There are upsides (wisdom) and there are downsides (literally, gravity) when it comes to aging. But certain things you just don't expect. Lips that seem to have lost their plumpness at the tender age of 28? Well, that just seems premature—or terribly unfair—if you ask us. You'd think being shy of 30 is a little early for thinning, deflated lips, but sadly, it's real (and something a few of us here at Byrdie have noticed on ourselves). So we asked experts for the lowdown on why lips thin with age and how to prevent it.
What Causes Lip Thinning
To get to the heart of the problem, your lips begin to thin for the same reason your skin begins to sag with time: a natural decline in collagen. "Young lips are full because young skin contains plenty of collagen and naturally-occurring hyaluronic acid, which keeps your lips moist and plump from the inside out," says Dr. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. But there's another surprising reason explanation: "Younger people have larger teeth, which help support the lips and keep them perky," Wu says—more on that later.
Like pretty much everything in life, genetics play a part in determining the plumpness of your lips (i.e. whether or not you were born with Rosie Huntington Whiteley lips). "Lip size and shape are genetically determined, but all of us tend to get thinner lips over time," says Wu. "If your lips are naturally smaller, you may start to notice this in your late 20s and 30s. This is when collagen and hyaluronic acid production start to slow down." Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, Celebrity Cosmetic Dermatologist and Founder of PFRANKMD & Skin Salon, agrees, saying that genetics often play the largest role in decreasing lip size. "Some people just age that way," he says.
But that's not the whole story. Lifestyle factors can be to blame for what seems like "premature" lip thinning. Here's what you can do to address thinning lips.
According to Wu, one of the biggest misconceptions about lip thinning is that it only happens to smokers. "'Smokers' lines can appear even if you never smoked, due to puckering your lips, chewing the inside of your lip, and drinking out of straws. Drinking out of straws can make these lines appear and will also break down the collagen in your lips and make them smaller and more wrinkled," she says (Cue the beginning of us never drinking out of a straw again). Another culprit? Dehydration from too much caffeine and not drinking enough water, says Wu. And here comes the surprising role that teeth play. "Teeth wear down over time, which can make your lips sink in, so I tell my patients to take care of their teeth!"
Frank adds that excessive sun exposure can also lead to premature lip aging, so always be sure to apply a lip balm with SPF.
Skip the Straw
Though straws are often used as a way to avoid surface stains that wear down teeth enamel, there are other precautions for protecting teeth, like not swishing liquids around or over your teeth, sipping and swallowing quickly, and rinsing with water and/or a fluoride rinse after drinking foods and beverages that stain teeth. So you can skip the straw and protect your teeth in the name of plumper lips.
Eat Your Protein and Vitamin C
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to address the problem of thinning lips. On a daily basis, Wu says to stay hydrated and make sure your diet is high in protein and vitamin C, both of which are essential for making strong, healthy collagen. Foods like chicken, beans, and nuts are great sources of protein. If you need some more vitamin C in your life, green veggies are citrus fruits are your best bet.
Keep Your Lips Hydrated
Product-wise, Wu says to make sure your lips are hydrated externally, too. "I'm a fan of lip ointments and oils, rather than stick balms, which are waxy and can dry out your lips," says Wu. "My favorites are coconut oil, sweet almond oil (both safe enough to eat), and Burt's Bees Squeezable Lip Balm (not the stick, the new squeezable one). Slick on a thick layer before bed, and your lips will be plumper in the a.m.," she says. Frank says that his favorite ways to keep lips moisturized are ointment-based balms and lip glosses. Unlike some stick balms, these ointments soak into your lips rather than sitting on top.
For some temporary volume, you can always use a plumping lip gloss or balm. Some work by hydrating your lips to make them slightly more plump. Frank says that some other plumpers "have mild irritants that literally cause mild swelling of lips," which is why you may feel some tingling when you apply a plumping product.
Talk to a Dermatologist
Medical options include injectable fillers. "My favorite lip filler for my younger patients is Restylane Silk, which has been available for the past few months," says Wu. "It's the softest, smoothest injectable filler we have, so it looks and feels very natural. Plus it has lidocaine anesthetic, so it numbs as it's injected." If you decide to go the filler route, she says less is more. "Technique is especially important when I treat my younger patients in their 20s and 30s. I tell them that our goal should be to give you your 16-year-old lips back, not make you look like a trout or Simpson's character!"
If you're not positive about what kind of filler you'd like to use, you can see a doctor for a temporary filler, made of saline, which will last about 24 hours. This will give you an idea of what filler would look like without having to commit for more than a day.
For those absolutely sure about using a filler, there are also more permanent options. Frank mentions that options like Juvaderm retain the most water, making it great for those looking to add volume. If you want to fill lines or add some volume around the edges of your mouth, thinner fillers like Belotero may be the way to go.
No matter how to choose to enhance your lips, always be sure to talk to a doctor about your options and what will work best for you.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Soft-tissue fillers for aging skin.
UIC Dentistry. 5 amazingly simple things you can do to prevent cavities. Updated October 23, 2017.
Cleveland Clinic. The best way you can get more collagen. Updated May 15, 2018.