If you’ve ever wished for the “perfect pout”, you might have considered having dermal fillers injected into your lips.
The most common type of dermal filler is made up of a substance that naturally occurs in the body, and its effects can last up to nine months.
When injected by a qualified person in a clinical environment, it’s a relatively safe procedure, says Gazi Hussain, an associate professor and president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons.
But you might have questions like “Can it be reversed?” and “Is it painful?” We answer those here so you can be informed before taking the plunge.
Why do people get lip fillers?
The main recipients of lip fillers are women, either looking to plump up their genetically thin lips or combat the effects of aging.
“Part of the aging process is there is a generalised loss of volume of tissues in our faces, and certainly our lips lose volume over time as well,” Dr Hussain says.
He says the popularity of lip fillers has been driven by celebrities and social media.
Dr Sharron Phillipson, board member with the Australasian College of Aesthetic Medicine, has noticed the same trend in her work.
“It’s a popular procedure with younger women from the Kardashian era, they like that volume.”
What are lip fillers made of and how do they work?
The most common dermal fillers are made of hyaluronic acid (HA), a natural occurring substance found in the body, explains Dr Phillipson.
“When you inject it, it dissipates straight away, so the manufacturers cross-link the acid particles, so the hyaluronic acid will stay for longer,” she says.
But over time the body will still break down the filler, says Dr Hussain.
“HA is in all of our bodies and it’s like the gel that binds cells together, to put it simply.
“In the same way our bodies break down natural occurring HA, it breaks down the stuff we are injecting.”
He says the more cross-linking of the particles, the stiffer and harder the filler becomes. The filler used in the lips doesn’t have the same amount of cross-linking as filler that would be used on the cheeks, for example.
There are permanent fillers available, but both of our experts warn against them.
“In order to be permanent they will be synthetic, a man-made product, and the problem with that is there are always risks like infection, rejection, and if you get a problem with it, it needs to be cut out potentially,” Dr Hussain says.
You may have thought collagen was used in lip injections, but Dr Phillipson says it’s less common as the newer options are safer.
How long do lip fillers last?
Lip fillers will last six to nine months, depending on where they are injected and how your body processes the substance.
Where should I get lip fillers done?
In Australia, dermal fillers can be administered by qualified medical practitioners including registered nurses and doctors.
Filler is classed as a Schedule 4 cosmetic injectable, and must always be prescribed by a doctor after a consultation with them in person or via video link.
“What that should mean is that the person having the filler should at some stage be seen by a doctor but the injection can be performed by nurses,” Dr Hussain says.
He says the main thing to look for is the environment you are having the procedure in.
“You’d want to be questioning the person’s qualifications and level of training and also who is overseeing the procedure, who is the doctor who is prescribing the medication.”
Dr Phillipson says the environment should be sterile and have emergency equipment on site.
“That’s not always happening [for example] in laser clinics. I would go to an accredited dermal practitioner.”
Are lip fillers painful?
Both our experts use local anaesthetic to block nerves and numb the lips before injecting with filler.
“That can be a little painful too,” Dr Hussain says.
What are the risks?
Most side effects of lip injections are temporary, like bruising and swelling.
Dr Hussain says dermal fillers injected into the lips are “largely relatively safe”, and that there are greater risks with fillers elsewhere in the face.
“Fillers around the eyes have been associated with risks [of] blindness, or if they’re injected into a blood vessel, that can be potentially dangerous.”
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How much do lip fillers cost?
Prices vary greatly depending on how much you are having and who is performing the procedure.
At one accredited practice we spoke to, they charge $600 for 1 millilitre of the product — a standard amount requested by patients.
Can lip fillers be removed or reversed?
If you’re unhappy with the results, the common HA fillers can be reversed by a product called hyaluronidase, which dissolves the HA.
“That’s the advantage of the hyaluronic acid [as opposed to permanent fillers]. If you don’t like it, we can reverse it,” says Dr Phillipson.
You may experience bruising and swelling immediately after the procedure, so Dr Phillipson recommends waiting a few days before making a call on how satisfied you are with the appearance and feel of your lips.
Dr Hussain agrees you can dissolve the HA, but says if you can live with the result, he recommends letting the product dissolve naturally.
“Dissolving the HA can be a little hit and miss in terms of who is doing it and where it’s being done. It can also potentially affect the other normal tissue,” he says.
This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.