It’s no secret that for the past year and a half, DIY beauty has been on the rise like never before. Many of us have spent our extra time inside perfecting our wolf cuts and at-home manis, and it seems like another DIY technique goes viral on TikTok every other week. And while we love to get crafty with our beauty as much as anyone, there are several treatments we prefer to leave to the professionals—and that definitely includes lip filler.
Recently, needle-free devices like hyaluron pens, which claim to mimic the effects of injectable lip filler, have been gaining traction on TikTok and Youtube. However, these at-home products are not approved by the FDA, and the agency recently released a statement warning consumers about the potential dangers these devices pose. “The FDA is aware of serious injuries and in some cases, permanent harm to the skin, lips, or eyes with the use of needle-free devices for injection of lip and facial fillers,” reads the safety communication. To learn more about the devices, their potential risks, and safer alternatives, we reached out to two board-certified dermatologists and a facial plastic surgeon. Read on to get their expert takes.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Michael Somenek is a board-certified facial plastic surgeon based in Washington, D.C.
- Dr. Corey L. Hartman is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
- Dr. Bruce Katz is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City.
What to Know About Hyaluron Pens
Before we break down the side effects, let's first talk about what exactly these needle-free devices claim to do. While doctors typically use a needle to inject filler into their patients' lips or skin, hyaluron pens rely on pressure to force hyaluronic acid into the skin. "The pen dispenses spurts of high pressurized air to administer non-medical grade hyaluronic acid (HA) into the skin," explains Dr. Michael Somenek, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon based in Washington, D.C. "HA is not regulated because it is not an FDA-approved substance."
"In theory, the pen enables users to deliver targeted HA lip volume by using the force from pressurized air to create minuscule holes in the skin," he continues. "The HA filler substance is then delivered subdermally with the hope of creating fuller lips."
Because the pens use much more force than a needle would, however, they offer a lot less control over how much substance you're injecting and where it goes. In one TikTok demonstration, a board-certified nurse practitioner compared the "shotgun effect" of the hyaluron pen to the precision of a needle in order to discourage users from trying the pens. When he injects a liquid into a gelatin mold using a hyaluron pen, you can see how the pressure causes the substance to spread rapidly. When he uses a needle, however, the injection is much more subtle and controlled.
Somanek explains that this pen tool was created for injecting insulin, but then gained popularity for DIY filler use because it can be purchased without a medical license. However, that doesn't make them safe for at-home use, especially since filler procedures traditionally require an expert with years of experience in their field, like a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
The FDA warns against using the devices because they could potentially lead to bleeding, bruising, infection, scarring, and more. "The lips are filled with nerve endings, and they swell and bruise very easily," Somanek adds. "More worrisome than that, improper injection can result in blocked blood flow."
However, the side effects don't end there. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, told us that the potential risks of these pens also include "inflammatory skin reactions, abscess formation, permanent discoloration, bacterial and fungal infections, transmission of disease from person to person, and damage to the skin, eyes, and blood vessels due to the excessive pressure being applied." In other words, it's safe to say the cons seriously outweigh the pros.
If you're looking for a safe alternative to at-home hyaluron pens, your best bet is to visit your dermatologist. "In-office hyaluronic acid injections like Juvederm, Volbella, and Restylane Silk are all safe, FDA-approved treatments," says Dr. Bruce Katz, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of JUVA Skin & Laser Center in New York City. "They work by replacing lost volume in the lips and enable us to precisely contour the shape of the patient's lips. Another treatment we pioneered in our practice is the Smartxide DOT fractional/CO2 laser, which creates microscopic columns of holes in the skin, taking away older, damaged collagen and allowing new collagen to grow in."
However, if you still want to get temporarily plumper lips at home, our experts have a few recommendations to try.
SkinMedica HA5 Smooth and Plump Lip System
Hartman recommends this two-step system that gently smoothes fine lines and plumps lips. The set includes one treatment to smooth lips, and another applied directly on the lips to plump. Each step can be used both under and on top of other lip products.
Too Faced Lip Injection Extreme Lip Plumper
Somenek recommends this classic lip gloss that nourishes and plumps lips while adding shine. While the gloss gives an instant pillowy effect when swiped on, it also claims to provide long-term fullness with continued use.
The DIY Version
One DIY method you can try at home to plump up your lips involves a few items you have in your kitchen. As Katz tells us, "You can create a lip scrub of sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Mix it with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and rub it on your lips." According to the dermatologist, cinnamon and cayenne will work to increase the circulation in your lips, making them appear plumper. While these results may be temporary, the treatment is safe and easy to do at home without any risks.
The Bottom Line
While there are plenty of fun, low-risk beauty DIYs out there, the hyaluron pen trend is definitely one you should skip—especially when there are so many effective lip-plumping makeup products on the market. If you're still looking to plump up your lips long-term, opt for a visit to a dermatologist's office to talk through some safer, FDA-approved treatments.