- Lip lifts, unlike lip fillers, are a permanent way to alter the shape, size and fullness of your natural lips.
- Different lip lift techniques exist to address different lip concerns, whether you want to even out your lower lip or plump thin lips.
- Lip lifts are generally considered to be safe, minimally invasive procedures and are performed with local anesthesia on an outpatient basis.
- There are a few risks and issues to consider before proceeding with surgery, primarily those associated with scarring and nasal distortion.
Beauty trends aren’t unlike cultural trends at large; what was once considered a faux pas could now be en vogue, whether in relation to hair, skin or figure. But one physical trait has been constantly sought-after throughout human history, with very few exceptions, and that’s luscious, full lips. Take a stroll through the Louvre or the Met and you’ll see ancient korous, thousand-year-old artifacts, Medieval paintings and exquisitely carved Greek goddesses with one thing in common: their subjects all have plump, kissable lips.
You don’t have to be up-to-date on plastic surgery trends to know that lip enhancement — either through lip surgery or fillers — is one of the hottest cosmetic trends du jour. In fact, nearly 30,000 patients had lift lip surgery in 2016 (up by 48 percent since 2000). Annually over 2 million people use soft tissue fillers to plump up their lips.
» Let’s take a look at how lip lift surgery stacks up to fillers and implants and what you can expect when you decide to undergo the procedure, from finding the right plastic surgeon (we can help) to recovery and maintenance.
It’s not lip service: surgical lip augmentation and fillers
So what, exactly, is the lip lift procedure all about? According to the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) there are several different ways to lift and enhance lips. Lip implants like Permalip — a procedure wherein a cosmetic surgeon shapes the lips using soft, silicone implants — and surgical lip lifts are the only permanent ways to achieve perfectly plump kissers.
On the other hand, lip filler options — Juvéderm, Restylane, and Voluma, among others — are impermanent and require more maintenance. Basically, if you want a permanent solution, surgery is a better option than filler injections. During lip augmentation, a doctor will adjust the shape and fullness of the lips through various lip lift techniques (more on that below) and may add volume through implants or incisions.
Generally speaking, traditional lip lifts modify the prominence of the vermilion border. This is the sharp, somewhat dramatic lip line that separates the pink lip skin from the adjacent facial skin. By making incisions through the nose or the lip border, this facial plastic surgery procedure leaves you with ideally shaped lips.
For many patients, ideal lips include a prominent cupid’s bow (the top curve of the upper lip) and, of course, generous fullness. Other common reasons why people undergo a lip lift include making the lips more proportional and/or to enhance thin or aging lips. The procedure can also address a permanent frown, a long upper lip, a long space between the nose and lip, and arrange for your to teeth show when you smile.
For most patients, though, it’s all about achieving voluminous, Kylie Jenner-esque lips.
A few important caveats
Before we dive into the details, let’s take a look at exactly who can benefit from lip augmentation surgery. Unlike fillers and implants, lip lift candidates must meet a few more criteria. Those who want to have an upper lip lift must have some excess skin between their nose and mouth, usually more than 1.5 centimeters. This extra space is vital to good results if your primary goal is plump, pouty lips.
Some plastic surgeons recommend a surgical lip lift to patients who have experienced “duck lips” after getting fillers. These patients sometimes have too large a space between their nose and lip, so the filler pushes the lip outwards instead of upwards. On the other hand, for other patients, adjusting the position of the lip through a lip lift will do little for them in the plumping department.
Types of Lip Lifts: Designing the Perfect Puckers
An important thing to note before you go crafting your ideal lips is that there are many lip lift techniques to consider. Doctors use different incisions and strategies to give your lips a new shape, a new position and/or add some extra fullness. These are a few of the most popular types of lift lips:
Direct lip lift
Otherwise known as the gullwing lip lift, this procedure removes a strip of skin just above the lip vermilion, creating a more dramatic border. With a small incision, a doctor can rotate unseen skin tissue outward, creating the appearance of a full, red lip. The direct lip procedure is somewhat controversial; it leaves a visible scar (and risk for scar tissue) on the upper lip area.
