Thin, barely visible lips are one of the more obvious signs of aging. As we get older, all of our skin—including that which makes up the mouth—loses collagen, connective tissue and subcutaneous fat. “Combined with everyday dryness that’s aggravated by lipstick, lip licking, lip biting and the elements, it’s no surprise that our lips get thinner with age,” says dermatologist Dr. Jeanette Graf, author of Stop Aging, Start Living.
Looking for a way to restore your smile to its previous plumpness without going under the needle? Then you’ve probably thought about giving lip-plumping lipsticks and glosses a go. But are they worth the money? “The answer to whether lip plumpers work is ‘yes’—temporarily,” says Graf. “They are not at all like having injectable fillers, however they will create an added fullness for a short period of time.”
With these limited expectations in mind, we asked the experts for their tips on choosing a plumping product and getting the most mouth-enhancement for your money. Here, the step-by-step guide to faking a fuller pout.
Step 1: Exfoliate
“Plumpers work best when lips are well exfoliated,” according to makeup artist Gail Sagel, president of the Westport, Conn. beauty boutique FACES Beautiful (www.facesbeautiful.com). Removing dead skin cells not only keeps lips looking smooth, it also helps the plumping ingredients get to work on the surface of the skin. You can concoct a lip scrub using 1/2 tsp. baking soda and some warm water, or just rub a soft-bristled toothbrush over your lips until they’re flake-free.
Step 2: Moisturize
For best results, your lips should not be dry when you use a plumper. If they are, be sure to rehydrate with a basic lip balm that contains jojoba oil, shea butter or vitamin E.
Step 3: Choose a Plumping Formula
How a product inflates lips depends on the type of ingredient it contains:
– Irritants: Some formulas contain ingredients like cinnamon, menthol, camphor, ginger and even capsacin (the heat-creating chemical in chili peppers), which irritate lips so that they slightly swell. A few of the more popular plumpers that work in this way are made by the brands Too Faced, Lip Fusion, DuWop and Bite. There is a slight pain factor with some of these products, so you may need to experiment with different formulas to find one you can tolerate.
– Long-term plumpers: Other plumpers promise to pump up lips with extended use. These products, which contain retinol or peptides to improve cell turnover and promote collagen production, “can actually provide added benefits over time when used regularly,” says Graf. Some formulas may also contain irritants, too, for a more immediate result. One to try: Avon Beyond Color Plumping Lip Color SPF 15 ($8, www.avon.com), which is spiked with retinol and peptides.
– Niacin: Some plumpers, like Skin Medica’s TNS Lip Plump System ($55, www.skinmedica.com), are made with niacin, an ingredient that has a vasodilating effect that draws blood to the lips and makes them appear swollen.
– DIY balms: “Cinnamon is an exceptional ingredient to use for plumping lips,” says Leslie Martin, the blogger behind the DIY beauty site CrunchyBetty.com. Try mixing 2 Tbsp. of ground cinnamon or 1 tsp. of cinnamon essential oil with 2 Tbsp. of either castor or olive oil; then smooth over lips. “You’ll experience a mild stinging sensation and then your lips will grow to a gorgeous pout,” claims Martin. Just be sure to use sparingly as a little cinnamon goes a long way and too much can irritate your skin. Keep any excess balm in a small, sealed container and mix the ingredients well before each application.
Step 4: Apply
For the fullest pout, you’ll want to use a lip liner and follow these makeup tips from Sagel: “First apply your plumping lipstick, then going just on the outer rim, a bit fuller than your natural lip, place the liner.” When choosing a color for your lip liner, go with a shade that’s a smidge deeper than the color of the lipstick you’re wearing. “You don’t want too much contrast, just a bit darker to give the appearance of a fuller lip.”
Step 5: Reapply
“If you want plump lips, then you should apply throughout the day to maintain the continuously plump look,” says Sagel, underscoring Graf’s point that these plumpers only work temporarily. To keep lips from drying out, which can be a side effect of some lip-enhancing glosses, try applying a hydrating gloss over top. This keeps the plumping ingredients closest to your skin while locking in moisture.