One might say I have an obsession with myself, though not in a way that allows me to move through the world feeling especially at ease with what nature has bestowed upon me. Rather, I’m always in a constant state of self-change. Much like a therapist unable to take her own advice, I see others—large noses, small noses, stringy hair, coarse hair, curvy bodies, lanky bodies—and fixate on, and often envy, their striking brand of beauty. When it comes to myself, though, well enough is rarely left alone.
Until a year ago, my commitment to vanity was purely surface—keratin treatments, at-home dermaplaning, hot tools, serums, supplements, Swiss Kriss laxative facials—I’d never gone under the knife, experimented with dermal fillers, or spent any legit money on one single alteration. Not because I’m opposed (I come from a family of proud plastic-surgery advocates), but because it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to wait until I was 60 to get the full lift, that I could make small tweaks along the way.
I came to focus on my lips because—truthfully—I was hyper-aware of a specific standard of beauty that started to pervade and overtake popular culture, and found myself hoovered right in. With every Insta-girl that upward-scrolled past, the more my face started to seem too pedestrian, too uneventful, too earnestly natural. Big, pillowy, fake-looking lips were everywhere, even on girls almost two decades younger than me, and I wanted in.
In the year that followed, I got lip injections twice, by two different board-certified physicians. The first time, I was acutely disappointed—I went to a buzzy, fancy practice that some of my beauty-editor friends frequent—and felt as though I’d taken $900 and tossed it to the wind, Samantha Jones–style. The doctor asked me nothing and seemed disengaged, and I left feeling swindled and unhappy. There was no difference, and I was told I could pay for more if I wanted to see one.
By doctor number two—Michele Green, M.D., a New York–based dermatologist and RealSelf contributor—I realized the first round might have been more successful if I’d been assertive about what I wanted. I told Green right away that I wanted to see a noticeable difference, and she spent time both studying my face and asking me questions.
We decided on one syringe of Juvederm, which is what I’d had the year before, although Green concentrated it all in my lips, whereas the previous physician used some in the skin around my mouth. More on that below, as well as some other crucial intel I got from Dr. Green. If you’re thinking about lip filler, read this first so you leave with exactly what you came for.
And the first time around, I did not. The first step, according to Dr. Green, is to decide how big you realistically want your lips. Meaning, think long and hard about whether you really want to go from thin-lipped to Lisa Rinna in one fell swoop. It will be obvious. “You really, really don’t want [your lips] to be overfilled, and it’s easier to have too little than too much,” Dr. Green said. But if you know you want to see a real difference right away, it’s on you to voice that—especially since I’ve found that most doctors prefer their work to look hyper-natural.
Physically, Green suggests refraining from aspirin, Motrin, Aleve, fish oil, multivitamins, and vitamin E for about a week before your appointment, as each can act as a blood-thinner and contribute to postinjection bruising.
The professional jury’s out on whether you should bring a photo with you to your appointment. I’ve read some doctors like it, and others don’t. Dr. Green is in the latter camp, likening it to bringing a picture to the hair salon—you can show your stylist what you want, but your hair type may not achieve it, so then you leave disappointed. “Everyone’s anatomy is different, and everyone’s [face] has a different shape,” she said. You’re better off explaining what you think you want, and letting your doctor work with the configuration of your mouth to achieve it.
(Still, when I mentioned the Kylie effect to Dr. Green, she confirmed it’s quite real among women of all ages. “Everyone comes in asking for her lips,” she told me. “They all say, ‘I want lips like Kylie.'” Make of that what you will.)
Gone are the days when women had only collagen as an option. In its place, a variety of dermal fillers have emerged that are based on hyaluronic acid, a substance that occurs naturally in our bodies and is highly attracted to water and binds to moisture. Not to mention the substance is pretty resistant to lumps and bumps—I felt a few right after, but they quickly evened out.
Choosing a type is best left up to the doctor based on your needs, but the smorgasbord is vast. For example, Dr. Green says a youthful, pillowy, voluminous look is best achieved with Juvederm, while she uses Restylane for an “I got my lips a little fuller but no one really will know” vibe, thanks to its smaller particles. If you’re older, “I always do Volbella, which is good to fill in lines around the face,” she said.
We’re all constantly inundated with images of women with really, really big lips, but I had no idea the money it takes to actually achieve it. The one cc, or syringe, of Juvederm we used is technically less than a teaspoon of material, but it was distributed in a way that made my results more visible than they were the first time around—but not wildly dramatic.
When I asked Green how much filler the girls I see on social media get, she, without hesitation, said two to three syringes, if not more. Considering each clocks in at prices from $400 to $1,000, depending on location and practice—well, start saving now.
I kind of wish it were, to be honest. According to Dr. Green, it depends on the formula you choose, but most usually last around six months to a year. This means that if you love your initial results, take plenty of pics because it does fade over time. As far as anything you can do to prolong the filler, there’s really not much since everybody metabolizes differently.
Postinjection, your life can resume—despite some fear-mongering articles you might find online. According to Dr. Green, the only thing you should stay away from is aspirin. You can even toast your new look with a glass or two of wine. “Some people say you shouldn’t drink alcohol before filler because you can bruise, but I haven’t seen a huge difference after,” she said. As for ice, the doctor will put a cold pack on your lips after your filler’s been applied and will encourage you to use more if you’re feeling sore, but there’s no need sit with it for hours on end. The real swelling goes down in a day or two.
Another thing both doctors I saw suggested that makes sense: not drinking from a straw right after your injections, and not sipping hot liquids— you’ll still be numb and might burn yourself. Ouch.
Even though I’d told Dr. Green what I wanted, she still insisted on saving a little Juvederm from my syringe to add later if I wanted it. “Live with what I gave you for two weeks,” she told me. Of course, I sprinted back for my leftovers, but if you’re feeling nervous or unsure, ask your doctor if you can use what you paid for gradually.
For me, there was light bruising that happens naturally—mostly around the top of my lip, which is sensitive—but if you follow your doctor’s advice (use ice, no Motrin, limit alcohol intake, don’t touch, and try to stay and lay propped up for a few hours after the procedure), you should be OK. That said, everyone’s body is different, so it’s hard to predict whether any bruising will surface after your lip injections.
“You go back and have it dissolved,” Dr. Green said. “All the fillers people use now—Restylane, Belotero, Volbella, Voluma, Juvederm—they’re all hyaluronic-acid-based, so they all can dissolve with hyaluronidase,” an enzyme that melts away hyaluronic acid rapidly and safely.
It’s been almost six months since I saw Dr. Green, and my lips still look killer. I am noticing a slight decrease in volume—totally predictable given the time frame. You can probably see it in the above photos, so I’ll likely get another round before the summer’s done. I won’t be offended if you notice. In fact, I hope you do.