And sometimes, we have the chance to meet an expert for an IRL treatment (because, spoiler: Most of the time we converse via phone or email—deadlines, people, deadlines.)
So such was the case when I found myself turning onto Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood and making my way into the chic ambiance of Facile's lobby. But here's the catch (and where that earlier blind date analogy comes in): I wasn't entirely sure what was going to happen during the appointment. Since Facile offers a wide range of covetable services–everything from introductory consultations to vitamin shots to a wide variety of injectables—I had no clue what I was walking into. A quick chat about my current skin concerns? A laser? A syringe filled with a cocktail of vitamins? I was excited, to say the least. It was almost like a blind date of sorts...a beauty blind date that is.
Fast forward roughly one and a half hours later, and I was walking back to my car (practically on cloud nine) with an ice pack pressed to my lips and an ever-so-slightly puffier pout. Curious to find out what to expect if you ever have an intended date with lip injections? Scroll on to find out what went down.
To my initial dismay (but ultimate appreciation), the first order of business was photography. (Fun, random fact: I actually hate having my picture taken.) However, in the name of prettier skin, taking before and after photos is an essential step in addressing a client's concerns and tracking their progress. (And as it turns out, they also prove helpful if you're explaining the process of lip injections to thousands of readers.)
Even though I'm haunted by my current hormonal acne situation, it has gotten better (thanks to a blemish-busting skincare routine I've been working on with celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau) and although both Breana Wheeler and I discussed the photos and some of the residual scarring I still struggle with (I came to the appointment 100% bare-faced by the way), I explained that my breakouts had been progressively improved and I was satisfied with my current products and skincare routine. Which then brought Wheeler to her next question: "Do you have any other concerns or treatments you want to discuss?"
Meet the Expert
Breana Wheeler is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Facile in West Hollywood. She specializes in cosmetic dermatology.
To which, in a rather out-of-body experience I must have replied: "lip fillers?"
Interestingly, until I found myself in a situation when the option was right there in front of me, I had always had a dreamy "maybe one day" mentality toward any kind of filler or injectable. And while I had considered and low-key lusted after the idea of a slight bump in lip volume, I didn't have any sort of time frame or plan of when I'd realistically go for it. I actually love my lips, and the interest in filler wasn't due to a dissatisfaction so to speak but more to an interest in enhancing a feature I already really loved. My bottom lip is naturally fuller than my upper lip (which has a pretty defined shape), and I always thought it would be nice to add some volume to the top to even things out. So while I had the opportunity, I decided to ask Wheeler her opinion, and slowly, we began to talk strategy.
"During the initial consult, it is extremely important to discuss and clarify the client's goals," explains Wheeler. "Once I understand what the client wants in terms of size, volume, shape, and subtlety, I then assess their anatomy and their lower face in particular. From there, I'll convey my thoughts on how full, wide, or plump the patient can go while still looking like their natural self."
For instance, Wheeler explained to me that since my lips are on the thinner side of the spectrum, it would look unnatural to inject a large amount of filler in them—especially in one visit. (I had made it clear right away that I was only interested in a super-subtle aesthetic.) Therefore, once I decided to take the plunge, Wheeler chose to go with Volbella, a hyaluronic acid filler she said would yield the soft and subtle look I was after. The game plan: baby steps.
"When it comes to lips, I prefer enhancing, plumping, and smoothing my clients' lips in a natural and subtle way. I always think it's best to start off with less filler, and then if someone ultimately wants more volume, we can work up to it in future appointments.
"I also make sure to choose the brand and product based on my clients' goals and what I think will look the best," says Wheeler. "For a patient getting lip filler for the first time, I love Volbella and Restylane Refyne because of how refined the results are. If a patient wants more volume, Juvederm Ultra is a great choice. Injection methods will also vary depending on the patients' natural shape and end-goal. To avoid lumps and bumps, I prefer small threads or drops of filler as I inject."
Game plan set, it was injection time. And I was nervous. Personally, I'm not much of a needle person, and even though I have a relatively high pain tolerance (something Wheeler commented on and I'm oddly quite proud of), it's the mental visual of the needle entering my skin that can send me into a state of catatonia. However, to my surprise, the injection process was a lot less painful than I anticipated. I definitely felt it (Wheeler describes the sensation as a "pinching" and I wholeheartedly agree), but the wincing was minimal. But again, this is coming from someone who flips bacon with her fingers mid-fry.
