Some things age wonderfully — fine wines, cheeses, Hugh Jackman — but sadly, lips are not one of those things. They’re notoriously susceptible to damage over time for multiple reasons. The skin on this area is incredibly thin and delicate, which means it’s weaker than the rest of our skin. Lips have fewer sebaceous glands, so they end up being parched and require constant hydration. Lastly, they contain only trace amounts of melanin, which equates to less natural sun protection.
All these factors culminate and, over time, result in an unavoidable loss of lip volume. We asked a couple of dermatologists to weigh in on what things may exacerbate this unwanted attack on plumpness and how to effectively remedy the issue.
Unfortunately, the biggest culprit in loss of lip volume is something beyond our control: aging. “As we age, our bodies start to lose collagen and elastin — the building blocks of our skin — as well as hyaluronic acid,” explains Dr. Deanne Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist at Modern Dermatology® of Connecticut. “As those reduce, there is an appearance of ‘deflation,’ or loss of volume.” She shares that we also lose fat from our lips, which can further contribute to a shrunken look.
This lost lip volume has some indirect consequences, including an increase in perioral wrinkles (lines around the mouth), a flattened cupid’s bow, reduced definition of the lip border, and general texture changes within the lip itself. Dr. Robinson adds, “Furthermore, loss of soft tissue volume in the surrounding area can lead to deep creases in the nasolabial folds, which is a prominent sign of aging.”
While you cannot control the march of time, you can take a few protective measures that ultimately slow down skin’s aging process. One of the most effective is reducing your exposure to the sun.
“Sun exposure causes atrophy of collagen and elastic fibers in the skin around the lips, as well as within the lips themselves, resulting in premature aging of the lips,” says Dr. Jeanette M. Black, a board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Care and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hillssm. “Using daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on your face and on the lips themselves can help to prevent the damage induced by the sun’s radiation.” Dr. Robinson recommends Vanicream® Lip Protectant/Sunscreen ($5), which uses mineral sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to defend lips.
Free radicals — unpaired atoms that cause a chain reaction of skin damage — are caused by the sun and pollution. “They cause oxidative stress, which contributes to the breakdown of collagen and elastin,” notes Dr. Robinson. As she pointed out earlier, damaged collagen and elastin in the lip area results in a deflated, shrunken look. For the best line of defense against free radical damage, you should add antioxidants to your lip care regimen. These will help prevent free radicals from adhering to your skin and causing lost lip volume. We love Supergoop!® AcaiFusion™ Lip Balm Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($10) — along with powerful antioxidant acai extract, it also features moisturizing shea butter to keep lips soft and supple, and sunscreen to protect against sun damage.
In addition to excessive sun exposure and free radicals, smoking contributes to premature aging of the lips, including volume loss and wrinkling.
“Not only does smoking excessively use the surrounding muscles of the lips, but it is also smothering them in carcinogens and causing ongoing trauma to the skin tissue,” says Dr. Robinson. “Specifically, the chemicals in cigarettes damage collagen and elastin, and without enough collagen and elastin to act as the skin's scaffolding, your skin starts to sag and wrinkle. Furthermore, nicotine causes blood vessels to shrink and narrow, reducing blood flow and depriving your skin of oxygen.”
If you’re a smoker, it’s unlikely that this is your first time hearing that you should quit the habit. If preserving the look of your lips is what will help you finally quit, so be it. Ditch the cigarettes — your lips (and the rest of your body!) will thank you.
Excessive Lip Movement
It’s a challenge to define what qualifies as “excessive” lip movement, but generally, smoking (as we previously mentioned) and frequent straw usage both fit the bill. No, these behaviors don’t necessarily cause lip volume loss, but they do cause premature wrinkling. This is particularly true in those who are genetically predisposed to getting wrinkles in this area in the first place.
Interestingly, women are more likely to get wrinkles around their lips compared to men. “Hair follicles around the lips — such as those that help create a mustache and beard — can help the skin withhold its structure against this constant movement,” explains Dr. Black. “As women tend to have fewer hair follicles in this area, they also tend to have more wrinkling around the lips as they age.” That’s disappointing news, but knowledge is power: again, cut smoking from your lifestyle, and lose the straws, too. Plastic straws are bad for the environment, so you’ll be doing the world a favor as well as your own collagen and elastin.
Prevention is key to maintaining lip volume, so wearing daily SPF, utilizing antioxidants, and avoiding bad habits like smoking are important to the fight. That said, there are ways you can replenish lost lip volume and smooth wrinkles around the mouth.
For a short-term, over-the-counter topical option, hydrating lip products can help. These essentially infuse the lips with moisture to plump up wrinkles. Dr. Brandt Skincare® Needles No More® 3-D Lip Plumpfix® ($39) contains hyaluronic filling spheres for a plumping effect, and peptides and a dual fat enhancer to improve definition. Dior Addict Lip Maximizer® Plumping Gloss ($34) also contains hyaluronic acid to temporarily boost volume. (Read our review of the Dior Plumping Gloss here.)
How to Replenish Lost Lip Volume With In-Office Treatments
There are also professional, in-office treatments you can try. “Peels and laser treatments can be used to help to rejuvenate the skin around the lips and can additionally be used on the lips themselves,” says Dr. Black. “Additionally, broken blood vessels on the lips and around the lips can be treated with vascular lasers, and hyperpigmentation in the lip area can be treated with lasers, peels, and topical prescriptions.” Light therapy can also be used to stimulate collagen production and address pigmentation.
Furthermore, to add volume you can opt for hyaluronic acid lip injections. Dr. Black says, “When placed correctly with respect to anatomical lip structures, it is possible to help [add volume to] lips with fillers.” Learn more about what to know before getting lip filler for the first time here. Want to know more about lip injections? Chat with our team of trained aesthetic specialists now — they’ll be able to answer your questions and connect you with a licensed provider in your area.
[Editor’s note: Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, it has potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetic specialists now.]
Doctors Deanne Robinson and Jeanette M. Black are paid Allergan® consultants.
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