Over the past few years, lip fillers have become the go-to nonsurgical procedure for celebrities, influencers and any other individual looking to plump their pout, à la Kylie Jenner. The trend, at least according to many an Instagram photo, perpetuates the idea that bigger is better.
Though it’s possible to achieve a subtle result with filler, there’s an alternative treatment gaining popularity in the cosmetic enhancement world called the lip thread lift.
It’s a nonsurgical procedure that uses small, dissolvable threads (sutures, essentially) to help boost collagen in the lips and smooth out fine lines around the mouth. The goal isn’t necessarily to add volume but to add definition.
Threads have been popular in Europe for a while now, according to Dr. Jason Emer, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon based in Beverly Hills. He told HuffPost that, in his opinion, lip threads are becoming increasingly popular in North America thanks to social media and a growing desire for more natural-looking results.
“With fillers, [people] feel like it’s unnatural, they’re injecting something into their face. By using a thread that dissolves and builds your own collagen, people feel like that’s more natural,” Emer said. Though we must point out that both procedures involve injecting something into your face that wasn’t there to begin with.
We spoke to Emer and two other doctors to learn more about this nonsurgical procedure, including side effects and cost, and whether it’s becoming the new lip filler.
What are lip threads?
The threads used are much like the sutures doctors would use during surgeries such as breast reductions and abdominalplasty, according to Dr. Melissa Doft, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York. They’re made of sugar-derived polymers, and they dissolve or become absorbed into the body over time, she added. (If you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed, you might be familiar with similar dissolvable stitches, Doft said.)
As Dr. Michael Dobryansky, a board-certified plastic surgeon at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group in New York, added, there are a few different types of thread that can be used for different applications. Some threads have a spiral shape; these, according to Dobryansky, are particularly good for defining the lip borders. There are also finer, wispy threads that can be inserted in a hashtag pattern under the skin to help address the fine lines that form around the mouth (sometimes referred to as smoker’s lines), Dobryansky said. Those are usually inserted over a series of three treatments, each six weeks apart.
How does the procedure work?
Before the whole procedure begins, a numbing cream is applied around the mouth to ease discomfort. Doft said she sometimes uses a small dose of lidocaine where a thin tube (cannula) will be inserted as well.
Once the area is numb ― that takes about 10 to 15 minutes, Doft said ― a doctor will typically use a cannula to insert the threads under the skin, Emer said. Doft noted that the threads are similar in size to a strand of dental floss.
Doft said the full appointment is usually about 30 minutes; Dobryansky said the insertion takes about 15 minutes for the lip area.
Once the threads are inserted beneath the skin, they’re “gently pulled in an upward motion to tighten the delicate skin around the lips, soften smile lines (nasolabial or marionette lines) and wrinkles around the mouth to help activate natural collagen build in those areas for an instant, yet long-term result,” Emer said in an email.
After the threads are under the skin, Doft said, the body responds by forming collagen “and some fibrous tissue, so that you get a little bit of a plumping reaction.” However, she noted, threads don’t provide the same type of plumping you could achieve with fillers.
Is a lip thread lift painful?
As Doft noted, “the lips are sensitive, so it’s definitely a little painful, but I don’t think I would say it’s really worse than having fillers. It’s a similar discomfort.”
Emer agreed, noting that his patients have told him as much.
However, Dobryansky said the treatment might even be less painful than fillers for some people, as the needles used are usually smaller than those used to inject fillers.
“This is more akin to the experience of getting Botox, [as] those needles are a lot smaller than needles used for filler,” he said.
Are there any side effects?
Following the initial insertion, all three doctors said, there’s a chance some patients will see some minor swelling and bruising, but others might not. If someone does experience a little bruising, Doft said, it can likely be camouflaged with a darker shade of lipstick.
Some individuals might also notice slight asymmetry due to the swelling, Emer said. As a rule of thumb, he tells his patients to give themselves two weeks to make sure everything settles properly.
There’s also a slight chance patients might be able to feel “a little twinge or pull” when smiling or moving the lips, particularly within the first week or so, Doft said.
If you’re wondering whether the threads are visible once inserted, Emer said that is a possibility, especially if the procedure is not done properly.
However, Dobryansky said, it’s not too common; in his experience, he hasn’t seen that happen in the lip area. He did note that it could happen with the thicker threads used for things like cheek lifts and nonsurgical face lifts.
How long do the effects of lip threads last?
Depending on the type of thread, the effects can last anywhere from six to 12 months, Emer said, compared with lip fillers, which typically last six months. He added that some of his patients have small amounts inserted every three to four months “to improve fine lines and define lip borders.”
“This makes for a consistent, natural-looking result,” he said. “It’s more like lip maintenance.”
According to Dobryansky, the timeline isn’t so simple.
“The process of dissolving these threads usually takes about three months, but that doesn’t mean that the effects last for that long,” he said. “When you induce your own collagen, that effect lasts for a long time.”
In his opinion, the effects of lip threads are comparable to that of filler.
How much do lip threads cost?
Different threads are associated with different prices.
For example, Dobryansky said, the spiral threads “are somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 or $120 per thread,” and he typically uses three per session. With the finer threads, he usually uses about 10 per session, with each session running about $300. He clarified that these finer threads are usually inserted over a series of three treatments, six weeks apart, which would put you at $900.
Doft said she charges the same amount for both fillers and threads, since it takes about the same amount of time to administer either.
“In our office, we charge $800, and I think around the country, you’d probably see $500 to $1,000,” she said.
Who can get lip threads?
Doft, Dobryansky and Emer agreed that pretty much anyone can opt for threads, especially those looking for more natural-looking results.
“The threads are great for going around and adding definition,” Doft said. “For me, the thread is great for somebody who just wants definition, maybe a slight plump and maybe a little more long-term [effect].”
Additionally, she said, threads could be a good alternative for individuals who metabolize fillers very quickly.
Dobryansky added that lip thread lifts would also work well for individuals who want to reduce the look of the lines around their mouth but don’t necessarily want more lip volume.
“There are people who come in and say, ‘I’d like to do something about the lines, but I don’t want bigger lips,’” he said. “In that case, the choices are either individually fill those lines without plumping out the lips, or you can do threads.”
Are lip threads going to replace lip fillers?
In Emer’s opinion, the answer is no. In general, he said, filler and threads are complementary.
“Fillers help to hydrate and plump, while threads help to upturn, define and build collagen naturally,” he added.
He also said that many of his patients opt for combination treatments that involve threads and fillers, as well as lasers and micro-needling “to resurface the skin and deep tissue around the mouth and prevent and address keys signs of aging pouts, such as downturned lip corners, falling cupid bows, loss of definition and volume, and smoker’s lines.”
Doft and Dobryansky agreed that fillers and threads each have their own place, as they offer different results.
“One of the reasons I like having both in my practice is because certain patients really need volume,” Doft said. “A lot of people want fillers because their upper lip is very small or they want a wider mouth. For those patients, fillers are going to really be the only answer.”
With threads, you can get a little bit of volume, but it wouldn’t be quite the same as with fillers, she added.
If you’re considering a lip thread lift, or any medical or cosmetic procedure, it’s always best to consult with a medical professional who can provide guidance and advice.