When it comes to tweaking our facial features, a more pillowy pout can tempt women in every decade. Whether to boost volume loss or diminish fine lines around the mouth, “many women can benefit from slight lip enhancement,” says Julie Karen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Volume in particular becomes a main concern of many women in their thirties, says Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “As we get older, lips tend to turn inward and get thinner,” she says, “so that’s when you get lipstick going up the lip lines because there is very little lip left. It makes you look angry and sad, and people don’t feel that way.”
Doctors are also turning to new technologies in the world of lasers and radiofrequency treatments to enhance the lips. And while these options rarely require much downtime or long-term commitment, the quickest and most temporary solution is to fake a fuller mouth using makeup. “There is always something you can do to enhance the lips a bit,” affirms Troy Surratt, a celebrity makeup artist and creator of his namesake cosmetic line. Read on to find out what to know for achieving plumper lips — be it at the doctor’s office or with the help of a few key makeup tricks.
How can I make my lips look fuller?
What the doctor says: Hyaluronic-acid based lip fillers, which generally last six months to a year, are frequently used by licensed providers to increase volume in the lips. As long as a patient is a candidate, injectable lip fillers can be a good option for temporarily plumper lips, explains Dr. Nussbaum.
The most important thing to remember is that lip fillers are never a one-size-fits-all treatment. “It’s [about] working with someone to create the right aesthetic for their face,” Dr. Nussbaum says. Oftentimes, practicing caution when it comes to the vermillion border, or the very edge of the lip where the pigmented area meets skin. “I hate big vermillion borders,” she says, “because that gives you the duck lip — and we want to avoid duck lips.”
[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.]
What the makeup artist says: To enhance lip volume, taking the time to boost hydration is a crucial first step. For an easy way to plump while you sleep, Surratt is a fan of overnight lip masks, particularly Laneige® Lip Sleeping Mask ($20). “They increase circulation and moisture levels, and make lips look fuller and poutier before you ever put color on them,” he says.
Exfoliation can also work wonders for buffing away dry texture that can cause lips to appear shriveled or smaller. Try a scrub, or simply massage your lips with a toothbrush in circular motions, advises celebrity makeup artist Jillian Dempsey. “It gets the blood flowing, and lips look a little bigger and suppler.” Follow with a lip balm to add moisture since a hydrated mouth looks plumper.
For an extra boost in dimension, blend a small amount of highlighter on your cupid’s bow before applying your lip color. (Fair tones should choose a champagne shade, medium tones are flattered with golden tones, and deep skin looks best with bronze and copper highlighter colors.) Just as highlighter on your cheekbones makes them pop, adding a touch of shimmer on your upper lip will make it appear more pronounced and plush. Try the Sara Happ® Let’s GlowTM Lip Illuminator ($24), which was created with this very purpose in mind.
Is it possible to enhance the structure/shape of my mouth?
What the doctor says: Thread lifts are an option for lip patients seeking a lifting and volumizing enhancement, with results that last about one year, says Dr. Karen. Doctors place an absorbable suture (or several) in the body of the lip to add poutiness, and ones along the vermillion border to restore shape.
What the makeup artist says: “As we get older, our vermillion border decreases, so lips become less defined,” explains Surratt. To sharpen the lip line, Surratt creates a border of makeup around the lip’s perimeter to enhance the shape, as well as keep product from traveling upwards.
Do this by using a fine brush to apply your go-to concealer around the perimeter of the top lip and a highlighting product like YSL® Touché Eclat® ($35) along the perimeter of the bottom lip. “It gives a really retouched perfected lip line effect and makes it featherproof from seeping into lines,” he explains. Next, he suggests outlining your mouth with a lip liner in the same color as your natural lip tone. “When you want to push the shape to its maximum limits, using a lip tone color pencil as a base creates an overall more realistic effect,” he says. Before you begin tracing, purse your lips like you’re giving a kiss, advises Surratt. This helps guide how far you can cheat the perimeter to emphasize fullness without it starting to look overdrawn.
What can be done to minimize lines and dark spots around the mouth?
What the doctor says: For fine lines, both Dr. Nussbaum and Dr. Karen recommend microneedling paired with radiofrequency (when tiny needles deliver electromagnetic energy to the skin) as a treatment option. Line reduction, which Dr. Nussbaum calls “pretty significant,” is evident after two to three 15-minute treatments spaced three weeks apart. “It really lasts because you’re helping build collagen and elastin,” says Dr. Nussbaum. Patients can expect slight redness after treatment (discover our tips to reduce redness after microneedling here.) To prevent worsening or future wrinkling avoid gum chewing, drinking with a straw, and smoking.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment, medication, or supplement.]
To combat age spots, doctors like a combination of topicals and lasers — and copious amounts of sunscreen. For topicals, Dr. Karen recommends asking your doctor about hydroquinone, a bleaching agent that when used in proper doses can fade melasma and sun spots around the mouth. Or, try SkinBetter Science® Even Tone Correcting SerumTM ($140), a favorite of both doctors we interviewed to brighten skin and improve the look of discoloration. When opting for a laser to lighten pigment, Nussbaum reaches for either the Clear + Brilliant® or Fraxel®, depending on how much downtime a patient has to recover.
[Editor’s note: Hydroquinone has not been FDA-approved. Talk to your doctor before starting any treatment with it.]
What the makeup artist says: Dabbing on a primer is a guaranteed way to help prevent lip color from traveling upwards into fine lines, says Dempsey. To take it one step further, she also recommends using a primer around your mouth for an added layer of protection — try one of these SpotlyteTM-recommended primers that are specifically designed to fill in lines. To conceal dark spots, Surratt advises applying your concealer to this challenging area with a beautyblender® ($20). Draw your lips in toward your teeth, pat your makeup where you need it, then bounce the sponge around your mouth to diffuse the color and camouflage age spots.
What should I know before enhancing my lips?
What the doctor says: As with most cosmetic procedures, it’s important to remember when going for lip fillers to start slow. “More is not better,” says Dr. Nussbaum, who dissuades her patients from “getting carried away.” While you’ll see an instant change to your appearance post-procedure, it can take up to two weeks to see the final result, so be patient.
In the days prior to your appointment, be sure to talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. Risks include tenderness, bruising, and swelling. “If you ever have pain or a significant bruise around the mouth that’s an emergency,” warns Dr. Nussbaum. Be sure to seek out a licensed provider for treatment; when not administered correctly, lip fillers have the potential to cause severe complications ranging from vascular occlusion (blockage of a blood vessel) to skin necrosis (tissue death). You can connect with our team of trained aesthetic specialists to ask more questions, as well as find a licensed provider in your area.
What the makeup artist says: To maximize plumping effects, save your lips for the last step. “I allow the lips to marinate in a luxurious balm or lip product while I do the rest of the makeup,” says Surratt. He recommends Tatcha® Camellia Gold Spun Lip Balm ($30), an ultra-swanky balm that’s loaded with real gold.
Lip gloss is another secret beloved by makeup artists. “It’s one of the most effective tricks you can use to create a three-dimensional pouty lip,” Surratt adds. He uses it to strategically create a highlight in the middle third of the lip by patting it onto the center of the mouth. Pick a gloss that’s sparkly and light reflective, he advises, “to cast light and to create a three-dimensional mouth. It makes the lips look more pillow-y.” Discover our editors’ favorite lip glosses to fake a fuller pucker here.
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