Everyone has that one thing they would change about themselves if they could. For some people, it's their boobs or nose, or butt. Some people despise their hair and others want different feet. My insecurity is my lips.
To the naked eye, they're practically none existent. In fact, I stopped bothering with lipstick a looooong time ago, convinced it only made the tininess of my two thin slithers more obvious.
Now don't get me wrong. They're just lips. But in an era where people worship at the altar of Kylie Jenner's lip kits, I've always half-wondered what it would be like if mine were just a little, well, bigger. I've tried over-lining them with lip liner (with laughable results) and was profoundly chuffed when I had an allergic reaction to my dinner a few years back, resulting in some minor mouth swelling. Pathetic, I know.
So when I was asked whether I would consider getting lip fillers for a story, I considered it. After some thought I came to the conclusion that I didn't have that much to lose as I already felt self-conscious about them, so I gave it a crack. And I asked a LOT of questions throughout the whole thing.
So, er, what is filler even made of?
Lip fillers, these days, are based on a naturally occurring sugar in your body called hyaluronic acid which is mainly found in the joints, Dr Zoumaras explains. The fillers are synthetic versions of the sugar but, "because this is a naturally formed substance, your body thinks it is its own so it doesn't break down" as quickly.
How does it work?
"When the filler goes in, the hyaluronic acid is hydrophilic, meaning it attracts water, and fills the lips from the inside," Dr Zoumaras says.
How much is a ‘normal’ amount to get injected?
"Most patients for lip augmentation will have 1ml of filler, because it comes as a 1ml syringe. Some fillers are a little bit thinner so you may need a bit more." The majority, "have a full mill, but less than half have some of [the syringe] and then come back in 10 days time and have the rest, or they are quite happy with the way it is."
I used 0.9ml.
Here's the before pic and immediately after pic (note: swelling is REAL):
How long does it last?
Depending on the particular type of filler used, they can last anywhere between four and 12 months, Dr Zoumaras says. The kind I had should last between six to nine.
How can you avoid the ‘trout pout’?
It's all about the proportions, apparently. "The reason why the [trout pout] is not normal is because the natural lower lip should be bigger than the upper lip. Most lip augmentations augment the upper lip more and that's when people's lips look obviously done, because the ratio is a bit out of whack," Dr Zoumaras says.
The takeaway? "It's ok if it's 50/50, but the upper lip should not be bigger than the lower lip."
Good to know.
Now to the pain part… Did it hurt and, if so, how bad?
Welp, let's just say it's not pleasant, but it also wasn't nearly as bad as what I was expecting. Disclosure: I was expecting hell on earth.
Dental blocks (injections) were used inside my mouth to numb both the top and bottom lips. But because of the way the nerves in your face are formed, the bottom lip is easier to numb than the top, meaning the top one was worse.
But what does it *feel* like?
The dental block was weeeird. A small botox needle was used to administer four injections (yes FOUR), one in each corner of my mouth. While the initial prick stung, it was actually kinda fine. FYI, I'm normally embarassingly wimpy with needles, so that says something.
As the solution was injected, I felt a cooling sensation (similar to when you drink cold water straight of the fridge) wash over my chin and cheeks.
The fillers themselves stung a little more. If 0 is nothing and 10 is absolutely awful, I'd give them about a 5. It was uncomfortable but not unbearable.
What about bruising and swelling?
When I left Dr Zoumaras office, my lips felt numb and looked quite big. This was mostly due to swelling. When I looked in the mirror, I could see a couple of small red dots where the needles had gone in, but I had been warned about that so I wasn't too fussed.
"The injection causes a little bit of bleeding because it is a sharp object and it can irritate a blood vessel, so it might bleed right away," Dr Zoumaras explained.
"The filler itself also evokes a bit of an inflammatory reaction, which can cause the bruising. But generally speaking it's not a big deal. You can ice the area for swelling, but in terms of bruising you will just have to wait because there's not a lot you can do."
For what it's worth, I didn't use ice as the swelling wasn't enough to bother me and my lips weren't painful afterwards.
What are the risks?
Apart from bruising and swelling, "the other risk is a very small risk of a reaction," Dr Zoumaras says. "Even though it's synthetically made, some people are allergic to it...There's probably a 1 in 1000 chance of that happening. It's very rare."
Gulp, go on Doc.
"You can also block a blood vessel to compromise blood supply to the lip," Dr Zoumaras continues. "But if that happens it happens straight away and we use hyaluronidase to melt the acid right away."
Okay, so at least there's a plan B.
Can you actually feel the filler in your lips?
Yes. And it feels odd. A week or so later and your mouth kind of forgets about the filler sensation and it's the new 'normal'. When I feel my lips with my fingers, I can still feel the filler but it hasn't interfered with eating, drinking or talking. As for kissing, I'll have to get back to you on that one.
Did anyone notice?
When I left the clinic, I felt like my lips were swollen but so fabulous people on the other side of the street might stop to stare. They didn't. And within a few hours the swelling had gone down and my lips looked almost back to normal (albeit just bigger).
Similar to when you go to the hairdressers, you notice a helluva difference but, since I decided not to tell anyone what I was doing, nobody was on the lookout for fish lips.
A few days in and the bruising started to come through and one person noticed, but not enough to say anything until I mentioned it, which is exactly the result I wanted.
In short, they looked pretty bloody natural.
So, how long much time should you allow between getting them done and going to an event?
Ideally, one to two weeks.
"Everyone bruises differently. If you have somewhere to go, I probably wouldn't get fillers on the same day because you may get bruising that can't be covered up with concealer or lipstick," Dr Zoumaras explains. "If everything goes well you probably could go to the event that day, but generally speaking, I'd do it at least a week before a big event."
In my experience, the bruising lingered for just over a week so I'd recommend closer to a fortnight. When it came to covering the bruises, I only put lipstick on once for a party. It almost completely covered the bruising but my hawk-eyed friend still noticed.
How much does it cost?
The short answer: it depends where you go. I went to a qualified plastic surgeon. He knew he stuff and I felt 100% safe throughout the whole thing. I had numbing injections and left without being mentally (or physically) scarred. That costs $990. Steep I know, but in my opinion, worth it.
If you go to other walk-in clinics along the high street, you're looking at around the $400 mark for a 1ml syringe. For that price you're going to be with someone less qualified and often are without numbing injections.
Fast forward to two weeks later and the swelling has completely gone down.
This is what my lips look like now:
Would I get it done again?
Yes. Apart from feeling more confident, wearing my hair up and starting to play with my lipsticks on a semi-regular basis, it's taught me something. If a small, non-surgical procedure can make that much of a difference to my state of mind, then I am all for it.
Of course, fillers are not for everyone, and it's no, it's not ideal. I can still curse my parents for not giving me Angelina Jolie lips, but it's not going to make any difference. If I'm happy with the procedure and results, despite the swelling,bruising and price tag, and it last for less time than it takes for hair dye to completely grow out, then I can live with that.