The most common lip lift procedure out there, the subnasal bullhorn lip lift requires an incision line, which is usually hidden along the base of the nose, hence the name subnasal lip lift. A plastic surgeon creates excisions in the shape of a mustache or a bullhorn to pull up the top right, center and left portions of the lip. This option is preferable for many, as it leaves less visible scarring.
Italian lip lift
A modified version of the bullhorn lift, this technique requires two short incisions beneath the nostrils (instead of a single long one like with the bullhorn technique). While not a particularly common lip lift option, the Italian lift is often recommended for people who want subtler results with less scarring.
Corner lip lift
If your primary aim is to achieve a “smile-ier” look, then the corner lip lift is your best option. Corner lip lifts, also known as grin lifts, involve removing a small amount of skin at both corners of the mouth in order to create a more upward turn. This is the most-recommended option for people who want to lighten up their facial expressions and correct a permanent frown. Many people opt to have a corner lip lift alongside an upper lift lip for added fullness and shape.
Modified upper lip lift
The modified upper lip lift is a relatively new lip lift option pioneered by Beverly Hills Center Plastic Surgeon Dr. Ben Talei. According to Dr. Talei, this type of lift is virtually scar-free, pain-free, and also lowers the risk of nostril widening. With this type of lift, the incisions are hidden beneath the base of the nose in a natural crease.
Central lip lift
Another popular type of lip lift is called the central lip lift. Essentially, this option shortens the upper lift, creating greater volume and fullness. Generally speaking, your doctor will make a small incision beneath the nose during this type of lift.
» Which of the above options would be ideal for you depends on your specific case. Use our virtual consultation tool to talk to a board-certified plastic surgeon about your best option.
The procedure: what to expect
In general, lip lift surgery is performed in-office using local anesthesia, although many doctors will perform the procedure under general anesthesia at the request of the patient. When undergoing a lip lift with local numbing medication, risks significantly decrease. Because it’s a minimally invasive outpatient procedure, it’s considered one of the safer facial rejuvenation procedures out there.
Recovery from a lip lift typically takes five to seven days, with a moderate amount of swelling occurring in the first three days. Your doctor will likely recommend using a cold compress to control swelling and might prescribe low-dose pain medications to help mitigate pain post-procedure. After approximately five days, your surgeon will remove the sutures and the incisions will begin to permanently heal.
Lip lift cost and considerations
As with most plastic surgery procedure, costs vary widely from doctor to doctor, location to location and circumstance to circumstance. The average cost of a lip lift in the United States is somewhere around $3,500. For reference, Baltimore-based board-certified plastic surgeon Ricardo L. Rodriguez promises a youthful lip for anywhere from $3,200 to $4,950, depending on which type of surgery you choose.
There are a few more factors to take into consideration before proceeding to lift those lips of yours. Some lip lift techniques are known to cause nasal distortion. When plastic surgeons adjust the shape of the lip through the skin (and not the muscles beneath), it can affect the width of the nostrils. Consequently, some doctors recommend the muscle-hemming lip lift — which is more like a facelift in that it lifts and tightens the muscles beneath the skin — to address nasal widening in lip lifts.
» As long as you choose a board-certified plastic surgeon who understands your needs and desires, there’s a good chance that you’ll get exactly what you want out of your lip lift surgery.
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons: In the Age of Selfies, America’s Love Affair with Lips Is Leading to a Boom in Cosmetic Procedures (2016) plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/in-the-age-of-selfies-americas-love-affair-with-lips-is-leading-to-a-boom-in-cosmetic-procedures
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons: Plastic Surgery Statistics Report 2016 (2017) plasticsurgery.org/documents/News/Statistics/2016/plastic-surgery-statistics-full-report-2016.pdf