I Got Lip Fillers (And Went Back for More)
About a year and a half ago, I decided to bravely but cautiously enter the world of lip augmentation to pump up my top lip slightly via lip filler injections. I was pretty chicken to try it, to be honest. In my line of work (beauty writing), you tend to know a lot of people who go for the syringe with gusto and end up looking gorgeous but not exactly natural.
There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to what you’re looking for in injections. You can go the keyhole lip filler route, or you can go for full-on pillow lips. I, on the other hand, was shooting for just a hint of fullness and to actually have an upper lip when I smiled. And since I had been invited in for a free lip treatment (a perk of my job) that featured the ultra-subtle filler Juvéderm Volbella, I figured why not try it? So I’m here to give you a full review of what it’s like.
But first, since I know I needed guidance before I took the plunge, I asked the two doctors who have injected me over these past 18 months—board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Moh's surgeon Dendy Engelman, and plastic surgeon and international master training for Allergan on Botox and Juvéderm David Shafer (both of the Shafer Clinic in NYC)—to help with a full primer on lip filler, including the different types (spoiler: you’re going to hear the word hyaluronic acid a lot).
Then I’ll tell you what to expect at your appointment, the cost, and even if I’d do it again. And I’ll show you my before and after pictures, too, because come on, that’s probably what you’re really here for.
What Are the Best Lip Fillers?
There are a handful of fillers that doctors choose from for the lips from two companies. There’s the Restylane group, which includes Restylane, Restylane Silk, and the more natural-looking Restylane Kysse. Then there’s the Juvéderm suite which includes (from thinnest to thickest) Juvéderm Volbella XC, Juvéderm Ultra XC, and Juvéderm Ultra Plus. These typically last between 6 and 12 months, with Restylane Kysse and Juvéderm Volbella on the longer-lasting end.
The key here is that they’re all hyaluronic acid–based. It’s the go-to when it comes to filler for a couple of reasons. First, says, Shafer, since it naturally occurs in the body itself, it has “almost zero chance of rejection or reaction by the body, versus products such as collagen which can have immune reactions.” Then there’s also the fact that hyaluronic acid also has the bonus of being dissolvable if you don’t like it. To reverse filler, your doctor will inject hyaluronidase enzymes into the area of the desired melting. Explains Shafer, “If the filler was freshly injected, the dissolving sometimes happens immediately, but results can take up to 24 to 8 hours to see.” Occasionally, a second treatment is required for complete melting.
But back to the fillers themselves. All of them (Restylane, Restylane Silk, Restylane Kysse, Juvéderm Volbella XC, Juvéderm Ultra XC, and Juvéderm Ultra Plus) can all be used to make lips fuller and more symmetrical, and address fine lines around the mouth. And potential side effects go for all of them. There could be mild bruising, swelling, lip asymmetry, infection (rarely), scarring, and even tissue loss.
As for what lip injections cost, that can vary by the practitioner, but you can expect to pay around $700 to $2000.
How Can You Ensure Good Results?
Injections that read as natural and give you a symmetrical pout require skill on the part of your doctor, which is why most experts will caution you from heading to a med spa and go instead to a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist. According to Shafer, “They have years of training, not only in specialized procedures but in sterile techniques, patient safety, and medical ethics.”
They also have been trained highly in aesthetics, which is crucial, says Engelman. When a patient comes into her office, she takes into account many things “including symmetry, proportions, if this patient has bone/fat support around the mouth, ratios, and desired outcomes. One thing we educate on all the time is proportions as it relates to the rest of your face and also ratios.” She says not everyone is the usual 1:1.6 ratio doctors typically go for (with the lower lip being slightly bigger).
How to Prep for a Lip Filler Appointment
Before I went, I was warned that I needed to lay off certain OTC painkillers. “We definitely want to minimize the probability of bruising, so we usually ask patients to avoid any blood thinners if they’re not medically necessary, and this includes fish oil,” explains Engelman. I also had to pop a Valtrex, since I get cold sores. Trauma caused by the needle can bring on the virus, so this was preventative.
What Is it Like to Get Lip Filler?
My first time was with Engleman, and it started with a consultation, where I went over what I was looking for and confessed to being a scaredy-cat. I didn’t want a full, “Oh, look—she got filler” situation, I just wanted to look like I had an upper lip at all when I smiled. She knew immediately I was a Volbella candidate, since it gives subtle, long-lasting results.
Then I sat with numbing cream on my mouth for several minutes, which was completely voluntary, as some folks opt to go without. Then filler was injected into my lips in several areas, mostly in my top lip and a couple of places on my bottom. From start to finish, this portion took maybe 10 minutes. It felt really quick but not rushed. And thanks to the numbing cream, I felt zero pain.
Then I sat with an ice pack on my lips for a few minutes with a paper towel on top to catch the blood drops from the needle pricks. Then I was on my way. And, yes, about a year later, I went back for more. (That time Shafer took my appointment.)
I didn’t bruise, but it can happen. “I tell patients there is a small, less than 5% chance of bruising and moderate amount of swelling expected during the first 24 hours,” Shafer says. You have options if that happens, however. He says, “If bruising does occur, we offer our patients complimentary VBeam Laser to help reduce the appearance of the bruising. “
Aftercare to Prevent Swelling and Complications
Immediately my lips were swollen and after the numbing cream wore off, they felt oddly inflated and looked a little crazy. But that’s totally normal—I had been warned and knew it would only last for a few days. I found my lips felt a little tender, and a little lumpy and bumpy in the beginning as well, but that went away over the next week as the swelling went down.
I took a little extra care the first day or so. I avoided lipstick or lipgloss on day one. Since needles cause openings in your skin, it’s best not to put anything extra on them. And I slept with my head elevated to help with swelling the first night, and avoided exercise for the following three days to prevent my body from metabolizing the filler faster than I’d like. But then I was free to live my life with new, improved lips.
Is Lip Filler Worth It?
Well, since you know I’ve been back for another appointment since my introduction to it, you can guess that I think filler is worth it. In fact, when I went back for my re-up with Shafer, I asked for it to be a touch more dramatic. But I think I’m ready to graduate to a thicker formula. Now that I’ve gotten used to the difference, it won’t feel like such a drastic change—plus, I’m so much less skittish now about filler in general.
As for how long it lasted, I apparently metabolize filler quickly because I didn’t make it anywhere near the 12 months of Volbella’s top end. (I would say I hit around the six-month mark. But that meant I got half a glorious year of being a proud owner of an upper lip.)
If you’ve read all this and you’re still on the fence or just want fuller lips without the fuss, I’ve got you. Below are some topical plumping options that might hold you over.
Lip Plumping Lipgloss Alternatives
Below, find five of the best topical lip plumpers out there. Take a look, and then check out these other 12 plumping must-haves.
If its super-high rating on Sephora doesn’t tip you off, this plumper is a cult-fave. It works thanks to a blend of mixed-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, niacin, and ceramides.
This plumper has gone viral on TikTok for a good reason: It gives you pillowy lips in a swipe thanks to a mix of atelocollagen, “marine filling spheres,” vitamin E, and avocado and jojoba oils.
A two-step system doubles as a lip treatment to address fine lines over time while adding fullness via hyaluronic acid.
Another formula based on hyaluronic acid, this one also calls on peptides to give your lips’ collagen levels an assist.
This formula is based on—you guessed it—hyaluronic acid, with a side of vitamin B3 to condition and smooth.