OK, be honest—what comes to mind when you think of lip injections? Probably mixed images of Kylie Jenner, Courtney Love, and a pufferfish, right? And, hey, that’s fair, because fillers have gotten a pretty bad rap over the last few decades for being one of the most obvious (and most easily botched) of cosmetic procedures.
But thanks to two new, FDA-approved fillers that promise to deliver incredibly natural-looking results, lip injections are now growing in popularity as a preventive, anti-aging measure, rather than the va-va-voom lip plumper they’ve always been known as. And because I would very much like for my mouth to look young forever, I decided to test out the new fillers and see just how natural—or crazy—I would look.
I am to first say that thin lips were never much of a concern for me, so I really never saw myself getting injections. But, as Los Angeles dermatologist Annie Chiu (who is one of the first dermatologists in the country to use Refyne and Defyne, the latest fillers on the US market) pointed out when I spoke with her, “Injections are now more about maintenance, and less about enhancement.” According to Chiu, our lips start deflating when we hit 30, and then continue to thin out and head downhill from there—literally. Our mouths start losing structure as we age, which leads to downturned lips, ‘marionette’ lines (the deep parenthesis-like wrinkles on either side of your mouth), and even bone loss at the jawline. “But if you soften those changes with fillers [early on], you change the visual cues of how you and other people perceive your age,” says Chiu. Basically, fillers are the new fountain of youth.
And just as Botox has slowly shifted from being the thing dads get during midlife crises to the thing twenty-somethings get to prevent wrinkles, lip fillers are now being recommended to keep mouths looking young, and it’s all thanks to Refyne and Defyne. The new fillers (which have been used in Canada and Europe for years, but have just been approved by the FDA) are hyaluronic-based formulas that have a new ability to blend in with your own collagen and flex naturally beneath your skin, without that stiff, “did she just get her lips done?” look.
Despite the glowing promises, though, I asked Chiu to start me off with only the tiniest bit of filler, just in case the process went horribly, horribly wrong. Chiu started by correcting the scaffolding of my face, injecting Defyne (used for filling deep-set lines) into my marionette lines, the corners of my lips, and around my jaw, before injecting Refyne (used for plumping fine lines and folds) into four quadrants around my lips, using a long, tiny tube inserted beneath my skin to position the injections further from my actual lips, which helps prevent crazy bruising and swelling.
It sounds awful, but the prick of the needle felt like any other—not exactly pleasant, but not particularly painful, either. That is, until she directly injected filler into my lips in a few spots, which really, really hurt. Thankfully, the whole process was over rather quickly, and by the end of it, Chiu had injected less than 3/5 of a teaspoon into my face. In fact, the changes were so subtle, only Chiu, her assistant, and I could pinpoint what had gone down in that office, and only if we stared really closely at my mouth.
After the appointment, it took a few days for my lips to feel like themselves again, though I suspect those feelings were primarily psychosomatic—not even my best friend could tell I had anything done just hours after leaving the doctor’s office, which was exactly the effect I was going for. It’s been three weeks since my appointment, and mouth still has totally natural movements, with only the subtlest of extra smoothness, which I’m pretty sure only I can notice.
But even if I can’t see my fillers (which is a good thing), I like knowing that I have a new anti-aging strategy in place for the future. Yes, it kind of sounds like bullshit, but you can’t argue with research, which shows that these types of injections really do have a preventative effect on aging. “Studies have shown that treating the lips, the areas around the lips, and the smile lines with fillers may actually prevent wrinkle detention,” says Chiu, “So the process is preventative in that it acts like a mechanical force [against deep-set wrinkles].”
And while some people might scoff at using their rent money on something so subtle (a treatment like mine costs about $700, and lasts about a year, max), I personally see the value in keeping my 20-year-old face shape and smile for the rest of my life, if possible. Does it mean I’ll have to skip a few nights out during the year to afford subsequent treatments? Abso-fricken-lutely. But as I see it, all of the sleep I’ll get and the drinks I’ll skip during those nights will pack an anti-aging bonus all their own.