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Lip Fillers Are Getting More Common, but Not All Options Are Safe

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, and founder and editor-in-chief of HoneyColony. She is also the director of the award-winning documentary film Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. Email her: maryam@honeycolony.com.

Pucker up: The changing face of LA thanks to lip fillers

From classic bombshells like Sophia Loren to today’s stars like Angelina Jolie, the desire for full, kissable lips is nothing new. When I was 16, I was nicknamed "helia" which means "lips" in Greek. The teasing got so bad, I vowed to surgically reduce their size when I got older. It only dawned on me a decade later that the boys were actually crushing on me and that the shape of my mouth was highly sought after, but not easily duplicated.

Today, however, lips augmentation facilities in La La Land are as easy to find as a medical marijuana dispensary, making full lips simply a few needle pricks away. Meanwhile, reality stars like Kylie Jenner, selfies, social media, and the slew of CandyLipz videos of teens sucking on an apple-shaped hand-operated lip enhancement tool, are making lip augmentations extremely popular and are also increasingly appealing to those still in their formative years.

More: How to Plump Your Lips Without Lip Filler

Pucker up: The changing face of LA thanks to lip fillers
Image: shvili/Getty Images

Girls as young as 14 are getting lip fillers, Dr. Kenneth Steinsapir, a board-certified cosmetic surgeon in Beverly Hills told SheKnows. And he should know: He’s enhanced approximately 8,000 lips.

“The more that celebrities admit to having lip injections and the more attention this particular procedure gets in the media, the more accessible it becomes,” added Dr. John Zannis, a North Carolina board-certified plastic surgeon.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 27,000 lip procedures took place in the U.S. last year — meaning one every 20 minutes.

“The danger is that the procedure is complicated. Not just anyone can do a lip augmentation,” Zannis explained.

Seemingly so. An increasing number of jobs border on botched. I even spotted the dreaded "trout pout" on a few men.

Surely, wearing labia on your face in lieu of lips isn’t viewed as sexy, but how full is too full? Are we suffering from dysmorphia? Is shelf lip the fault of the doctor, the patient, the filler, or a combination of all three?

More: Finally -— Lipstick for Your Labia That Glues You Shut During Your Period

I admit all the helia hoopla had me intrigued. I’d developed ugly vertical lines on my top lip (aka bar codes) and lost volume with age. Could I get treated without falling victim to a lip-fill crime? To help myself and others, I decided to gather as much information before undergoing a needle. I wanted subtlety because wasn’t that key?

“In practice, we want our patients to look as natural as possible,” Steinsapir shared. “We want others to notice, but no one to know that the lips were treated. Always remember that it is the injecting physician and not the product that makes the result.”

Despite our "bigger is better" society, I assumed that even if a patient were to insist on emphasis, a qualified expert would turn those requests down.

Case in point: Dr. Brent Moelleken, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, recalls giving a lip job to a famous female actor. When she returned for another hit, he turned her away, telling her she looked good as-is. The star ended up getting more filler administered in Paris. How did he know? He saw her flapper plastered in a tabloid where they were making fun of her faux mouth.

"I call it the Creep Effect," Moelleken said. "They go home and eventually get used to their new change and end up wanting more and more."

Pucker up: The changing face of LA thanks to lip fillers
Image: CSA Plastock/Getty Images

Dr. who?

Just because someone is holding a syringe, it doesn’t automatically make them qualified, Steinsapir cautioned.

The first thing to contemplate are proper credentials. I searched for a board-certified plastic surgeon or at the very least a registered nurse. I definitely did not want to get these services in a salon. Be prepared to make a couple of trips just to consult with a doctor if you cannot get answers over the phone.

Another crucial criterion is experience. I wanted someone who had dedicated at least three to five years to training and learning techniques in the art of all things injectable.

Since you are asking someone to shape your face, do not automatically go for the lowest cost. Even if you land a doctor, remember that they don’t teach sculpting in medical school, Steinsapir reminded me. An injector who is a doctor and also trained in the aesthetic core — dermatology, facial plastic surgery, oculofacial surgery — is more likely to strive for facial symmetry, balancing the eyes and the nose in relation to the mouth.

“It’s all about the math. We’ve all seen the lips done that look off-balance. It just doesn’t look pretty,” Rand Rusher, a registered nurse with over 20 years of experience in all specialties relating to surgical and dermatologic medicine, told SheKnows.

Meanwhile, take a good look at the doctor and their office. Do they have an eye for detail?

When I visited Steinsapir, I noticed art in his office along with a thorough demeanor. I got the sense he was an artist or aficionado. Indeed, he was a photographer and sculptor. These talents can only help.

I ultimately chose Steinsapir because he met all the criteria of an ultimate pro. However, I felt comfortable with the others I'd interviewed and have been treated successfully before by Gessler for eye bags.

More: Startling Rise in Babies Born With Syphilis

Pucker up: The changing face of LA thanks to lip fillers
Image: GannaK/Getty Images

Fill 'er up

"There are a variety of fillers and each one offers unique properties and characteristics. But there is no one "best" filler that can do everything well,” said nurse practitioner Carrie Gessler of Dr. Leif Rogers' medical office in Beverly Hills.

“Our two go-to fillers are Volbella and Restylane Silk. These two fillers are FDA-approved for lip augmentation. Both are lighter for a natural look,” she noted.

Too much filler or a bad choice equates to a bumpy, overfilled appearance. An amateur may not realize that commonly used fillers do not precisely stay put. For instance, so-called “smooth” fillers tend to migrate after placement.

Before and after

It’s a digital age; examining before and after shots of other patients for symmetry and reasonability is a must, Gessler added.

And they should also take before and after shots too. “The practitioner should have you animate (smile and frown) to have an idea how you look with movement,” Gessler said.

I appreciated that Steinsapir was conservative with the syringe. He made a series of miniature injections on the border of my lip and then massaged and sculpted the filler with his fingers, taking into consideration my natural assets. My lips look fab and unless I told you, you would never know.

Here are some other things you should know before getting lip injections.

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