Here’s a harrowing truth: I’ve gotten lip filler three times, but never once with the same provider. Like “cheating on” your hair colorist — and, consequently, risking dissatisfaction with your results — switching providers willy-nilly is best avoided, if possible.
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 they’re right for you.
Of course, sometimes it’s simply not feasible. Perhaps your last provider didn’t jive with your vibe, or you’ve moved halfway across the country, away from your preferred provider. Regardless of one’s impetus for seeking a new provider their second (or third, or fifth) time around, certain aspects of a successful lip filler appointment are universal — and bear repeating if you’re seeing someone new.
So, if you’ve gotten lip filler in the past, need to schedule another appointment, are looking for a new provider, and would like to limit future “provider hopping,” keep reading. I asked NYC-based dermatologists (and sisters!) Elizabeth Hale, MD, and Julie Karen, MD to share some insight on these topics — including the essential tidbits you should always share with a new provider about your lip injection past for a bright filler future.
1. The type of lip filler you’ve had in the past
Why: Naturally, you’d share the fact that you’ve had lip filler elsewhere before. But, in light of the fact that there are different types of fillers, even within the hyaluronic acid filler category, it’s advisable to share the exact product your last provider used, if possible.
Dr. Hale confirms that products do differ, and it matters for two reasons. First, it helps your provider understand how you may have responded to a particular filler. For instance, some “products cause significant [temporary] swelling [in certain people],” explains Dr. Hale. Mild swelling is pretty common with lip filler, but if you’ve experienced significant post-injection swelling in the past, this detail could help inform the product your provider decides to use.
Similarly, let your provider know if you’ve previously experienced nodules, aka little bumps at the injection site. According to Dr. Hale, certain fillers may increase the chance of nodule formation in some cases, particularly when used in the lips. And, of course, always feel free to ask questions about the specific filler your provider ultimately decides to use — both for your own edification and for future reference.
2. When you last got treated with filler
Why: Filling in (no pun intended) your new provider on your injection history puts valuable data points on an otherwise blank slate. Each filler product has a general expectation of how long it should last with optimal treatment, but zeroing in on your exact timeline may help formulate a perfectly personalized treatment timeline to suit your needs, goals, and budget going forward.
To maintain lip filler results from a prior appointment, both doctors reject the idea of a one-size-fits-all treatment schedule, as there are simply too many factors to make a blanket statement. That said, booking another treatment at some point between six months and one year is a reasonable guideline for the lip area. In most cases, Dr. Hale advises coming in at least once every year if you’re trying to maintain results.
Another note on timing: given the nature of swelling and other potential side effects, both Dr. Hale and Dr. Karen recommend waiting around two weeks to a full month post-treatment before you determine whether you’re entirely satisfied with your results. Doing so ensures the filler has fully “settled,” and that you’re accurately assessing your provider’s work.
Side effects from filler such as swelling and bruising can last days or weeks. If you’re interested in getting a consultation for lip filler, plan accordingly before major events.
I can personally attest to this advice. I swelled tremendously the first time I had lip filler. The morning after my appointment, I awoke to a disconcertingly lopsided, swollen look. I was flummoxed! I’d done (admittedly very light) research on post-care protocol, but had not expected this result. Rash conclusions started swirling around in my head: Perhaps my provider misunderstood my ask — or, worse, they’d done a slipshod job.
After a few hours of pacing around my apartment and avoiding every mirror in my wake, I plucked up the courage to dial my provider’s office, fully prepared to request some sort of “re-do.” What I’d thought was going to be a lambasting session, though, turned out to be a hugely reassuring conversation. Remember, swelling is a normal side effect, and my provider assured me it would fade in the coming days, which it did. (For the record, I loved my results after the swelling subsided, and I went on to recommend that provider to friends.)
