As we age, our bodies naturally produce less collagen and hyaluronic acid, resulting in a serious downtick of volume in once-plump areas such as our lips. “This loss of collagen and hyaluronic acid means lips lose their distinct shape and border as well as the ability to hold onto internal moisture over time,” says Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD, noting that “peak lip volume” actually occurs around age 14 to 18, after which point it begins to decline.
Dr. Hausauer says the lips’ scientific makeup also plays a role in its thinning. “Lip skin is thinner than other areas of the face and body and does not contain sebaceous—aka sweat or oil—glands, so it shows changes such as dehydration and deflation more readily,” says the doctor.
Additional factors such as excessive sun exposure, genetics and lifestyle choices can also greatly accelerate the process and create less-than-full lips, lip lines and lack of definition even faster. The silver lining: there’s a way to prevent some of it. Ahead, 10 ways to reverse and curb lip aging.
“It is critical to use SPF on your lips to prevent skin cancers and premature aging,” says Dr. Hausauer. “Not only do we often forget to protect this delicate skin but adding balms with oils during the day can increase the risk of burns (think baby oil for tanning),” she says.
The invisible SkinBetter SunBetter Sheer Sunscreen Stick ($55) boasts hard-hitting SPF 56 and can also be used on the face and body; the silky Elta MD’s UV Lip Balm SPF 36 ($11.50) soothes and hydrates chapped lips while protecting them.
However, reapplying is the name of the game for younger-looking lips, says Dr. Hausauer. “Reapplication is critical as well because we eat, drink and may lick the region, removing any sun protection.”
Treat Chapped Lips
Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD notes that because most of her patients have chapped lips at baseline, she’s not a fan of most lip-plumping products as they tend to worsen the problem. After addressing chapped lips—Dr. Waldorf calls FixMySkin Healing Lip Balm ($11), which contains 1% hydrocortisone cream, a favorite—apply a petrolatum- or glycerin-based ointment regularly (morning, night and after drinking liquids).
If you’re after a temporary plumping effect, Dr. Waldorf recommends Skyn Iceland Plumping Lip Gels ($28). “Instead of irritating the lips or causing vasodilation to make the lips look bigger, it’s a 10-minute transdermal boost of hydration.”
Invest in Anti-Aging Lip Care
Along with future-proofing SPF, line-ironing hyaluronic acid can go a long way in keeping lips naturally smooth and youthful. “Many of the fine lines in the pink of the lips come from lack of moisture so I like to focus on products that use hyaluronic acid or oil-based emollients rather than waxy balms,” adds Dr. Hausauer.
Ourself Lip Conditioner ($45) calls on vitamin E and hyaluronic acid to soften and nourish lips while delivering a high-shine finish; the rich, glides-right-on ILIA Lip Wrap Reviving Balm ($24) relies on hyaluronic acid to keep lips soft and protected.
Just like being dehydrated can wreak havoc on our skin, the same goes for our lips. “Staying hydrated actually does make a difference in lip volume,” notes Dr. Hausauer. If dry lips never seem to leave you, simply drinking more water may prove more helpful than you think. Foods naturally high in collagen—think fish, dark green veggies and berries—help keep lips looking full and ageless, as well.
“Ultraviolet radiation from the sun, smoking, drinking out of straw, and any repetitive puckering motion or pressure on the lips—i.e. chewing on them—can accelerate the aging process,” says Dr. Hausauer.
“Don’t smoke and stop using straws 24/7,” adds Dr. Waldorf. “Puckering makes the lips look worse over time and the wear and tear causes the breakdown of the youthful structure.”
Smooth the Surface
Exfoliation isn’t just for every other part of your body. Lip-softening ingredients such as shea butter and natural oils leave lips looking smooth, and when paired with safe-for-lips exfoliators—sugar is a popular one—get to work even faster.
For a down-and-dirty exfoliator, look no further than Sara Happ’s Lip Scrub ($24) that’s safe enough to lick off; Clarins The Lip Oil ($26) intensely hydrates suffering lips and leaves behind a barely-there sheen.
Keep Them Hydrated
Lip masks are the new sheet mask, and ultra-hydrating options make keeping your pout looking—and feeling—moisturized easier than ever. Whether used overnight or as a rich balm, Alpyn Beauty Willow & Sweet Agave Plumping Lip Mask ($28) is a silky-smooth balm that’s packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and willow bark for pillow-soft lips. Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask ($22) is beloved by many for its sweet array of “flavors” and its smoothing, nourishing benefits.
When you’re in a pinch, nothing plumps a pout quicker than overlining lips or adding a touch of gloss in the right place. To start, try a nude liner similar to the color of your natural lips—Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat in Pillow Talk ($22) is a makeup-artist favorite—and shade the corners of your lips before slightly overdrawing the rest. Then, blend out the edges either with your finger or a lip brush before topping with your favorite nude lipstick.
To contour your lips, line them as you normally would—or use the above method—and find your two favorite lipsticks (make sure they complement each other!). Apply the darker shade all over the lips, then use the paler shade on the center of the lips and blend outward.
If you’re after a longer-lasting (and more invasive) solution to thinning lips, lip injections may be right for you. Dubbing hyaluronic acid–filler as “lip gloss in a syringe” due to its ability to hold 1,000 times its weight in water, Dr. Hausauer says the in-office treatment is her go-to for patients with thinning lips. “Lip filler is an excellent way to restore lost volume, recreate definition or shape, and increase hydration,” she adds.
If you don’t think you’re quite ready for filler, Dr. Waldorf says not to think of lip filler as being about bigger lips. The proper injector, along with the right balance of filler, can deliver a much more natural look to your lips than you might think.
“I commonly blend a ‘lighter’ hyaluronic acid gel filler—like Restylane Kysse, Belotero Balance, or RHA 2—with some anesthetic or sterile saline and inject sparingly in a more superficial plane to provide increased hydration and natural softness and shape both in appearance and feel,” Dr. Waldorf explains.
Noting that different products are used to achieve different goals, Dr. Hausauer says she finds Restylane Kysse and Juvederm Ultra provide “more structure and a juicy lip, albeit always soft and natural,” while Vobella is better for “minimal volume but smoother surface texture.”
Lift the Lip
A traditional lip lift is a minor surgical procedure that shortens the distance between the nose and the upper lip to help “roll out” the upper lip to increase the pout and make more of the youthful pink pigment of the lip show. Now, physicians are reaching for neurotoxins to recreate a similar look, albeit temporarily.
“A little tox (botulinum toxin A) placed carefully along the vermillion can help the appearance of the lips,” says Dr. Waldorf. “But beware: In older patients or if placed too medially, it can actually flatten the lip and make the distance between the nose and the lip appear longer, not shorter.”
While treating her patients with skin-tightening Thermage for the last two decades, Dr. Waldorf says her protocol has also included asking patients to “kiss the Thermage, or in other words pucker up so we can apply several passes of the radiofrequency right over the pink part of the lip to stimulate collagen for maintenance and rejuvenation.”