Gianna Palumbo always thought her lips were too small for her face. When she saw photos on social media of women with lip fillers, she decided, at age 20, to have the procedure.
Palumbo, now 22, said people often compliment her lips — and when she says thank you, she also tells them where she got them done.
“I want to normalize it, because it’s not a bad thing to want to highlight something on your body,” says Palumbo, who lives in Buffalo, New York.
Lip fillers, in which hyaluronic acid is injected to make lips fuller, have become more popular among younger patients like Palumbo. In a report from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, nearly 75% of plastic surgeons surveyed said they are seeing more people under the age of 30 requesting lip fillers and other cosmetic procedures.
Some professionals said they often see patients who make specific requests based on images they’ve seen online, including influencers who sometimes use photo or video filters to enhance their features. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner have also sparked an interest in lip fillers in recent years.
“People are educating themselves on social media,” says Ashley Amalfi, a Rochester-based plastic surgeon and chair of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ social media subcommittee. To combat misinformation and provide context, she and her practice post on Instagram and TikTok about fillers and other procedures, and she encourages other surgeons to do the same.
If you’re thinking about getting lip fillers, here’s what medical professionals want you to know.
CHOOSE YOUR DOCTOR WISELY AND MAKE A CONSULTATION
Start with a consultation to share your goals and concerns, and learn what a doctor can do safely and naturally looking. Look for a board-certified plastic surgeon, dermatologist or medical professional who works directly under your supervision, experts said.
“If you’re going to a doctor’s office, chances are they are well trained and use good products,” says Theda Kontis, a facial plastic surgeon in Baltimore and past president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
“If you go to a hotel room or a spa, you don’t know what they’re using,” or whether a trained medical professional is readily available if needed.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU WANT AND WHY
Practitioners said patients should avoid getting fillers to mimic the beauty standards they see on social media, as these may not be safe, attainable or natural-looking for their face.
Amalfi said she always starts conservatively, with just a syringe of filler, or even half a syringe, with the option to add more later. She does this to create a natural effect and ensure patients are comfortable with the change.
She and other experts emphasized that they make sure patients truly want and would benefit from fillers, and have realistic expectations about the results. Say, for example, a patient feels that her lips are not symmetrical. “If I see it and I agree with their assessment, and I believe I can make them happy, then I do it,” Kontis said.
But if they have very thin lips and want to look like Angelina Jolie, she said, “that’s just not going to happen.”
KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT
During the procedure, your doctor will apply a numbing cream and then give you several injections of hyaluronic acid to sculpt your lip.
Even with anesthesia, the procedure can be painful, says Kontis. Sometimes doctors will also administer anesthetic injections into the mouth, much like a dentist does.
Afterwards, your lips may become swollen and bruised; an ice pack can help reduce these symptoms.
It will take about two weeks for the filling to settle. If you don’t like the result, a provider can dissolve the filler with a different injection. Otherwise, your lips should return to their normal size in about six to 12 months. If you have fillers for years, Kontis said, your body will accumulate collagen in response, potentially increasing the “normal size” of your lips.
RESEARCH HEALTH RISKS
The biggest risk of the procedure is that the injecting doctor inadvertently hits a blood vessel. This can lead to loss of blood supply to that area and tissue death.
“In the hands of an experienced professional, this is unlikely to happen,” says Kontis.
Doctors advise against the use of fillers for pregnant or breastfeeding patients, anyone with open wounds such as acne or burns, and patients who have had allergic reactions to products in fillers.
Additionally, people with a history of cold sores or fever blisters may need an antiviral medication after the procedure, as injections can cause outbreaks, says Kontis.
Some beauty companies and social media users have been promoting hyaluronic acid “pens” — which use high pressure to push hyaluronic acid into the skin — as needle-free alternatives to injections. But the FDA has warned against using these unregulated products, noting that they can cause infection, scarring and other serious complications.