Some might point to Kylie Jenner as the catalyst for our growing fascination surrounding injections, but in truth, it looks as though we've been heading in this direction for some time. If we had to play beauty anthropologist, we'd estimate that our collective obsession with "no-makeup makeup" played an even more profound role—we all want to say that we #wokeuplikethis, even if our dirty little secret is that we got a little outside help. Ideally, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
And boy, has the industry complied. As more and more practitioners become skilled in Botox and lip fillers, women (and men) are seeking out tiny enhancements that the average bystander wouldn't be able to discern. The goal is not to freeze the clock—and in turn, the face—but to slow it, to refresh your features rather than replace them entirely. And that's how you can spot a well-done procedure—when you need to be told where to look. Curious about lip fillers? To learn more, we tapped Nicci Levy, the founder of Los Angeles injectable destination Alchemy 43, Jenna Piccolo, a physician's assistant and "alchemist" at Alchemy 43, and Corey L. Hartman, an Alabama-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about lip fillers.
What Are Lip Fillers?
"Lip fillers are the injection of a filler material into one or both the lips using a needle and a cannula," explains Hartman. "The most common fillers used for lips are hyaluronic acid, collagen, and fat, though most lip fillers of today are made of hyaluronic acid or ingredients similar to hyaluronic acid." Why? Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring substance in our bodies, and is used often in skincare products and dermatologic procedures—such as lip fillers—because it can help skin retain moisture. Hartman also notes that more people are opting for an understated and classic lip that aims to restore and hydrate instead of to enlarge and augment. "Hyaluronic acid is the go-to choice for that look, and dermatologists also like it because it very well-tolerated among patients," he says.
Hyaluronic acid will give a more natural fill while "collagen-boosting" fillers like Radiesse can create a more voluminous fill (aka that “pouty” look). Both are non-invasive outside of the filler procedure itself, says Hartman.
Benefits of Lip Fillers
Aside from the aesthetics, there are many benefits to lip fillers.
- Provides natural-looking volume
- Evens out lip shape
- Offers plumpness and fullness
- Helps restore the lips' natural definition as you age
How to Prepare for Lip Fillers
If you’re considering lip filler for the first time, Hartman recommends thoroughly researching the dermatologist in advance. "Make sure that the doctor does lip filler extensively and is a master injector that knows how to avoid and handle complications," he says, adding that you should also choose someone that listens to your concerns and involves you in the process to ensure a successful outcome. For example, do you want to enhance your already-defined cupid's bow, or are you looking to fix an asymmetrical top lip? Is pillowy volume your aim or subtle hydration? From the type of filler you use to the injection site, there are many ways to shape a better version of your pout.
You and your practitioner can also decide on the best filler for the results you're looking for. Juvéderm, a hyaluronic acid-based formula, is one of the most popular options and comes in different variations of thickness. Meanwhile, Restylane Silk has also grown in popularity since its approval by the FDA—its particles are smaller, which can allow for a subtler effect.
What to Expect During Lip Fillers
Your practitioner will probably start with a numbing gel on the injection area, and the injectable itself typically contains lidocaine, which is a local anesthetic. That being said, since the lidocaine is being injected with your filler, it'll take a few pricks for it to kick in, so the first few injections are typically the most painful. You'll feel a pinching, and certain areas (like your sensitive lips) will be more painful than others—though the numbing agents help offset this a little.
Potential Side Effects
Let's talk about the elephant in the room: pain level. Although a topical numbing cream is applied in advance and ice packs may help during the treatment, Hartman says that there’s no way to fully disguise the fact that there are needles and cannulas involved. "The lips are vascular and full of nerves, so it’s difficult to make it completely pain-free," he notes. "The swelling is variable per patient and filler used, but it can range from one to five days." Also, bruises are common and can be treated with arnica, bromelain, vitamin K, and ice.
Depending on the area and treatment type, it can take up to two weeks for swelling and bruising to completely disappear, though most of it typically dissipates within 24 to 48 hours. Levy and Piccolo advise their clients to ice the area immediately after the treatment and to use arnica gel and pellets to help stave off bruising. It's also recommended that you avoid exercise for the first 24 hours, since getting your blood pumping may exacerbate black and blue marks. You also need to avoid ibuprofen, blood thinners, and alcohol for the same reason.
Depending on the city and injector, price varies significantly. Generally speaking, they cost anywhere $500 to $1000, though in more expensive areas like Los Angeles and New York City, you can expect a higher range.
So, the real question: how long do lip injections last? According to Piccolo, first-time clients tend to see their results disappear the fastest—for lip injections, it might only be four to six months. This also depends on the type of filler, since some are "finer" than others. (They offer a more natural-looking result but tend to dissolve at a quicker rate. Piccolo notes that for this reason, many people who start with these finer fillers like Restylane Silk actually end up switching to those with a little more oomph, like Juvéderm.)
Piccolo says that if you're looking to keep up your fillers, you'll actually be able to stretch out your maintenance appointments more and more over time, and she also notes that experts believe that this is due to a natural buildup in collagen with each new injection. She adds that many lip injection clients only need to freshen them up once a year or even every 18 months after the first few times.
If you're unhappy with your outcome, temporary hyaluronic acid fillers like Juvéderm and Restylane can easily be removed if you wish—your practitioner will simply inject an enzyme that dissolves the filler. That being said, it's best to wait until any swelling has gone down to make a decision since during the days immediately following your initial treatment, you'll likely see more volume than you anticipated. Wait at least 48 hours before making a decision, and remember that there are some medical concerns with dissolving filler (just like there are when injecting). Talk to your doctor about what the dissolving process is like before you get injections.
The Final Takeaway
Lip fillers are a cosmetic procedure that, if done correctly, can enhance your features. They even out your lip shape, offer fullness and definition, and natural-looking volume. It's minimally-invasive, but may require maintenance appointments to keep up their appearance.