by Erika Stalder
view feature on Refinery29.com
Remember the old school topical lip plumpers? They stung like crazy. And if you happened to get ’em on your finger, then touch your face, well, good luck dealing with the ensuing inflammation. Plus, derms weren’t fans due to their tendency to irritate lips. A few years ago, dermatologist Chris Adigun, MD, told us something she still stands by today: “I would steer people away from menthol products — it does not serve any healing or hydrating property for the lips. It will impart a cooling sensation and some people really like that, but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone because it’s not going to make their lips better.” Still, irritation was a small price for a mouth that was a little fuller and poutier in mere seconds.
But that was then — and we’re not going back. Now, there are a new crop of plumpers that amplify without the sting — and they’re quickly replacing our trusty standard lip balms. The latest versions pack major nourishing ingredients, like shea butter and plant-based oils, which means they’re primed to heal. Even better, they tap non-irritating ingredients to plump, like hyaluronic acid microspheres, which fill in the fine lines in the lips to make them appear fuller, and mustard sprout extract, which can have a plumping effect without the burn. Research shows the ingredient stimulates blood circulation and can increase lip volume when applied topically.
It’s excellent news for those of us who don’t subscribe to the “beauty is pain” motto (or at least get the longer-lasting benefit of fillers if we do.) Meet the new gang of lip plumpers, ahead.
It looks like a lip balm and acts like a lip balm, immediately after putting it on, at least. But a few minutes after application, our lips started to feel a little Master Cleanse-ish, as if they had been coated in cayenne pepper. Any plumping effect was subtle, but we were impressed with the nourishment it delivered — thanks to the moringa butter, manuka honey, shea butter, argan, and jojoba oils.
Josie Maran Argan Lip Sting Plumping Butter, $23, available at Sephora.
Fun fact: A star ingredient in this soothing lip balm is an enzyme that baby salmon excrete to break down the eggshell so they can hatch. Research has shown that the same enzyme also eats away dead skin cells, and when used on the lips, can exfoliate away a top layer, causing lips to look more plump. Soybean seed extract is also included to help stimulate collagen production, though reaping benefits may take continued use. “Collagen production from a topical does not work immediately, but can over time depending on the delivery system and the type of active used in the formulation,” notes Dendy Engelman, a New York-based dermatologist. Though continued use shouldn’t be a problem: The non-greasy treatment is so soothing and light, it has replaced our favorite everyday balm.
Restorsea Pro LipMagic, $35, available at Restorsea.
Judging by this pen’s liquid gel contents and metal rollerball applicator, we were expecting this plumper to go on in a goopy mess, but it neatly absorbed to a slightly tacky, matte finish immediately. Inside the pen are five hyaluronic acid ingredients, each with a different molecular weight designed to penetrate different layers of the skin. “Hyaluronic acid spheres need to be dehydrated to be absorbed in the skin of the lip, so the molecule is much smaller,” notes Dr. Engelman. “Once in the skin, they bind to the body’s natural water molecules, in turn, plumping and firming.”
The formula did smooth our lips after immediate use, but the real results are designed to come after a month of three-to-five daily applications. Until then, we love using this syringe-like pen as a lipstick primer.
Fillerina Lip Plump Grade 1, $89, available at Fillerina.
In addition to using hyaluronic acid filling spheres, this lip oil from celebrity derm Dr. Macrene also includes peptides to boost collagen, something Dr. Engelman says can be effective with a month or two of use. Also included: ceramides, which “can definitely help with maintaining proper barrier function of the [top] layer of the skin [and] protect against chapping,” the derm says.
37 Actives High Performance Anti-Aging and Filler Lip Treatment, $95, available at 37 Actives.
This lip mask is a two-step treatment: Massage the coconut-and-sugar scrub on your lips, wipe it off, then place the oversized, hot pink paper mask on. You’ll look like Mr. Potato Head, but you’ll enjoy a lovely cooling sensation that feels as though a facialist is blowing an oxygen wand on your mouth.
Yes To Coconut Hydrate and Restore 2-step Lip Kit, $4, available at Yes To.
This double-barreled tube contains two lip treatments: a plumping one for day and a lipid-rich moisturizing balm for night. The tingle-free a.m. treatment uses a proprietary technology to help boost lips’ own fat cells and deploys tiny spheres of hyaluronic acid to retain water in the creases of lips for a temporary plumping effect. “I also love this product to prime before using a matte color or long-wear lip stain,” says NYC-based dermatologist and Dr. Brandt advisory board member Whitney Bowe, MD. “My lips get very dry when I use those products alone, but with this primer, they stay hydrated all day.”
Dr. Brandt Needles No More 3-D Lip PlumpFix, $39, available at Sephora.
This Kardashian-backed, mineral oil-based treatment is made with purified bee venom, so it does produce a minimal tingle after swiping it on (if you have a bee-related allergy, this isn’t the plumper for you). Whether due to the shiny finish it produces, the plumping ingredients within, or both, our lips did seem to look a bit bigger immediately after one use.
Manuka Doctor ApiRefine Lip Enhancer, $30, available at Manuka Doctor.
We’ve been using this creamy serum every night before hitting the sack for months, applied in a messy outside-the-lines fashion. Here’s why: Vitamin E, shea butter, Omegas 3 and 6, and calendula, flax, and jojoba oils, moisturize the lips and skin around them so well, it kept both areas from cracking and peeling this winter. After a few weeks of use, more pillowy-looking lips became our new normal, thanks to the plumping action of marine-derived microspheres. Though this sucker is pricey, it’s generously sized: after months of daily use, we still haven’t used half of what’s inside the tube.
Le Métier de Beauté Hydra-plump Lip Serum, $95, available at Neiman Marcus.
We’ll admit: Our disdain for lip balms in jars runs deep. (No matter how clean our fingers may be, it just doesn’t feel that sanitary.) But this two-part ritual made us forget our neurosis — because it really seems to work. First, use the included silicone scrubber to exfoliate your lips (they made mine — and West Coast beauty editor Lexy Lebsack’s — so incredibly soft), then splash lips with warm water and apply the hyaluronic acid-spiked balm. Our lips were so smooth, they looked more full, too.
Nurse Jamie NuLipRX, $26, available at Nurse Jamie.
Seated next to a chatty Cathy on a flight and need some peace? Nothing says “I can’t talk” like a muzzle mask over the mouth. But travel woes aside, this lip gel feels amazing when on (cooling, with absolutely no tingle) and is built with some pretty promising ingredients. In addition to hydrating red algae, the soothing gels contain swertia chirata, used in skin tissue engineering to treat burn patients and here, to thicken and fill the lips’ outermost layer of skin. Also included: the aforementioned mustard sprout extract, which research shows can boost blood circulation and increase lip volume.
Skyn Iceland Plumping Lip Gels, $35, available at Ulta.