Is a 'Lip Lift' the Permanent Fix for a Prettier Smile?

Fillers can give your lips temporary fullness and implants can provide a more permanent volume boost, but what about a lip lift? And what is it exactly? We turned to Jupiter, FL, plastic surgeon Dana Goldberg, MD, for the inside scoop on this under-the-radar procedure, which can enhance your lips and give you a more youthful look overall.

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With age, the bones in our face slowly retract, allowing our skin to hang more. As a result, our upper lip may become thinner, sometimes with hardly any vermilion (the pink part), and our smile may not show our teeth. That's where a lip lift can make all the difference. "A lip lift is a minor surgical procedure that recreates a more youthful look by shortening the distance between the nose and the upper lip and helping roll out the upper lip to increase the pout and make more of the lip pigment (pink part) show," says Dr. Goldberg. "This procedure isn't as well known because filler is an easy way to mimic some of the effects of a lip lift and because many patients are hesitant to consider a procedure with visible scars on their face. Also, many patients and even surgeons, are uneducated on what actually causes an aged appearance to the lips. Many only consider volume and lines, but in reality, lip length, the strength of the border and the amount of vermilion show (pink color showing) are also important factors."   

If you're considering a lip lift, talk to your doctor about the procedure and how it will be done on you specifically, as there are two main techniques that are commonly used. "One uses an incision hidden right under the nose. This has the advantage of an inconspicuous incision, but it only affects the central 1/2 to 2/3 of the upper lip, so it is not ideal for patients with significantly downturned corners," explains Dr. Goldberg. "The other technique involves an incision right at the upper border of the lip, which usually heals very well. This can help shape the entire lip and often helps strengthen the definition at the border." 

According to Dr. Goldberg, the procedure is typically done under local anesthesia (numbing injections in the skin and local nerve blocks), although it could also be performed with IV or pill sedation. "In my office, we also use a topical anesthetic to minimize the discomfort from injections," she says. "Most patients will have swelling and possibly bruising for seven to 21 days. Patients take pain medication for one to three days on average and have continued tenderness of the lip that gradually improves over several weeks. Sutures are removed after 4–6 days when they're not dissolvable." 

And, although your lips will continue to age over time, the change from the surgery is permanent. "Generally, the procedure doesn't ever need to be repeated," says Dr. Goldberg. The result is a a more youthful smile with a better overall shape and more teeth showing, which typically makes for very happy patients.