Lip Plumping Products Are Everywhere, But Do They Actually Work?

If the beauty trend has you looking to kick up your kisser, here's what you need to know about the products that promise to plump your lips.

Full, voluptuous lips are certainly considered desirable and have been for eons. They’re thought to communicate fertility, according to Chicago facial plastic surgeon Steven Dayan, MD. While injections can provide a plumper pout that lasts for up to one year, there are a host of topical lip plumpers on the market at different price points that promise lip service sans surgery.

But do lip plumpers work and, if they are strong enough to add volume without needles, are they even safe?

How do lip plumpers work?

Here’s the skinny: Most lip plumpers such as DuWop Venom Gloss and Smashbox O-Plump Intuitive Lip Plumper deliver at least a modest boost. “Most lip plumpers work by causing irritation to lip skin, resulting in swelling and and increased blood flow to the area,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The effects may last a maximum of few hours.” (The increased blood flow enhances our lips already reddish hue too). These plumpers likely tingle as they begin to take effect which is actually the irritation in action. Some common irritants/ingredients include: ginger, wintergreen, cinnamon, peppermint, cayenne pepper, menthol, and camphor.

Other lip plumpers, including dr. macrene 37 Actives High Performance Anti-Aging and Filler Lip Treatment contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid that pull moisture into the lips. (Yes, this is the very same molecule found in a many volumizing soft tissue fillers). Then there are formulas such as City Cosmetics Advanced Lip Plumper Formula that work by boosting collagen production and preventing its breakdown. (Collagen was one of the first materials injected into lips for enhancement, but it fell out favor due to an epidemic of trout-pouts that resulted from overfilling.) Some lip plumpers include ingredients that add shine, which also makes lips look bigger and brighter.

How long do lip plumpers last?

Two to three hours is the maximum effect you’ll get from these lip plumpers. Other formulas may not last as long. One 2019 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science of 60 women who applied a ginger-infused lip plumper found that the volumizing effects kicked in within 15 minutes and remained for close to 30 before petering out.

But irritation, though usually mild, can be painful for some people, adds dermatologist Michael Gold, MD, founder and medical director of Gold Skin Care Center, Advanced Aesthetics Medical Spa, The Laser & Rejuvenation Center, and Tennessee Clinical Research Center in Nashville. “There is potential to have some sort of allergic reaction, so be very careful,” he says.

How to pick a lip plumper

The only way to choose a winner is through trial and error. Apply a little gloss on your forearm to see if you have any reaction—such as itching or pain—before you buy, he says.

And it may not be you who has the reaction. A young boy developed an itchy spot on his right cheek following a kiss from his mother. She had applied a lip plumper with a cayenne pepper derivative an hour earlier. This case is highlighted in a review study in the September 2016 issue of Contact Dermatitis.

Some lip plumpers can be overly drying to the already hypersensitive thin lip skin. Make sure your plumper contains a moisturizer such as shea butter, vitamin E, or natural oils to prevent chapped lips.

“Lip plumpers are very good for the short term,” says Dr. Gold. The best lip plumpers can also give you an idea what a longer-lasting boost may look like.

Consider fillers for lip plumping

For more permanent plumping, you may consider a filler like Juvederm Volbella, Juvederm, or Restylane Silk. “These hyaluronic acid fillers can enhance structure and volume of the lips,” Dr. Zeichner says.

But, he cautions, bigger is not always better. “Make sure to visit a board certified cosmetic dermatologist to make sure you get natural-looking lips that fit your face.”

Sources
  • Steven Dayan, MD
  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
  • International Journal of Cosmetic Science: "How Long Does the Volumizing Effect of a Zingiber Officinale-Based Lip Plumper Last?"
  • Michael Gold, MD, founder and medical director of Gold Skin Care Center, Advanced Aesthetics Medical Spa, The Laser & Rejuvenation Center, and Tennessee Clinical Research Center in Nashville
  • Contact Dermatitis: "Cosmetic components causing contact urticaria: a review and update"

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.