What causes thin lips?
The size of your lips is primarily determined by genetics, but environmental factors can also play a role. As you age, your lips can naturally become thinner, with wrinkles forming over time.
Smoking has also been linked to thinner lips, studies show it decreases collagen and causes fine lines from repeated puckering. Sun exposure similarly harms the lips, using lip balm with SPF protection can prevent thinning.
What procedures can give bigger lips?
For first-time lip augmentation, start with temporary options such as lip injections. This allows you to test the look before committing to a permanent solution. A saline (salt water) injection can even be used as a trial, which dissolves within a few hours.
If you're happy with the results, consider speaking to a plastic surgeon about more permanent options such as fat transfer, lip implants, or a lip lift. The best procedure for you will depend on your individual anatomy and desired outcome.
Botox Lip Flip
A Botox lip flip is a filler-free alternative for those seeking plumper lips. A neuromodulator is injected into the top lip muscle, which research has shown can give the top lip more fullness. The injection is placed just above the lip line, relaxing the muscle and allowing the lip to slightly rotate upward, giving a more defined Cupid's bow and a slightly fuller top lip. A lip flip does not add volume like fillers, it only creates an illusion. The effects of a lip flip typically last for 4 months.
Injectable fillers are a popular and convenient way to achieve plumper lips. The procedure is performed in a clinic and usually involves local or topical anesthesia to numb the lips. Your provider will then use a tiny needle to inject the filler into the specified areas along the lip line and then massage it for the best results. Avoid injecting too much into the lips to prevent an unnatural bulging effect. The procedure should not be painful with anesthesia, although you may feel a small prick. Many dissolvable fillers also contain lidocaine for added pain relief.
Your injector will usually begin with one syringe of lip filler for both the top and bottom lip, with a touch-up required 3 to 4 days later. In the first 48 hours, the effects of dissolvable fillers can be magnified as they pull water from your cells causing even larger lips. Mild swelling should last a few days, after that, you will see the final shape and size of your lips, and can decide if you want additional filler.
Common side effects include redness, swelling, and bleeding at the injection area, which lasts 1 to 2 days. You can alleviate the swelling by applying an ice pack to your lips. If you're not satisfied with the results or experience complications, dissolvable fillers can be reversed with an enzyme injection.
A lip lift involves removing a narrow section of skin beneath the nose to enhance the appearance of the upper lip, creating a plumper, more symmetrical, and well-defined look. This procedure shortens the philtrum - the area between the nose and upper lip, which lengthens as we age. The procedure lasts about an hour and is performed under local anesthesia, it also leaves a minor scar that will fade within a few months. The results from a lip lift are permanent and can seem more natural compared to lip filler, particularly in older patients.
Fat transfer is a plastic surgery procedure that can enlarge the lips permanently while keeping a natural look. Unfortunately, fat transfer has less predictable results as the amount of fat that survives cannot be determined in advance. Also, any remaining fat cannot be saved for future touch-ups.
The procedure begins with liposuction to extract fat from the stomach or thighs. Only about 5cc, equivalent to a teaspoon, is required. The extracted fat is then purified and placed in a syringe ready for injection.
For a fat transfer procedure, local anesthesia or a nerve agent, similar to what dentists use, will be applied to numb your lips. Your doctor will then inject the purified fat into your lips, using a similar approach to other filler injections. Altogether, the procedure should take around an hour to complete.
Recovery from a fat transfer means substantial bruising and swelling for the first 3 to 7 days, most patients take a week off work during this time. These side effects will usually subside by the second week.
Keep in mind that the longevity of a lip fat transfer may be shorter than other types of fat transfers. Usually, 30-60% of the transferred fat becomes permanent, however, lip transfers tend to have slightly less due to the constant motion.
Implants can offer a permanent (but reversible) solution for plumper lips. This minimally invasive procedure is customisable to suit your desired shape and size. Lip implants are also more cost-effective compared to a fat transfer.
Before surgery, you will receive local anesthesia along with an oral sedative or pain medication. Your surgeon will then make small incisions at the corners of your lips and use a surgical tool to create cylindrical holes. The implants will be passed through these cylinders with excess material trimmed before the incisions are closed. The procedure should not cause any discomfort as you will be adequately numb.
After getting lip implants, you may experience swelling, bruising, or misshapen lips for up to a week. If you do not want to explain the change, consider taking some time off work.
Melon Tip: The use of silicone injections for the lips is not approved by the TGA or the American Regulator (FDA) and is deemed dangerous. In the past, doctors used to administer microdoses of silicone into the lips. But we now know that silicon can migrate and form lumps and bumps in the wrong areas. Removing migrated silicone can be very difficult, if not impossible. In 2017, the FDA issued a warning against the use of injectable silicone for cosmetic purposes.
Studies & Sources
Jorgensen, LN, Kallehave, F, Christensen, E, Siana, JE & Gottrup, F 1998, ‘Less collagen production in smokers’, Surgery, vol. 123, no. 4, pp. 450–455, viewed 7 February 2023, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9551072/>.
Li, Y, Chong, Y, Yu, N, Dong, R & Long, X 2020, ‘The use of botulinum toxin A in upper lip augmentation’, Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 71–74, viewed 7 February 2023, <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocd.13731>.