If you would have asked me a couple of years ago what one aesthetic treatment I would absolutely not be interested in, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say lip filler. I had nothing personally against the minimally invasive lip enhancement procedure – and I had certainly interviewed enough top injectors who sang its praises – but, for me, I just couldn’t get past the fact that it felt like every influencer and reality TV personality increasingly had a mouth that looked all-too-similar and all-too-supernatural.
I am usually the first person to tell you that aesthetic medicine has long gotten a bad rap because we tend to only spot the overly augmented or unnatural work while more subtle tweaks go unnoticed, save for recognizing that the person looks great. Lip filler is but another cosmetic treatment that falls into this trap. Yes, we’ve all seen a lot of so-called ‘duck lips’ or ‘trout mouths’ that may or may not be your taste (personally, I am in the ‘nay’ camp). But we’ve also all seen a lot of plush pouts that are perfectly proportional to the rest of the face – and there is a good chance that those lips are filled, too.
I sit here today eating a helping of humble pie (what’s that they say about never saying never?) as I write this article about why I decided to fill my lips, and, better yet, why I am so happy with the results that hardly anyone has noticed. In early April, New York City-based board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon David Shafer, MD, injected me with one syringe Juvéderm® Volbella XC (split between my upper and lower lip), and I’ve been spending the last couple of months thinking about what I learned from the experience that might benefit others who are on the fence about going under the needle.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the six things I believe are useful to know if you are considering getting lip filler. Read on to get the scoop and to see my before and after photos.
1. Not All Lip Fillers Are the Same
If you are a regular reader of The AEDITION, you’ve likely seen our breakdowns of the different types of cosmetic injectables that exist. Within the filler category, there are hyaluronic acid (HA)-based and biostimulatory options. Within the HA family, there are an array of brands (think: Juvéderm®, Restylane®, Belotero®, etc.). And within each brand, there are a variety of different products that have been designed and, in on-label use cases, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for specific purposes. “Juvéderm® Ultra XC is the original hyaluronic acid filler FDA approved for lip augmentation,” Dr. Shafer says. “It works well for plumping and adding volume.”
Juvéderm® Ultra XC may be the OG, but it has a younger sister that can treat the lips in a similar but different way. “Volbella is a newer generation hyaluronic acid filler in the Juvéderm® family that is good for smoothing and hydrating,” he shares. “As Volbella is a smoothing filler, it is also great for softening perioral lines such as the vertical ‘smoker lines’ on the upper lip and any creases which have formed from years of dynamic lines around the mouth, such as the smile lines.”
While each filler can be used individually (I only got Volbella), they can also be paired together to better treat a patient’s aesthetic concerns. “I prefer a hybrid lip augmentation technique with both Juvéderm® Ultra XC and Juvéderm® Volbella XC to both plump and smooth,” Dr. Shafer says. This allows him to “achieve the best results.”
Why am I bringing this up? You don’t need to walk into your injector’s office demanding a certain type of filler — they are the expert and, during a consultation, will be able to share what brand and product is suited for your anatomy and aesthetic goals. Even so, it’s helpful to know that lip filler (and filler in general) is not one size fits all. What’s best for your friend or sister or some person you saw on TikTok, may not be best for you. You should feel free to ask your provider what types of filler they offer, why they think something is right for you, and what you can expect from the result.
2. You Can Maintain Your Lip Shape
This was a big one for me. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to lip shape and lip size, and some people turn to lip filler to address both. Personally, I’ve always liked the shape of my lips. I naturally have a pretty well-defined cupid’s bow, as well as upper and lower lips that gradually taper out to the corners. Overall, I felt like my mouth fit my face, but the lips themselves were a little thinner than I wanted them to be (especially my top lip).
Because I was overly fixating on some of the more obviously augmented pouts that populate my social media feed, I was concerned that I was going to have to sacrifice the shape of my lips to enhance the size. I thought I would automatically end up with a kind of elongated and tubular upper lip shape that some people might like — it’s just not what I was going for. I am pleased to report that, in the hands of a skilled injector, the shape of your lips can be preserved while subtly enhancing the volume.
The key: Be clear about what you want and don’t be shy when communicating it to your provider. Natural-looking lips (like any facial feature) are about proportion, so bringing in a picture of Angelina Jolie’s plush pout isn’t particularly helpful. Instead, telling your injector exactly what you like about your lips and exactly what you don’t is the best way for them to get an understanding of what you are looking for. They will be able to make recommendations and select the proper filler for you from there.
3. The Injections Don’t Hurt
The lips are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, which means the thought of putting needles into them isn’t particularly pleasant. But here’s the thing about lip filler injections – they don’t hurt (and you don’t just have to take my word for it). Dr. Shafer put numbing cream on my lips and left it on as he prepared the filler and injected Botox® into my forehead, glabellar lines, and crow’s feet (I got both injectable treatments done at the same appointment). After about 10 minutes, he wiped off the residue and began injecting my lips. It was a total of four pricks, and, between the numbing cream and the lidocaine in the filler, I didn’t feel anything more than a poke.
