Yes, You Can Get "Subtle" Lip Injections — Here's How I Did It

Courtesy of Lauren Caruso

If we’re being honest, I’d never really given too much thought to my lips. They were a perfectly fine, if not thin, canvas for Vaseline or lipstick when I chose to wear it, but most of the time, they were just there. But a few months back, a friend who was in town from Los Angeles told me she’d recently gotten hers done — meaning, she'd enhanced them with filler to plump them up — and I was none the wiser. Upon further inspection, I could see they were just a little rounder and fuller on the sides. It had me thinking: Were subtle lip injections really a possibility? Or would anyone who took half a syringe to the kisser inevitably end up looking like a Housewife someday?

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“There’s been a definite shift [in] what patients are looking for now compared to five years ago,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City (and also the derm who would later administer my lip injections). “Before, bigger was better, but now most patients are looking for little tweaks that no one will notice.”

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Lara Devgan, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City, agrees the trend has shifted over time, and says patients are now looking for a “subtle optimization” of their face, rather than a drastic, immediately noticeable change. “In fact, human beings are programmed to notice discrepancies as small as one millimeter, so something as subtle as a little volume can completely change the way facial beauty is received,” Devgan tells The Zoe Report. “It can even make surrounding features like a prominent nose or stronger jawline look more diminutive, which can add to overall femininity.” Well, sign me up.

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In my initial consultation with Zeichner, he said I must’ve used the word “subtle” no less than two dozen times (likely a conservative estimation). While my bottom lip was present, it was much fuller in the middle than on the sides, and my top lip was barely noticeable when I smiled. “Like a an upside-down triangle!” we joked. I knew I wanted a little more volume on the top and symmetry on the bottom — an enhancement that would mostly just be noticeable to me, but certainly not my mother, who gets personally offended any time I so much as dye my hair.

Because there’s more than one FDA-approved product for treatment on the lips, your doctor will likely decide which ones they’ll use during your consultation. Devgan refers to them as “paints in a palette” that can be mixed and matched, and Zeichner says the choice depends on the result you’re looking for. For my treatment, he says he chose to use a filler that's softer and subtly plumps the lip without changing its shape, as opposed to a filler that offers more structure.

I also brought a few photos of what I liked to the consultation — a practice most derms recommend, but with a catch. While pictures can help your doctor best understand the look you’re going for, it’s important to know that the photo will serve as inspiration — not a blueprint, Devgan says. It’s even more important to ask your doctor for before and after photos of their own work so you can be sure they can execute the enhancement you’re after. While costs vary by doctor and geographical location, most lip injections will run you from $400 to $1,000, with some doctors (like Devgan) charging closer to $1,300. “It’s also dependent on the injector’s experience level, which is important to consider,” she says.

Zeichner told me he’d be administering me about one syringe of product — or about a fifth of a teaspoon’s worth. “Less is more,” he says. “Typically, I wouldn’t use more than a half a syringe for the upper lip and a half a syringe for the lower lip,” he adds, noting that barring a large discrepancy in the volume of the upper and lower lip, filling both would help achieve a more natural look. Plus, you can always decide to get additional volume at your two-week followup.

After numbing me — which, if we’re being honest, felt like it was all for naught because the injections hurt a lot — Zeichner administered three injections in my bottom lip and four across my top lip. After each injection, he massaged my lips to be sure it was positioned where he wanted it. That also hurt.

The procedure was over within minutes, and he handed me an ice pack and told me all the self-care instructions: Don’t eat anything hot for three to four hours until the numbing cream wears off lest you want to burn your new lips, ice your lips on and off for the next 12 hours, and sleep with your head elevated. Also maybe cancel your plans for the night, because your lips are about to look huge. “In the first 24 to 48 hours, the lips may double or even quadruple in size compared to what they look like immediately after the injection.”

Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Caruso

Zeichner was right: When I got home, I looked in the mirror to find my lips looked absolutely absurd and cried, thinking my worst fears were realized. Luckily, the swelling went down within 24 hours, and completely subsided within 48. I even got on a plane two days later. And the real test? When I came home for my mom’s birthday, she had no clue. I even felt like my strong jaw started to look a little softer and more feminine.

Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Caruso

“The lips are one of the most challenging areas of the face to treat because there is so much movement and because there is no underlying bone,” Zeichner says, noting that lumpiness can sometimes occur, but it’s generally nothing to worry about. “These lumps can be tweaked using an enzyme to erase any extra product. Even if not treated, the product slowly dissolves overtime and will improve on its own.” As always, infection is a possibility, so if anything feels amiss, even after your two-week followup, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.

It’s been about six weeks since the procedure, and my new lips — if you can even call them that — suit me just fine. They're subtle, even.