Lips are often left out of the anti-aging conversation. Yet it’s volume loss and lines around the mouth that are some of the earliest signs of aging. A number of key changes occur in lips with age. According to Dr Kenneth Lee, medical director of SW1 Clinic “Most lips will lose their volume and definition over time, but lines and wrinkles are more commonly found in smokers, those with pale skin, and those with increased exposure to the sun”. Lines can also be worse due to muscular movement in those who smoke and purse when they speak.
To get to the heart of the problem, your lips begin to thin for the same reason your skin begins to sag with time: a natural decline in collagen. “Young lips are full because young skin contains plenty of collagen and naturally-occurring hyaluronic acid, which keeps your lips moist and plump from the inside out,” explains Dr Lee.
Like pretty much everything in life, genetics play a part in determining the plumpness of your lips (i.e. whether or not you were born with Rosie Huntington Whiteley lips). Lip size and shape are genetically determined, but all of us tend to get thinner lips over time. If your lips are naturally smaller, you may start to notice this in your late 20s and 30s. This is when collagen and hyaluronic acid production start to slow down. But that’s not the whole story. Lifestyle factors can be to blame for what seems like “premature” lip thinning.
So if your current lip care routine just involves a swipe of lip balm whenever they’re feeling chapped, there’s definitely more you could be doing to make your lips look younger, fresher, and more plump.
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to address the problem of thinning lips. On a daily basis, Dr Lee advises his patients to stay hydrated and make sure your diet is high in protein and vitamin C, both of which are essential for making strong, healthy collagen. In terms of lifestyle, if you smoke, cut back as much as you can, and avoid drinking from straws. Lastly, Dr Lee says to always use SPF on your lips. “UV rays break down collagen, especially on your thin lip skin,” he says.
Medical options include injectable fillers. Dr Lee advises patients to get their doctors to pick the softest filler such as restylane or Boletero for a natural outcome. If you decide to go the filler route, he says less is more. “Technique is especially important when I treat my younger patients in their 20s and 30s. I tell them that our goal should be to give you your 16-year-old lips back, not make you look like a trout!” he adds.
Unlike Vaseline or balms which sit on top of the lips, new, souped-up lip serums are designed to be absorbed into the lips to treat textural, colour and dehydration issues. Verso’s Lip Serum is the only one we’ve found that contains a derivative of retinol, the powerhouse ingredient known for increasing collagen production and fading dark spots. The problem is, retinol can be irritating when applied straight to the lips (so keep your prescription-strength cream off your mouth for the time being). But Verso’s formula contains a gentle derivative, called Retinol 8, that can reduce the appearance of fine lines around the mouth overtime. Chai’s Rose Quartz Lip Treatment is a serum-oil which feels like silk when slicked onto the skin. Enriched with vitamins and ceramides which penetrates quickly into the lips while leaving it feeling softer and more replenished instantly, it is a godsend for dry, dull lips, and works wonders when paired with a lip balm or gloss over it. It can also be used on its own overnight to give your lips a much needed rest and rejuvenation while you sleep. Swipe it on liberally a few times each day, and in about two weeks’ time, your lips should look a little softer, smoother, and more defined.
But perhaps the easiest anti-aging lip hack is just to remember the skin around your mouth should be treated the same way as your other skin. If you’re patting on a nightly serum, apply it there too. If you’re smearing on sunscreen, get close to your lip line and use a chapstick or lipstick with at least an SPF 30. Just as you would treat skin in other areas, the skin around the mouth should be protected every morning with sunscreen and topical antioxidants to prevent damage from daily UV light.
A quick zap of a laser or an in-office chemical peel can help treat fine lines and pigmentation around the lips that don’t seem to go away with topical treatments. The reason the lines develop is because muscles around the mouth constrict folding the overlying skin. In the office, lasers and peels can help improve skin tone and texture and minimize the appearance of lines. Dr Lee is a fan of using fraxel light around the skin of the lips to smoothen out wrinkles and improve the elasticity of the underlying skin. For those patients who want to shun lasers, very light botox in the form of microrefine treatments can help ease out unwanted lip lines.