Before sending me on my way, Dr. Shafer told me to massage or rub my lips together more than normal in the coming hours and days to “ensure a smooth result.” While the anesthetics were all still active, this was no problem. As they wore off, however, this became a bit more challenging. The injections themselves were painless, but I did experience some mild discomfort as the day went on. I saw Dr. Shafer in the morning, and, by late afternoon, my lips were tender to the touch – and rub. The act of pressing them together induced a stingy, bruise-like sensation (though I didn’t have any visible bruising). By the next morning, this tenderness had greatly subsided; by the end of the day, it had all but disappeared. At that point, I went back to rubbing them together again as per his instructions.
Aside from the massaging, Dr. Shafer suggests avoiding straws for several days after injections. Kissing is okay after 24 hours, he says, and there is no restriction on exercise. Another thing to keep in mind: Salty food may make swelling last longer, which leads me to…
4. The Swelling Is Real, But Short Lived
The discomfort I experienced in the hours proceeding the filler injections was accompanied by swelling. “After any injection, patients may have swelling and possible bruising,” Dr. Shafer says. “Swelling can last 24 to 48 hours and usually is quite subtle.” As my lips got more tender, they also got firmer and a little bigger. The swelling seemed to peak around 7 p.m. (about eight hours after my appointment). When I woke up the following morning, the swelling had mostly dissipated and it continued to over the course of the next day or two.
Dr. Shafer gave me an ice pack immediately after he finished injecting me, and I used it on both the areas he treated with Botox® and my lips. I probably did about 10 minutes of icing in the office and then another 10 to 15 minutes when I got home an hour later. I drank an iced beverage – without a straw! – most of the afternoon, and the cold felt good against my lips. When I noticed the discomfort and swelling start to set in around 5 p.m., I reached for the ice pack again and alternated 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for about an hour. I don’t know if it did anything to reduce the swelling, but it definitely helped ease the sting.
I didn’t experience any bruising, and Dr. Shafer says it’s rare. “If it does [occur], then it may take five to seven days to resolve,” he shares. “We offer complimentary laser treatments for any patient with a bruise to help it resolve faster.”
5. You’ll Need Less Lip Balm
I’ve heard anecdotes about HA fillers hydrating the lips, but this one still surprised me. While my lips don’t get particularly chapped, I am the type of person who needs to have something slathered on them at all times for risk of having them feel dry (I can’t handle that sensation). I have a stable of balms, oils, and masks I rotate between throughout the day and overnight, and, while I still reach for them, I've realized that it’s now more out of habit than necessity.
Since I got my lips filled, they rarely, if ever, look or feel dry. Because of the fact that it’s largely comprised of hyaluronic acid (a humectant that draws moisture into the skin and can hold 1,000-times its weight in water), Juvéderm® Volbella XC is known as a ‘hydrating’ filler. In my experience, that has meant that my Volbella-infused lips have a perpetually smooth appearance and a perpetually moisturized feel. I still love lip balm and apply it often, but I’ve been opting for peptide- and HA-based formulas – like the PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Lip Booster and Theraderm Anti-Aging Lip Complex – that have a subtle plumping quality to further enhance my results.
6. Nobody Has to Notice
Depending on your aesthetic goals, the idea that no one really noticed you got lip filler might not be appealing. For me (much like when I got nasolabial fold filler late last year), it’s the best part. My lips are subtly enhanced in a way that I relish every time I look in the mirror or smile in a photo, but not in a way that has had any of the people I see most often asking me what I had done. My mom noticed the difference; most of my coworkers did not.
I obviously have Dr. Shafer to thank for (1) really listening to my concerns and (2) choosing the right filler and injection technique for me. “As Volbella is a soft, smoothing hyaluronic acid filler with a less plumping effect, it is good for first-time users who are looking for subtle effects,” he shares. “I tend to be conservative, as we can always add more later.” Down the line, I could also consider trying a different combination of products. “Once a patient sees the potential of lip fillers, the hybrid technique is usually best for subsequent treatments,” he explains. “It's good to start out subtle and then get more aggressive with treatments depending on the patient's goals.”
Two months after treatment, I am thrilled with the results. As for how long I can expect to enjoy them, every patient is different because every body metabolizes filler differently. With that said, Dr. Shafer offers a simple way to think about scheduling touch ups. “For most patients, we set them on a schedule of Botox® every four months and fillers every other Botox® appointment, so every eight months,” he shares.
This cadence is ideal for those who don’t want a lapse in their look. “There is a difference between how long the filler is present versus how long the clinical effect is apparent,” Dr. Shafer explains. “That is why you may hear a filler lasts 12 to 18 months, but, in reality, the next treatment would be sooner than that.” Think about it like topping off your gas tank. “Similar to when you fill your gas tank, you don't usually wait for it to go to empty before filling the tank back up,” he says.
If you had told me a few years ago that I would be writing an article about my experience getting lip filler, I wouldn't have believed you. But the more I’ve learned about the treatment, the more I realized that it could be minimally invasive in more ways than one. Sure, the results are immediate with little pain and no downtime. Even better, however, is the fact that the benefits can be truly customized to your anatomy and aesthetic goals. It all comes down to being clear about what you want and visiting a highly skilled injector.
If you are on the fence and curious about how you would look with lip filler, The AEDITOR — the patented 3D Aesthetic Simulator available exclusively in the AEDIT iOS app — allows you to ‘try on’ the procedure and instantly visualize medically accurate results. Download the app here, and, once you give it a try, consult with a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon to determine if lip filler is the right treatment option for you.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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