- Lip lines are small vertical lines that appear directly above the upper lip.
- They should not be confused with smile lines, also known as nasolabial folds.
- Lip lines are caused by aging and environmental factors such as smoking, sun damage, and dryness.
- Treatment options include lip moisturizers, beauty products with hyaluronic acid, as well as injectables and fillers.
We’re all familiar with the classic signs of aging like crow’s feet and frown lines. Lip lines are another giveaway that you’re no longer in your twenties.
These small wrinkles that form directly above your upper lip actually go by many names, including lipstick lines, smokers’ lines, vertical lines, and lip wrinkles.
Lip lines are sometimes confused with laugh lines, or smile lines, the everyday terms for nasolabial folds. Another common sign of aging, nasolabial folds are the lines that extend from the edges of your nose to the corners of your mouth, sometimes seeming to form “parentheses” on your face. These wrinkles are deeper and more pronounced than lip lines.
Though lip lines are to some extent inevitable, there are steps you can take to both prevent them from appearing and to treat them when they do appear.
Read on to find out what causes lip lines and what to do about them.
What causes lips lines?
Just as with other types of wrinkles, one of the main causes of lip lines is natural aging. As you age, your body produces less collagen and elastin, two of the main proteins that contribute to youthful looking skin.
In fact, after your 20th birthday you make about 1 percent less collagen with each passing year. As a result, your skin begins to sag, and wrinkles appear. Over time, your skin also produces less sweat and oil, which reduces your skin’s natural moisturizers, causing the skin on your face to dry out and wrinkle more easily.
“Lip lines are caused by collagen and elastin degradation that normally occur with age, but there are many causes for these lines, including smoking, sun damage, and aging,” notes Dr. Shaun Patel of Miami Skin and Vein. “In the past they have been referred to as ‘smokers’ lines,’ although today I commonly see them in non-smokers.”
As Dr. Patel points out, smoking is a well-known factor in premature aging (and lip lines), as it reduces blood flow to the skin. Solar irradiation, which can include exposure to the sun or use of tanning beds, is one of the major causes of reduced collagen production. And exposure to pollution can have the same effect. Other factors include dehydration, poor diet, lack of sleep, and overconsumption of alcohol.
How to prevent lip lines
You can’t stop yourself from aging, but you can take steps to keep yourself from prematurely developing wrinkles, including lip lines. Make sure your skin gets enough hydration, both inside and out, by drinking plenty of water and moisturizing your skin daily. Your moisturizer should include SPF protection, even if you stay indoors all day.
When you do go outside, make sure you’re using a broad-spectrum, water-and-sweat-resistant sunscreen and lip balm, and re-apply them as often as indicated by the product directions.
Whenever possible, try to stay out of the most direct sunlight—generally between 10am and 2pm—as that’s when UV rays are most intense. Tanning beds can also damage your skin with UV radiation, contributing to everything from premature fine wrinkles to skin cancer; if you must have a tan, sunless tanning options like sprays or lotions are your safest bet.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your body overall. Among many other benefits, it will help to prevent lip lines and other premature signs of aging. You can also protect your skin’s youthful appearance with other healthy habits like a good diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and sufficient sleep.
How to treat lip lines
Although preventive steps are important, there’s only so much you can do to keep lip lines from appearing, especially because aging is a major and inevitable cause.
If you’re ready to treat your lips lines, there are four main courses of treatment: moisturizers, over-the-counter products, injectables and dermal fillers, and dermabrasion and laser skin resurfacing.
Everyone has had problems with dry skin, whether daily or just occasionally. Dry or chapped lips look old, even on a teenager, so keep them moisturized all day and night by moisturizing your lips themselves and the skin around them.
Make sure to massage facial moisturizer into the area around your lips, and keep lip balm on hand to apply regularly; you can keep it in your nightstand, in your purse, and at your desk at work.
If you’re in the sun, double check that your lip balm includes SPF protection, because if your skin needs sunscreen, then your lips do too. If your lips are in need of serious moisturizing, consider a collagen lip mask, which won’t necessarily deliver on claims to plump your lips but do moisturize way beyond what you can expect from an everyday lip balm.
If you’re not ready to go the surgical route quite yet, you can also seek out over-the-counter products that include hyaluronic acid and similar ingredients.
Hyaluronic acid helps your skin to retain water, which in turn increases the appearance of plumpness, an important component of youthful looking skin.
If loss of volume is your issue, popular plumping lip glosses can give the temporary appearance of fuller lips. In fact, a beauty trick as simple as extending your lip liner beyond the lips can give the illusion of a larger pout. But don’t go too far beyond your lips’ natural boundaries, or they’ll begin to look fake. Options like this are fine for a night out, but they won’t permanently enhance your lips or last beyond removing your makeup.
Injectables and dermal fillers
If preventative measures and moisturizers aren’t cutting it, you can directly target lip lines with cosmetic procedures like injectable fillers. Injectables add volume to your lips, making them appear more plump and youthful. Usually, lip injectables last about six months before they have to be renewed.
“Most patients will opt to do filler injections to smooth out the lip lines. This includes smoothing of the vertical lip lines—along what we call the white lip between the nose and the mouth—as well as the lip lines in the pink part of the lip,” says Dr. John Hilinski, a facial plastic surgeon at San Diego Face and Neck Specialties. “Patients who are bothered by wrinkles in the pink lip are greatly benefitted by injecting these fillers to plump the lips out just enough to ‘stretch’ these lines out.”
While such fillers originally utilized collagen itself, technological breakthroughs have led to the use of better products such as hyaluronic acid and calcium hydroxyapatite, which cut down on possible allergic reactions.
Popular brand names include Juvederm, Voluma, Belotero, Radiesse, Restylane, Perlane, and Sculptra.
Dermabrasion and laser skin resurfacing
“Dermabrasion removes the top layers of facial skin in order to smooth the skin’s texture and help new skin grow healthier and thicker with higher collagen levels,” explains Dr. Joseph Cruise, a board-certified plastic surgeon who has been practicing for more than 15 years. “When the top layer of the skin is removed, the new skin grows with a more equal, higher collagen production, which results in a smoother, more youthful appearance.”
Dermabrasion uses a rotating instrument, while laser skin resurfacing uses, obviously, lasers. Either procedure may be followed up with injectables, so you’re refreshing the skin above (outside in) while simultaneously adding volume and smoothing out wrinkles (inside out), for optimal results.
Like all signs of aging, lip lines can be frustrating to contend with, especially if you’ve done everything you can to prevent them.
» To find out more about short and long-term solution for lips lines, ask a cosmetic doctor for advice and schedule an appointment using Zwivel’s free online consultation tool.
- Long-Term Sun Exposure Alters the Collagen of the Papillary Dermis. Comparison of Sun-Protected and Photoaged Skin by Northern Analysis, Immunohistochemical Staining, and Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (1996) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8642084
- Papakonstantinou, E., Roth, M., & Karakiulakis, G. (2012). Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-Endocrinology, 4(3), 253–258. doi.org/10.4161/derm.21923
- Scientific American: Why Does Skin Wrinkle with Age? What Is the Best Way to Slow or Prevent This Process? (2005) scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-skin-wrinkle-wit/
- Skin Cancer Foundation: Tanning (n.d.) skincancer.org/prevention/tanning
- Smoke Free: Benefits of Quitting (n.d.) smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/benefits-of-quitting