Is Plumping Lip Gloss Low-Key Destroying Your Lips?

Photo of glossy lips

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Plumping lip glosses are an easy, cost-effective way to achieve a fuller pout, and there are dozens of options on the market today. But, if you're familiar with the tingling sensation these lip-maximizing products induce, you may be wondering if they're really safe to use on a regular basis. We spoke with dermatologists Elaine King and Debra Jaliman to answer this burning question. Scroll ahead to read what they have to say about plumping lip gloss. 

Meet the Expert

  • Elaine F. Kung, MD, is a clinical assistant professor at Weill-Cornell Medical College and the founder of Future Bright Dermatology.
  • Debra Jaliman, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

What Is Plumping Lip Gloss? 

Plumping lip glosses are formulated to temporarily enhance the appearance of the lips by making them appear fuller and plumper. They typically contain ingredients that cause a slight tingling or cooling sensation on the lips, which can make blood vessels dilate and create a temporary swelling effect.

Some plumping lip glosses, especially formulations from years ago, may contain spicy extracts such as cinnamon, menthol, and even hot pepper (commonly labeled as capsaicin) to stimulate blood flow for a swollen look. Some plumping lip glosses may even contain bee venom, which can also trigger swelling of the lips. The reasoning behind this? "Applying [irritants] to your lips encourages blood to flow to the skin's surface, which creates a mild and brief plumping of the lips due to transient swelling," explains Kung. 

Is Plumping Lip Gloss Bad for You? 

According to the experts, it depends on the ingredients used in the lip gloss. "Plumping lip glosses are generally safe to use unless you are allergic to any of the ingredients in it," says Jaliman. When it comes to lip glosses that contain spicy extracts (like cinnamon, menthol, and capsaicin), they aren't dangerous per se but be wary of not overdoing it. "Frequent applications may cause irritant rashes around the lips," explains Kung. "A tingling, mintiness or stinging sensation does not mean that these lip glosses are actually adding real volume to your lips. These sensations can trick us into thinking that they are working."

Kung suggests caffeine or niacin-based lip plumpers if you want something that dilates your blood vessels without stinging. However, it's important to note that the effects of topical caffeine and niacin application are not well-researched, and more studies are needed to confirm these ingredients' effectiveness as a lip plumper.

Both experts agree that the safest ingredients to use daily (even during pregnancy) are hyaluronic acid, peptides, collagen, vitamin E, and natural oils such as coconut oil, shea butter, and castor oil. 

How Long Do the Effects of Plumping Lip Gloss Last?

The effects of plumping lip gloss can usually last a few hours. The duration can vary depending on the specific product and the individual using it. Some plumping lip glosses may provide a more noticeable and longer-lasting effect than others. 

Alternatives to Plumping Lip Gloss 

Hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Restylane, Juvederm, Versa, and RHA, are an alternative to plumping lip gloss. The enhancing effects of lip fillers are longer-lasting than plumping lip gloss, often lasting several months before needing a touch-up. "The downsides may be that there's some pain during the procedure and a few days of swelling and bruising after the procedure," says Kung. In general, lip fillers may last anywhere between three to 12 months.

Another alternative to plumping lip gloss is using lip scrubs, balms, and masks that contain natural ingredients like sugar, honey, and coconut oil to exfoliate and moisturize the lips. Other ingredients to look for are "peptides which help boost collagen, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter," says Jaliman. Properly moisturizing can help improve the lips' overall appearance, making them look plumper and more youthful. 

The Final Takeaway 

Thankfully, most plumping lip glosses are considered safe to use. But as with any cosmetic product, it's always a good idea to read the ingredient list and patch-test the product before using it on your lips, as some lip plumpers contain irritants or allergens. And remember that, regardless of what the packaging says, discontinue use immediately if you experience any redness, itching, or other adverse reactions.

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