Hyaluronic acid lip filler being injected into the lips.
Hyaluronic acid lip filler being injected into the lips.

Lip Filler and Augmentation

The lips are one of the most popular places for filler to be injected. Lip filler works by increasing the volume of the lips due to filling the lips with material. Most often this material is hyaluronic acid, a natural substance already found in our skin and other places in our bodies. We assume that lip filler is used to increase the fullness of the lips but it's also used to correct unevenness, smooth out wrinkles or lift the corners of the mouth from drooping.

Hyaluronic acid isn't the only substance that can be used as a filler, but it's the most popular since it gives a natural appearance and is reversible if necessary. It works by attracting water molecules into the area and therefore creates plumpness.

Prior to hyaluronic acid fillers becoming ubiquitous, collagen was a popular lip filler material. It has a higher likelihood of causing side effects and the effects don't last as long. Fat injections and implants have been used historically to plump the lips but have fallen out of favor for the same reasons.

Reasons to Get Lip Filler

There are many reasons people might consider lip filler. It can address a range of concerns depending on where it's injected. Patients looking for a sharper Cupid's bow might receive an injection along the lip rim, and those seeking an overall plumper lip might get poked in multiple different spots in both the upper and lower lip. In addition to lip enhancement some patients may be trying to restore a previous lip size (lips get smaller and thinner as we age), correct the shape of their lips or smooth out fine lines seen when smiling or laughing. And filler has even been used to treat medical conditions such as perleche, an irritation of the folds at the corners of the lips caused by volume loss, pooling saliva and microorganism overgrowth.

Male patients sometimes seek lip filler to correct asymmetry.
Lip filler is a popular first-time cosmetic treatment and is safe in all skin types.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lip Filler

One major advantage of lip filler is that it's nonsurgical - unlike many other procedures of the face. This makes it an easy procedure for the patient just beginning their cosmetic journey and the veteran alike. Beauty doesn't always come that easily! Further, some filler materials such as calcium hydroxyapatite and poly-L-lactic acid stimulate the body to produce it's own collagen with lasting effects. Most lip filler can be reversed with an enzyme called hyaluronidase in case you're not happy with the results. A more natural look is possible by fine-tuning the amount of filler placed - which isn't an option with surgery.

On the flipside, one limitation of lip filler is that it's not permanent. If you like the way your lips look afterwards you'll likely need a touch up after about a year. That can become expensive considering the procedure can cost up to $1000. Prices vary based upon geographic location, the cost of the filler itself and how much experience  the doctor has - but a low price might be a red flag. If you're looking for something more affordable, consider a lip flip

Side effects are more common with inexperienced injectors and can include asymmetry, severe bruising, swelling and infection. Filler migration can occur over time where filler moves to an unintended place, and sometimes visible lumps appear. A severe but rare complication is vascular compromise when a blood vessel becomes blocked off and the skin dies. 

One limitation of lip filler is that it's not permanent. If you like the way your lips look afterwards you'll likely need a touch up after about a year.

Discomfort from the procedure is minimal and topical anesthesia is usually not necessary. Depending on the patient's concerns the number of needle pokes can range from a few to several. 

Tips and Aftercare

Here are our best tips for getting lip filler. Make sure to ask your doctor before straying from any instructions they've given you.

  • Ask your doctor which pain medicines are acceptable; some recommend Tylenol to reduce the risk of bleeding from NSAIDs but others believe ibuprofen and aspirin could reduce swelling. It might depend on how much bruising your doctor expects. 
  • Skip the lip balm and lipstick for 24 hours. Expect your lips to swell significantly for the first 48 hours. Try using Aquaphor or Vaseline if you need moisturization and make sure to keep up with water intake to prevent chapped lips. Reduce your intake of salty foods, too.  
  • Arnica, vitamin K and aloe vera can help reduce bruising when applied topically or taken by mouth - remember a small percentage of patients might be allergic to topical preparations. 
  • Icing your lips after the filler can also reduce swelling and bruising, but make sure not to push so hard that you cause your filler to move around. Avoid massaging the lips, touching them too much with your fingers, kissing and drinking with a straw. Be careful not to stretch the lips too much when you're brushing your teeth. 
  • Don't sleep on your face after the injections for the same reason. Try to sleep with an extra pillow or two. 
  • Lip filler is a good excuse from about 48 hours of exercising. The increased heart rate and blood pressure can worsen bruising and swelling. Ask your doctor when you can resume exercise where the head goes below the level of the waist. 
  • Smoking and alcohol aren't good ideas when recovering. 
  • If you're trying to have your lips filled for an event we recommend giving yourself at least 2 weeks to recover, anticipating that things might take a few weeks to settle down. 

Final Thoughts

Remember that lip fillers aren't permanent, so you might need a touchup in 12-18 months. Some people report that those with higher metabolism or who exercise feverishly may burn through filler quicker. Though dermal fillers have been approved by the FDA for many facial uses they haven't approved lip fillers for use while pregnant because of a paucity of studies on the topic. Make sure to inform your doctor if you're expecting. Know the credentials of your doctor and try to find a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon to ensure they have the right training. Fillers have risks and it's your doctor's job to review those with you. Make sure to pay attention to the type of filler being used and the anatomy of nerves and blood vessels which could be affected. Fillers that are sold directly to the public may be fake, contaminated or not approved for use in the US. We don't recommend injecting yourself with dermal fillers or using "needle-free injection pens". 

Skinscoop.com is the digital authority on everything skin. The public and insiders alike follow daily as SkinScoop covers the latest trends and developments in skin health and beauty.