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Who doesn’t want a plumper pout? And yet, when we see that bee-stung pucker on others, we can’t help but wonder: Are their lips the result of genetics (à la Angelina Jolie), clever makeup skills, or—gasp!—lip injections? We blame the stigma around lip injections partly on the no-makeup makeup trend, and partly on the fact that, in our culture at least, no one likes to admit when they get work done. But lip injections are happening, and if you’ve ever been curious, even for a second, about how much lip injections cost, how they work, or if you should get them, it’s time to stop screenshotting strangers’ lips on Instagram and get informed. We spoke to two pros to get some intel: board-certified dermatologist Michael Lin and plastic surgeon Nina Naidu.
Meet the Expert
Read on to learn everything you need to know before trying lip injections, from the pain level to how much the injections cost.
How Do Lip Injections Work?
"Lip injection is the process of filling the lips with material, and although we often think of them in relation to patients who desire increased volume, they can also be used to correct uneven lips, lift the corners of the mouth, and smooth out lip wrinkles, which become more prominent with age," says Naidu. Despite seeing sped-up processes of lip fillers at work all over Instagram, there's more thought that goes into them than you'd think. First things first—we asked Lin how much control the patient really has over the outcome (we’ve all seen the worst-case-scenario post-injection photos… shudder). “When a patient comes in asking for fuller lips, I like to start by discussing how they would like their lips to look,” Lin says. “This step is extremely important because I want to make sure that what they are looking for is achievable and will match the overall shape and structure of their face.” For example, if someone has smaller facial features, they may look strange with lips that are too full. “Different facial structures will dictate what lip shape and volume will be appropriate,” he says. “The lip shape is actually more important than the volume.”
After deciding on how much filler to use, Naidu told us all about the process, from start to finish: "Following the consultation during which we determine the patient's goals, the lips are anesthetized and cleansed with alcohol. Filler is injected with a tiny needle into the areas that need volume, and the material is massaged gently to prevent formation of lumps. The amount of filler depends upon the patient's anatomy as well as their goals. We never inject more than one milliliter of filler during a given session. The whole process takes about 30 minutes."
How Much Do Lip Fillers Cost?
Anyone who's wondered about lip injections likely thought to themselves, "How much are lip fillers?" Valid question. Price varies significantly depending on the city and injector, but lip injections generally cost $500 to $1000 (however, in more expensive areas like New York City, you can expect a range closer to $900 to $1500). The average cost for lip injections at Lin’s office falls around $550 to $650 for a 1-cc syringe. However, some people might want a fuller look—which requires an additional syringe (and again, more expensive areas like NYC and LA will jack these prices up a bit higher).
Are Lip Injections Painful?
The ouch factor will vary from person to person, but to put it bluntly, the lips are sensitive and without an anesthetic the lip injections will feel like a very sharp pinch. According to Lin, there are options that contain lidocaine, a common local anesthetic, to make the process as painless as possible. Or, you can ask for a numbing cream 15 minutes before the treatment. “Sometimes, we do nerve blocks to numb up the entire lip area,” he says, adding that most patients can come in for a consultation and leave the same day with a plumper pout. If you're concerned about the pain, ask for ice to be placed topically between injections.
What is the Recovery Like?
Naidu maintains that immediately afterwards, the lips will be swollen and possibly mildly bruised. "I always warn patients of this risk beforehand, and advise them not to have their lips done just prior to an important occasion." The majority of the swelling will go down two days later, and will have completely resolved in two weeks. Bottom line: if you're doing lip injections before a big event, schedule it no later than two weeks before.
How Long Do Lip Injections Last?
“On average, they last up to six months, but results may vary depending on your lifestyle factors,” he says. (For example, very active patients who exercise frequently tend to metabolize filler more quickly.) If you’re wondering what age is considered too young to get lip injections, most fillers are FDA-approved for cosmetic use among patients 21 years old and up.
What Gets Injected Into Your Lips?
"Different materials can be injected into the lips, but the most common is hyaluronic acid, which is generally considered to be the best fillers for the lips because the material is soft and can be dissolved if the patient is unhappy with the results or too much volume has been injected." says Naidu. "Silicone gel was used in the past, but this material tends to form granulomas and firm scar tissue which eventually needs to be removed. Allergic reactions are very rare."
If you're not into the super-plumped look of lip injections but are still looking to add some more definition to your lips, there are more recent innovations to look towards—for example, a product called Restylane Silk and another treatment called Volbella, both of which were approved by the FDA for use in the United States a few years ago. Lin says of Restylane Silk, “Its clear gel hyaluronic acid formulation is specifically designed with smaller and smoother particles for more subtle lip enhancement and the smoothing of wrinkles and lines around the mouth.”
What is the Best Type of Lip Filler?
The most common treatment patients ask for involves hyaluronic fillers, which are injected below the outer layer of the skin. You might recognize hyaluronic acid as a primary ingredient in the skincare you use, but it has more than that going for it. “Hyaluronic acid is a substance found naturally in the body and is the main ingredient in FDA-approved fillers you may have heard of like Juvederm and Restylane,” Lin explains. Based on the placement of the filler, your lips can be volumized, reshaped, and redefined.
Are There Any Risks/Side Effects?
What about side effects? As with any procedure involving a needle, there's always a risk of infection. "Infection typically manifests with increased swelling, redness, and pain," notes Naidu. "Patients who have had a herpes infection in the past should advise their physician, as lip injections can cause a flare. We usually put these patients on an antiviral medication beginning two days prior to injection."
What Do Lip Fillers Look Like Before and After?
How to Get Plumper Lips at Home
There are some things you can do if you want to avoid the needle, but all are short-lived (as in, they'll dissipate after a few hours). First, Naidu recommends to hydrate the lips, as softening any wrinkles and dryness can make the lips appear slightly fuller.
"Topical products or oils that contain cinnamon or peppermint can increase blood flow to the lips transiently, making them appear temporarily larger," says Naidu. "It's a good option for the faint of heart."
For those that are really adverse to needles, try a hyaluronic acid alternative, which gradually plumps up the lips and promises to last up to three months.