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 plump 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 put it to an expert for all the facts on why it happens and what to do about it. Keep scrolling for the info you need to fix the problem—and what you can do to avoid it in the first place.
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," says Wu (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." But that's not the whole story. Lifestyle factors can be to blame for what seems like "premature" lip thinning.
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 simply 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!"
Though straws are often used as a way to avoid surface stains that wear down teeth enamel, there are other precautions for protecting teeth, such as not swishing liquids around over the 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. Keep scrolling for more things, both natural and medical, that you can do to treat and avoid lip thinning.
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. 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. In terms of lifestyle, if you smoke, cut back as much as you can, and avoid drinking from straws. Lastly, Wu says to always use SPF on your lips. "UV rays break down collagen, especially on your thin lip skin," she says.
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!"
Keep scrolling to shop the natural products Dr. Wu mentioned for plumping up thinning lips!