I’ve always wanted to have bigger lips, but the idea of actually getting lip injections never seemed like a real option for me. As a Black woman, I felt the weight of this unspoken rule that I couldn’t embrace something like filler since I already have relatively “big” or “full” lips. Add in the fact that I grew up in the era of Kylie Jenner getting credit for putting lip fillers on the map — instead of acknowledging Black women and beauty — and it made me feel like my desire to try lip injections was rather disrespectful to my culture. That may sound a bit far-fetched, but as a Black woman, I just couldn’t bear the idea of someone thinking that the reason I wanted bigger lips had anything to do with someone like Jenner. I can’t speak for every Black woman, but “getting work done”—whether injections or plastic surgery — isn’t something we typically embrace. And if we happen to do so, it’s not something to broadcast beyond your close circle, if that.
Still, for the past two years, my urge to have fuller lips didn’t fade away. Don’t get me wrong — I think I have lovely lips, but they’re relatively thin, in my opinion, which was very noticeable when I smiled. I didn’t want to have a gummy smile forever, and of course, as a beauty writer, I was thinking of the greater good of journalism, so I decided to take the plunge and finally get lip filler.
I didn’t want to go with just anybody to get them done. It was essential that I not only saw a Black doctor but one who had experience working with Black patients. Luckily, TZR’s Deputy Beauty Editor, Hannah Baxter, referred me to one of New York’s finest board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Michelle Henry, MD FAAD. As the founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, I felt like the future of my lips were in great hands.
The Day Of My Lip Injections Appointment
On the day of the procedure, my anxiety was at a 10. I researched enough to know what to expect, but I had no idea how I would look and feel when it was all said and done. Wearing a baseball cap, dark sunglasses, and a face-covering while walking up to her office, I felt the need to conceal my identity because here I was, a tall Black woman heading to a dermatologist to get work done, something I thought I would seriously never do.
Once I reached the front desk, however, I felt a wave of relief, and my anxious nerves began to settle. Five other Black and brown skinned patients were waiting in her office, and while I don't know what brought them in, just seeing people that looked like me was such a liberating experience.
As soon as I got in front of Dr. Henry, the real fun began. I expressed my desire to have slightly fuller lips while still looking as natural as possible. I made it clear that I didn't want to look like I got my lips done. I also mentioned that I wanted to do something about my gummy smile.
While taking a series of before photos of my face and lips, Dr. Henry asked me if there were someone’s lips I admired, and of course, I said Ryan Destiny, SZA, and Normani because *chef’s kiss* just wow. She then took a nice long look at my face and diagnosed what she thought was best.
We decided to go with a vertical lip flip using Xeomin — a type of neurotoxin that helps temporarily immobilize your muscles— above my upper lip. She explained that inserting the neurotoxin in the space between my nose and lips would help relax the muscles in that region, so they wouldn’t lift as high when I smile. And by inserting both neurotoxin and filler vertically (as opposed to across my upper lip), it would give the front of my top lip a slight lift instead of protruding forward, which can cause that dreaded “duck-mouth” look that can result from getting too much filler.
What It Was Like Getting Lip Injections
Before getting poked with needles, Dr. Henry applied topical numbing cream in the areas around my upper lip and the corners around my lower lip to make sure I felt minimal pain — because, let me tell you, it can be excruciating. After about 25 minutes, my mouth was completely numb, and we were ready to get started. After sterilizing the area, Dr. Henry went into detail about what exactly was going into my face.
She injected four units of Xeomin near my Cupid’s bow, with two points on each side (four needle sticks in total). Next came one syringe of Restylane Lyft — a hyaluronic acid filler that she prefers for natural-looking results — Dr. Henry inserted the majority of the syringe along the outer edge of my upper lip. It was somewhere between 20 to 25 quick pokes in all, which, to be quite honest, was very painful but worth it in the end.
Often, with a procedure like lip filler, a doctor might use a cannula rather than a needle. “A cannula is a hollow tube that looks like a needle,” explains Dr. Henry. “It’s useful because we use a needle to make an entrance for the cannula, but once it’s in the skin, it’s not sharp, so it reduces the risk of bruising.” For me, Dr. Henry opted not to use a cannula because we were really focused on giving my lips a vertical lift and slight volume upwards rather than just general fullness — every doctor has their preferred technique.
As she explains, “To lift your upper lip — especially since you have a rather youthful and fuller lip with slightly denser tissue — we needed to create some structural columns to give you some lift.” While Dr. Henry doesn’t just have one preferred method when doing lip injections — because everyone’s lips are different — this method was best for me to get the look I wanted.
My Thoughts Post-Lip Injections
It definitely took a lot of courage to get lip filler in the first place but the most challenging part was the healing after the procedure. After being poked and prodded over 25 times, I experienced a decent amount of pain, swelling, and bruising on and around my lips, which didn't make me feel good. Plus my lips looked so puffed up that I instantly regretted getting the injections. But after three days, the swelling subsided, and a week later my lips looked so natural that I almost forgot I even had filler in the first place.
The neurotoxin for the lip flip went into effect almost immediately (it can range for different people), but Dr. Henry and I discovered that since my tissue was so dense and my smile was a little lopsided, one side of my upper lip will still find a way to lift and show a bit of my gums. I still think my smile looks a lot less gummier than before but it isn't something that I think made a huge difference compared to the filler.
Now, I’m so in love with the results of the injections that I really wish I had gotten over my stigma of lip filler a long time ago. Not only were my results phenomenal, but my experience with Dr. Henry was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. It felt really comforting to know that not only did this amazing Black doctor want to help me, but she never judged me for the decisions I made. In the medical world, where it’s so common for a Black woman to go unheard and unseen, I truly felt safe in Dr. Henry’s hands.
I most definitely will go and get lip filler again. To be honest, I now know what people mean by being "addicted to the look." To my friends and family, it's really not that noticeable, but for me, I feel like I finally have the sexy lips I've always wanted. So if that means going back to the Dr. Henry every 4-6 months then so be it.