I was born to this earth with small, thin lips. Influenced by the Kylie Jenners and Angelina Jolies of the world setting the beauty standard, I’ve always been on the hunt for ways to increase the volume of my pout.
I’ve tried lip-plumping glosses and overfilling my lips with lipliner, but none gave me the look I wanted. So once I got a job after grad school, I knew my first paycheck would be going toward injectable lip fillers.
Although my job paid decently, I didn’t want to pay full price (lip fillers are expensive). I did a deep dive into Groupon and then Yelp, where I would scan photos and reviews. I finally found a doctor whose pictures I liked, booked my appointment and bought my Groupon deal.
The appointment went well enough, but I was a little put off when the doctor kept telling me I needed my cheeks done (a major red flag). I wasn’t convinced, but he kept saying, “You will see you need them when you get them.”
He also told me that since my lips were so thin, I would need a filler with a thicker substance than usual, something called Voluma. Not knowing any better, I agreed and underwent the procedure.
He handed me the mirror after the procedure, and my first thought was how swollen my lips looked ― it almost looked like I had an allergic reaction. Although not perfect, I thought the fuller lips looked better than my thin lips, so I let it go.
I planned to get another treatment after nine months when the fillers were supposed to naturally dissolve, but about a year later, my lips hadn’t deflated at all. Instead, they were lumpy and lopsided.
I thought new injections would fix it, but when I sat down at a new office, I knew something was immediately off. The physician’s assistant began by squeezing my lips and making me call the original doctor to confirm Voluma was used. It was. And it shouldn’t have been.
“Voluma can be used for augmentation of the cheek, jaw, and chin—it is a good product for structural support,” said Dr. Gary Motykie, a plastic surgeon who’s worked with clients like Kylie Jenner and owns Motykie Med Spa in California. “It would never be used in the lips.”
Instead, my original injections should have used something like Juvederm Ultra. “[A filler like] Juvederm Ultra has molecules that are more loosely formulated, which will result in a more natural feel and appearance [in the lips],” said Dr. Ebbie Soroudi, an oculoplastic surgeon who has worked with the likes of Nicole Richie.
And this is why the PA at my second visit could tell just by touching my lips that the substance wasn’t meant for lips, and why my lips appeared more swollen than plump.
I had two options: I could attempt to massage it out over time or inject a product (hyaluronidase) that would dissolve the Voluma. I attempted massaging it out ― because it was free ― but after three months of that not working, I went back to have it dissolved.
As the PA put the numbing cream on my lips, she explained the hyaluronidase would be a more painful experience than getting fillers, which is already uncomfortable.
The dissolving procedure might have been one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. Hyaluronidase burns as it “eats” the filler. Plus, after injecting it, the medical professional has to massage it in — hard — so it only eats at the filler and not your healthy tissue. I barely made it through the bottom lip when I was told I was the first person who hadn’t cried (this would be a good time to add I’ve had corrective jaw surgery and have limited feeling in my chin and lower lip). But my tears started flowing as the Voluma in the top lip was dissolved.
Now I’m back to having thin lips, but I’ll take that over lumps and the bee-sting look. If you’ve ever thought about getting injectables, let my story be a lesson.
Here’s how you can avoid a similar experience.
First of all, make sure you’re going to a doctor with proper experience and training.
Instead of researching on Groupon or Yelp, start with the website RealSelf, where people write about their experiences with cosmetic procedures and provide before and after photos. You can even ask to see before and after photos at the doctor’s office, and they should be immediately available.
You should also ensure your doctor is certified by the manufacturers that produce fillers, such as Allergan (which produces Juvederm).
“I would recommend scheduling a consultation with a provider and only moving forward once you’ve had the chance to discuss your desired outcome,” Soroudi advised. “A good provider will manage your expectations and will not be afraid to tell you ‘no.’”
Motykie agrees that a consultation should precede a procedure visit: “Does the patient feel the provider is listening to their concerns and desires?... These are things any potential patient should consider before moving forward with a filler provider.”
When it comes to Groupon and promotional pricing, Motykie explained that some offices do offer discounts because the more product they buy from a manufacturer, the lower the cost they can offer to patients. “The cheaper the product, the higher the profit margins — so, of course, they’d need to increase their patient turnover to use the product in proper time.”
Take heed of Soroudi’s warning about Groupon deals: “There is nothing wrong with promotional pricing. However, a patient should not overlook the provider’s qualifications in the excitement of scoring a deal. If the provider is not qualified, it will cost the patient much more in the long run.”