Lip fillers: Everything you need to know

Lip fillers; they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but ‘Lip Filler’ is one of the most Googled beauty search terms in the UK so I think it’s a safe bet that a lot of you are at the very least a little curious.

Lip fillers have a bit of a bad rep but that’s mostly down to a handful of celebrities that have taken their lip size beyond what anyone could possibly consider ‘natural’. In 2002 ‘Men Behaving Badly’ star Lesley Ash suffered an incident that left her barely recognisable and a reluctant poster girl for lip fillers gone bad. Even now, 14-years on, her lips are still affected. But, to put this into perspective; Ash’s lips were injected with liquid silicone by the mother of a friend, a Venezuelan plastic surgeon. Thankfully, silicone – or permanent – lip fillers are a thing of the past in the UK.

Today’s sophisticated fillers are made of Hyaluronic Acid (or HA), which is a substance that’s found naturally in the body. It’s a pretty useful beauty ingredient because it’s able to hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water and this is the reason why, if you check the ingredients list on the back of your skincare products, you’ll find it up front and centre. In a cream it can only do so much because it can’t penetrate the outer layers of your skin to reach a depth where it can have an instant and noticeable impact. Some brands are using low molecular weight HA, to try and force it deeper into the skin, but even that can only do so much. That’s where the needle comes in.

Because HA is something that our body produces – albeit it in lesser quantities as we age – it’s happily accepted and once injected into the skin it’s easily broken down over a period of months. It’s far from permanent; which in itself is reassuring. And it's not only used in the lips it can plump out wrinkles, restore volume to cheeks and eradicate those vertical lines at the side of your mouth. So if you're thinking about facial fillers, here's what you need to know. 

The risks with HA over, say, silicone injections are incomparable but, if something were to go wrong, (which is an unlikely occurrence if you’re being treated by a qualified, and reputable professional) there’s an antidote. Your aesthetician will use another injection that effectively dissolves it and reverse the mistake.

Megan Fox lip fillers before and after

Everyone has their own opinion on aesthetic treatments; what’s okay, what’s not, what justifies a treatment, what doesn’t. Sadly people are quick to criticise and label women who do indulge in a little ‘work’. Worse still, this judgement is usually dished out by other women. Kylie Jenner – a member of arguably the most scrutinised family in the world – was so terrified of the inevitable judgy comments that she lied for months about her lip fillers though it was clear as day that she’d had a little, shall we say, enhancement. When she finally came clean on ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ she said, ‘I’m just not ready to talk to reporters about my lips yet, because everyone always picks us apart. People are so quick to judge me on everything.’ The fact that she’s only 17 is a whole other story.

But, lets be clear, choosing to have a filler here-and-there doesn’t mean you can’t be feminist, it doesn’t mean that you’re overly vein and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any underlying emotional issues.

Right, now that’s out of the way, in the spirit of investigative journalism I booked myself in to see Dr Kuldeep Minocha at Absolute Aesthetic’s in London. At 32 I have noticed my top lip thinning-out a little – nothing dramatic – but enough for me to notice, and enough to drive me crazy when I’m putting on my lipstick.

Dr Minocha is a qualified aesthetic doctor and his work leans on the side of subtle – which suited me just fine – an over-inflated pout is not my thing, and thankfully it isn’t his either. Dr Minocha was kind enough to allow us into his clinic with a camera so you can see the treatment for yourself. We went through a thorough consultation where I did my best to explain my issue with my top lip. While I chatted away, Dr Minocha was able to observe how the shape of my lips changed when I was animated.

He explained that the ‘ideal’ ratio for lips is one-third/two-thirds with the bottom lip being the fullest. He explained that he really wouldn’t do much to my lips – he thought they were pretty okay anyway – but agreed that the top lip could benefit from a little filling out.

Dr Minocha talked to me about the product he would be using – in this case Emervel lips which has the right viscosity for lips and as the formula is super smooth it should give a nice, softly plump, finish. He donned his gloves, set up a sterile area, and coated my upper lip with a numbing cream.

After around 5-minutes my top lip was numb enough to get going. He used a cannula (which is like a fine hollow tube) and injected into the lip from just outside its edge - which would minimise bruising - and as he pulled the cannula out he slowly pushed the filler into my lips. I consider myself to have a pretty high pain threshold but I was anticipating this to hurt, a lot. The lips are very vascular and they bruise easily. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt. There was a sharp pinch as the needle broke the skin and that’s it. The feel of the product pushing its way under my skin felt more weird than uncomfortable. It’s not exactly a pleasurable experience but nowhere near the horror I was expecting.

Kylie Jenner lip fillers before and after

With the filler in place Dr Minocha firmly massaged my lip so that it was evenly distributed, this, he told me, would help prevent any lumps from forming, which was essential because I didn't want to be in the category of lip fillers gone wrong. One of the main reasons some women may experience bumps in their skin – or granulomas – is because the aesthetician has failed to properly massage it through the lip.