"Before I inject, I apply a topical prescription-strength numbing cream on the lips for at least 15 minutes," explains Wheeler. "I then cleanse the lip area and have the patient ice right before injections to decrease discomfort and bruising. I tell the patient they will feel the pinch of the needle poke but hopefully not significant pain. Once I'm finished injecting, I apply lip ointment and send the client home with ice and aftercare instructions:"
1. No makeup or lip products for at least 12 hours. (Although Wheeler says you can use a brand-new tube of an ointment like Aquaphor Lip Repair $4)
2. Regular icing with a clean ice pack on and off throughout the rest of the evening.
3. Sleeping with your head elevated on two pillows to help decrease swelling.
4. Avoid alcohol and blood thinners for the next 24 hours if you have bruising.
5. No massage or firm pressure on the lips for at least a week.
What to Expect Post-treatment
Swelling and Bruising: During the initial consultation and again right afterward, Wheeler warned me that I would likely experience some swelling and bruising. And although I listened to every word she said, I was so thrilled with the way my lips looked right after the treatment (minimal swelling and no bruising) that I kind of forgot what was in store. Until it looked like the entire cast of Tracker Jackers from The Hunger Games had had a reunion on my lips. Panic.
Though I had experienced minimal swelling the day and night of (bearing in mind that I had a late-afternoon appointment), the next morning was a different story entirely. While the bruising wasn't too bad, my lips—especially the upper—were cartoonishly swollen and one side even a tad bit lumpy. Obviously, I panicked and immediately second-guessed my admittedly last-minute decision of getting lip injections the day before. But then I remembered: This was all part of the process, and I'd just have to ice, wait it out, and wear my favorite baseball cap for the weekend. (Ahem, I also only ever intended for my mother to see this photo, so my apologies if your eyes are burning.)
"Immediately after getting lip injections, there is some degree of swelling, which is completely normal. I tell every first-time patient to not judge your lips for at least five days since swelling can look slightly fake or even lumpy. Bruising is also very normal and expected. Significant pain or irregular bruising outside the lip area is not normal and the patient should call their injector immediately," emphasizes Wheeler.
And sure enough, even once I had hit the 24-hour mark, my swelling had significantly decreased and my lips were settling into their new, natural selves. The verdict: I absolutely loved them, but after a week or so, I began to notice a slight difference in symmetry in both the upper lip and the lower lip.
During the initial appointment, Wheeler had noticed that my upper lip changed shape and became quite asymmetrical as I'd smile or talk. And because of this (largely due to those pesky muscles), each side of the lip was taking the filler differently. Therefore, we both knew there might have to be a slight adjustment in a couple of weeks once my lips settled. Thus, the ever-important next step:
A follow-up: "I think it's very important for the client to follow up two weeks after their initial appointment so they can take a look at their lips with the injector and determine if any touch-ups, adjustments, or additional filler is needed," recommends Wheeler. "Each person has unique lips and they also react differently to each filler."
According to Wheeler, many patients, myself included, naturally have asymmetrical lips and one side of the top or bottom might be larger or longer. Interestingly, filler can be used to address these asymmetries, but it can also make them more noticeable. "Occasionally a tiny dose of Botox is needed to soften the muscles that pull up the upper lip. This is often called a 'lip flip' and pairs beautifully with lip injections." Which, by the way, is exactly what Wheeler did.
"Basically your lips were/are slightly asymmetric especially with movement. Sometimes even when we try to correct it with filler your lips will still show the asymmetry. Also, it was less noticeable when your upper lip was thinner but slightly more noticeable when we plumped it with filler. This isn’t that uncommon to adjust— everyone responds differently! Since your lips were asymmetric with movement, we used a little Botox to decrease the movement of your upper lip (or relax it) which also results in a slightly fuller upper lip when you smile." Mission accomplished, and post-follow-up, I'm 100% satisfied with the end-result.
However, if someone is unsatisfied with their new lips, there are options: "If the client is unhappy with any aspect of their enhanced lips, there is an enzyme we can inject to dissolve the filler. Thankfully, this doesn't happen often in our practice, but it's a great tool to have."
All in all, I am 100% happy with my decision in getting lip injections, even if it was a quick decision acting on a longtime daydream. (As the queen of overthinking things, this was major.) And really, the change is so subtle that not many would even notice. The important thing is that I notice, and I've felt all the more confident for it. Will I continue to get lip fillers? I'm not sure. But now that I've found someone I can trust and learned the process isn't scary (again, find someone who you can trust!), I wouldn't bat an eyelash at a future touch-up.
Wheeler's golden rules of getting lip injections in a nutshell: "Make sure your injector knows exactly what you want and follow up if it's not what you had in mind. Personally, I would much rather see the client back for a little more than have the client say it was too much. During your initial consultation, it's important that your aesthetic matches your injector's aesthetic. For instance, if your injector's lips look unnaturally large (or their before and afters on social platforms) but you want to stay subtle and conservative, you may want a second consult with someone else."