Eric Shiah, B.A. also contributed to this article.
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Dr. Samuel Lin is a double board-certified Plastic Surgeon and Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School who practices in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Lin is an active Board Member of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Bright Pink Foundations. Dr. Lin is active in both basic science and clinical research with a focus on face/neck/nose surgery (rhinoplasty), breast surgery (reduction, lift and reconstruction), and body contouring. He collaborates with engineers, scientists, and other plastic surgeons at other institutions within the New England area, nationally, and internationally. He is the editor of several medical textbooks including Aesthetic Atlas of the Head and Neck, Atlas of Body Contouring, and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Pearls of Wisdom and Pearls of Wisdom Second and Third Editions.
Lips come in all different shapes and sizes. You may have also noticed that as you age, your lips have changed in volume and shape. If you are bothered by the appearance of thin, lined, or asymmetrical lips, there are a wide range of cosmetic treatment options to address your concerns and help you feel more confident in your smile.
The key to a beautiful lip enhancement procedure is to maintain appropriate contour and balance with the rest of the face. The procedure can restore volume and refine the shape to thin or aging lips, improve the symmetry between upper and lower lips, and make lips look fuller and more youthful overall.
What are my treatment options?
Dermal Filler Injections
Lip filler injections are now performed commonly with hyaluronic acid, which is a naturally occurring substance found in our skin. When concentrated together to form a “filler,” it is soft, gel-like, and compressible, making it the ideal material. Injection of the filler can enhance lip shape and boost lip volume.
Lip injections are a very popular non-surgical treatment option and is most likely what you see on social media or virtual conferencing. Treatments take 15 to 30 minutes in an office setting, and results are immediate. You may experience some mild swelling, bruising, or redness to the injection areas, but the recovery period is very quick, usually less than two weeks. Lip fillers can last 4 to 8 months and must be repeated in order to maintain your results. As a temporary option, they are also a great way for patients to try out new lip appearances before considering more permanent options.
Some patients may be allergic to ingredients manufactured in the fillers, so it is important to first discuss your treatment options with a board-certified plastic surgeon.
Fat Transfer and Injections
Fat injections involve taking fat from another part of your body, requiring a liposuction procedure. The fat is usually harvested from the buttocks, stomach, or thighs using minimally invasive techniques with a thin hollow tube. Using local anesthesia, the fat is then injected into the lips to achieve the desired appearance. The whole procedure takes about 60 to 90 minutes to perform. It can be done in an office setting or hospital/surgical center, and you can go home the day of the procedure.
Once the final results are achieved, no repeat or booster treatments are needed. Compared to lip filler injections, the risk of allergic reactions is much lower.
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One of the more permanent treatment options is the use of lip implants, which are made from soft silicone rubber or biodegradable substances. It can be described as having a “gummy bear” consistency. Lip implants are a great option for those seeking to noticeably increase their lip volume.
For the procedure, tiny incisions are made in the corners of the mouth. Next, the implant will be inserted through the incision and placed into the desired location where it is further molded manually. Dissolving sutures are used to close the incisions. If done by an experienced board-certified plastic surgeon, the procedure takes about 30 minutes in an office setting with local anesthesia and can leave virtually undetectable scars. Following lip implant placement, mild soreness or swelling should improve over the next couple of days. You may resume normal activities immediately following the procedure, and most patients choose to return to work within a week.
Lip implants do not require replacement or repeated treatments typically. However, they can be removed or changed to a different size at a later time if desired.
Upper Lip Lift
A lip lift is a minor surgical procedure that is usually done to address the aging lip. With age, the upper lip thins, flattens and turns downwards (inverts). An upper lip lift is also suitable for those who would like more teeth to show when they smile.
During a lip lift (under local anesthesia), a small portion of skin right underneath the nose is removed. Then the lip is brought upwards and sutured into place. This creates a nice upward curl and slight eversion of the upper lip, which gives a more youthful appearance. The sutures absorb in about a week, and the scar fades and blends in with natural folds beneath the nose.
Although the procedure can give the illusion of a slightly larger lip, it is important to not confuse this with lip augmentation treatment options listed above that mainly seek to increase lip volume and size.
For your safety, it is important to discuss your goals with a board-certified plastic surgeon who can determine and perform the best procedure required to achieve your desired results.