Having finished my top lip, Dr Minocha’s expert eye detected that my bottom lip needed a tiny amount to balance everything out. I decided to forego the numbing cream on the bottom lip (partly to compare it to the minimal pain with the numbing agent, and partly because I’m impatient and couldn’t be bothered to wait for the lip to go numb) and went straight for it. Even without the numbing cream it didn’t hurt. This no doubt has a lot to do with Dr Minocha’s method of injecting into the lip from outside its boarder rather than into the lip directly, but still, you would expect some kind of pain. But no, nothing – my eyes didn’t even water. Not that I was complaining.

Another massage on my bottom lip followed and I was done. My lips were very red, they were fuller – obviously – but I wouldn’t say they were very swollen. Even later that evening, when I expected them to expand in some kind of cartoon-like fashion – they behaved rather well. I was prepared with pain killers and ice packs but, thankfully, I didn’t need them.

By the next morning, any minor swelling that was there the day before was completely gone – I just had a slightly fuller, plumper mouth. Joy!

Smooshing my lips together, everything felt completely normal, albeit for two tiny little lumps marking the areas where the cannula went in. After a couple of days even they were gone too.

On a personal note, I’m overjoyed with the treatment. It’s subtle and completely believable. I developed a tiny bruise that lasted four days and that was the only thing anyone noticed, if you have dark skin, chances are you won’t even bruise. My own family didn’t even guess what I had done – instead colleagues and friends told me I looked ‘refreshed’, ‘healthy’ and ‘glowy’ and a couple of people told me that they liked the way I had done my make-up, though I hadn’t changed it at all. It’s kind of amazing how one tiny ‘tweak’ had such an impact.

If you’re considering investing in lip fillers yourself but you still have a few questions we hope we’ve answered them here…

What is it?
Modern lip fillers are temporary – quite honestly, you would have to be mad to put anything permanent in your face. Lip Fillers are Hyaluronic Acid (or HA) which is a substance produced naturally in our bodies. Youthful skin is full of the stuff, which is why it’s plump and lovely. As we age we produce less hyaluronic acid and as a result our skin can become slacker and our lips thinner. HA lip fillers restore that lost volume and even-out the shape of the lips.

Although HA is found naturally in the body, the kind you have injected is not ‘natural’ it’s produced in a lab, under the most sterile conditions, and it has been formulated to be the right viscosity. Some products are thicker and designed to restore volume to the cheeks for example, but the HA that’s designed for lips is soft. Because it’s made in a lab, HA filler doesn’t contain any animal ingredients.

Is it safe?
Lip fillers are an aesthetic treatment so there is always a chance that something could go wrong which is why it’s incredibly important to only allow a qualified, reputable professional to do it. Don’t ever be tempted to have your lip fillers at a spa or a beauty salon. A beautician hasn’t had the training that a cosmetic doctor has and they are most definitively not able to prescribe medication or treatment if something were to go wrong.

UK legislation for injectibles is practically non-existent – mores the pitty – and it’s pretty embarrassing compared to the strict regulation that’s enforced throughout the most of Europe. But this is your face we’re talking about; for heavens sake only see a professional.

Research your doctor, ask to see the before and after shots for their patients. When researching Dr Minocha I was able to watch a video of him performing the treatment on someone and I was able to see the results. That was very reassuring.

If you’re unhappy with the results, your doctor is able to dissolve the HA instantly with another injection. Again, this is something a beautician can't do. If you’re tempted by an offer at a salon, just don’t risk it. It’s shocking that botox and fillers are even available in salons.

Make sure you see the product you’re being injected with. During my treatment I saw Dr Minocha take the product from the box – everything was transparent – I could see exactly what was going on and what he was using. You should be sure too.

If you want to see a full list of possible complications – and if you’re really considering having lip fillers you should want to – check out The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons website.

Is it painful? 
You might not believe me but treatment was so not painful. I’ve heard so many horror stories where people have had to stop proceedings before the treatment can even be completely because the process was too painful. That couldn’t be further from my experience and I can only put it down to the person administering the treatment. Of course the discomfort level will mostly depend on your doctor’s technique but I don’t think it was painful at all. To put it into perspective; I think having my eyebrows threaded is more painful. Seriously.

The numbing cream is pretty great (don’t lick it, I did and I couldn’t feel my tongue for a couple of hours), and there’s even a dose of the painkiller lidocaine mixed in with the HA in the syringe which gets to work as soon as it’s in your skin.

Where should I get it done? 
If you know someone who has had their lips done ask them about their doctor, would they recommend them? Dr Minocha told me that most of his patients come to him via someone else’s recommendation. If that’s not an option get on Google; find reputable clinics in your area, read their testimonials, check out their before and after pictures. Copy and paste the doctor’s name into Google and see what other people think of their work. If your hair dresser or facialist offers you a little filler, politely tell them ‘hell no’.

Also check out The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) website. There you’ll be able to find a list of registered practitioners in your area.

Not sure whether to take the lip filler plunge? How about a customised red lipstick instead?

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