Lip fillers are having a bit of a moment – but how much do you really know about them, and what should you expect from the results?
Lip fillers; they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but they are one of the most Googled beauty search terms in the UK. A safe bet that a lot of you are at the very least a little curious.
Yes, lip fillers have a bit of a bad rep, but that’s mostly down to a handful of celebrity plastic surgery incidents. 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, more than 15 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, permanent silicone lip fillers are a thing of the past in the UK.
Everyone has their own opinion on aesthetic treatments. What’s OK, 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.
Case in point – Kylie Jenner was so terrified of the inevitable judgey comments that she lied for months about her lip fillers. When she revealed she uses lip fillers 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 reality TV star has since removed them.
But, lets be clear, choosing to have a filler here-and-there doesn’t mean you can’t be a feminist, nor does it mean that you’re overly vain. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any underlying emotional issues.
What are lip fillers?
Today’s sophisticated fillers are made of Hyaluronic Acid (or HA), 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. This is the reason why you’ll find it up front and centre on the back of your skincare products. 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 there’s an antidote. Your aesthetician will use another injection that effectively dissolves it and reverse the mistake. Handy.
Are lip fillers safe?
Lip fillers are an aesthetic treatment so there's always a chance that something could go wrong. This 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 injectables is practically non-existent. In fact, it’s pretty embarrassing compared to the strict regulation that’s enforced throughout the most of Europe.
Research with your doctor and ask to see the before and after shots for their patients. Some doctors will even show a video of them performing the treatment on someone so you can see the results. Very reassuring. What's more, 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.
Make sure you see the product you’re being injected with too. During your treatment the product should be taken from the box. Everything should be transparent. You should be able to see exactly what is going on and what is being used.
If you want to see a full list of possible complications, check out The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons' website.
Are lip fillers painful?
You might not believe it, but treatment is not painful. There are so many horror stories where people have had to stop proceedings before the treatment can even be completed because the process was too painful. But if the person administering the treatment is good, you won't be in pain.
Of course, the discomfort level will mostly depend on your doctor’s technique. To put it into perspective; if your practitioner is good, it shouldn't be any more uncomfortable than getting your eyebrows threaded. Seriously.
'A local anaesthetic is provided, so speak to your physician before this to see where and how they are going to inject it,' advises Dr Loong. 'But don’t book your appointment a week before or the week of your period, as your pain sensitivity is heightened during this time.'
Where should I get lip fillers done?
If you know someone who has had their lips done ask them about their doctor. Would they recommend them? If that’s not an option get onto 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 decline.
'Having an understanding of human anatomy is an absolute must, as physicians are able to identify any complications or issues that may arise during the appointment,' says Dr Loong. 'Particular products – like hyaluronidase, which can only be dispensed by a physician – can be used in these situations to dissolve the filler should an allergic reaction, ischaemic event or issue occur, but only a physician can legally have these products available.'
You can find a list of registered practitioners in your area on The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) website.
What happens during a consultation for lip fillers?
“Make sure you are offered a consultation prior to your appointment before allowing anyone to go near your lips,' says Dr Loong. 'The clinic itself should be extremely clean, preventing chances of infection. But also look at the practitioner's lips and see if they look like something you would be happy with, as this is a great sign.'
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 OK anyway – but agreed that the top lip could benefit from a little filling out.
Is numbing cream used when you get lip fillers?
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.
What do lip fillers feel like?
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.
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 fall into 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.
How do they look and feel the next day?
'You will see results straight away, followed by swelling, which is completely normal. This can last from anywhere between 12 and 48 hours, although it's not unusual for this to continue for up to three days. During this time, an ice pack should be applied to the area to ease swelling.”
But 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.
Lip fillers before and after
If you’re considering investing in lip fillers but you still had a few questions, we hope we’ve answered them here…
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Katie Thomas is the Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire UK. With over 10 years of experience on women's luxury lifestyle titles, she covers everything from the best beauty looks from the red carpet and stand out trends from the catwalk, to colonic irrigation and to the best mascaras on the market. She started her career on fashion desks across the industry - from The Telegraph to Brides - but found her calling in the Tatler beauty department. From there she moved to Instyle, before joining the Marie Claire digital team in 2018. She’s made it her own personal mission to find the best concealer in the world to cover her tenacious dark circles. She’s obsessed with skincare that makes her skin bouncy and glowy, low-maintenance hair that doesn’t require brushing and a cracking good manicure. Oh and she wears more jewellery than the Queen.
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