3. Your aesthetic goals — and how your last filler appointment did (or didn’t) accomplish them
Why: As with any new provider-patient relationship, it’s prudent to be clear about what has — and hasn’t — worked in the past. This is especially important if a slew of underwhelming results are the main reason you’ve found yourself “shopping around” for a new provider. If your results seem to fall short of your expectations, consider whether you’re being as explicit as possible with your aesthetic goals. “Pictures can be helpful,” Dr. Karen notes. (Personally, I have a “lips” Pinterest® board that I can pull up on my phone for visual inspiration — just in case I should want to confirm my provider and I are on the same page.) That said, remember that the ultimate goal is to enhance your lips — not recreate someone else’s pout on your face.
On a similar note, understanding a provider’s general style can significantly improve your chances of getting results you love, and consequently cut down on “hopping around.” This is particularly pertinent to lips — an area that’s, arguably, “less subtle than other areas to inject,” especially if your and your provider have dramatically different tastes. To help ensure you’re aligned with a potential new provider, browse their website or social media pages for before and after pictures ahead of booking a consultation. You should be able to see a theme throughout patient results — whether that’s subtle or dramatic — that will go a long way towards determining if you and the provider are a good match.
4. Whether you’ve been to the dentist and/or are prone to cold sores
Why: Like the obligatory first date questions about family and pets, there are two important questions a new provider should always ask before the two of you embark on your lip filler journey: whether you’ve been to the dentist in the past two weeks, and whether you’re prone to cold sores. If your provider doesn’t ask these questions, be sure to bring them up anyway. These seemingly arbitrary tidbits could actually prevent some seriously annoying issues.
What does the dentist have to do with it? As Dr. Hale explained at my most recent appointment, due to the nature of dental tools (metal drills, picks, etc.), dental work can cause microtears in the mouth area. And, while these imperceptible nicks may not bother you, any open “wound,” regardless of the size, increases your chance of infection. Infection is one of the rarest potential side effects of lip filler, but any opportunity to mitigate this serious risk should be taken.
As for inquiring about cold sores, Dr. Karen says this question should actually be one of the first and foremost a new provider asks. “When you're doing anything traumatic around the lip, whether it's laser, injections, [etc.], you run the risk of triggering a herpes outbreak,” she explains. If your provider is aware of the potential for flare-ups before injecting, they can take preventative measures. “You're much better off prophylaxing against [flare-ups] by giving [medication], which is well-tolerated and easy to do,” Dr. Karen explains.
5. How you’re really feeling
Why: Both derms say lip filler second-timers are often less nervous than first timers. (This was certainly true for me.) That said, they’ve also seen patients who’ve had lip filler before and are equally nervous — sometimes because of their experience getting lip filler with a prior provider!
Of course, it’s totally fine (and normal) to get pre-filler jitters, regardless of how many times you’ve been in the chair — for any reason, including discomfort. “A lot of people come in remembering how painful it was and are very fearful of that,” Dr. Karen points out. This makes sense, she adds: “The lips are an exquisitely sensitive area; there are more nerve endings in the lips than there are almost anywhere else in the body.”
Telling a new provider about painful past experiences may present you with additional options for easing discomfort. For instance, certain lip fillers contain lidocaine in the formula itself. Additionally, having your provider talk you through every step of the treatment, remind you to take deep breaths, and/or offer a stress ball to squeeze may help make the experience much more tolerable. I’ve enlisted this repertoire over my past few appointments, and found it immensely helpful for nerves and comfort. (I also keep my eyes closed, as I’ve found that simply not seeing the needle is half the battle won). Plus, many providers have unique distraction techniques for nervous patients, which may be one of the most interesting facets of seeing someone new. Dr. Hale has a cheery habit of humming as she injects filler, for instance.
Whether it was the songs and stress balls, the fact I’d done my diligence before selecting a new provider this time around, or the reassurance that she and I were aligned in our preference for subtle enhancement, I felt particularly confident seeing a brand new provider this time around. Heck, I might stop hopping around and stay put for a while.
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