Lips are often left out of the skin care 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,” New York City–based dermatologist Macrene Alexiades says. A number of factors are responsible for those changes. “As we age, our collagen thins due to multiple factors including sun damage, free radical damage from environmental pollution and smoking, a diet with excessive sugar, stress, and hormone depletion,” board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness in Chicago says. The skin on and around our lips is thin, so it’s particularly susceptible to damage. At the same time, our facial muscles move often, and the area is prone to sun exposure. “Lines can also be worse due to muscular movement in those who smoke and purse when they speak,” Macrene adds. “And most concerning, some women develop pre-cancers on the lip called actinic cheilitis.”
If your current lip care routine involves just 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 plumper. Here, four top dermatologists spill the tips and tricks for anti-aging your lips.
Anti-Aging Lip Serums and Balms
These new, souped-up lip balms deliver anti-aging ingredients and hydration right where you need it most. Verso’s Lip Serum was the first we found to contain 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, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines around the mouth overtime. Macrene’s High Performance Lip Filler treatment is packed with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, peptides, more than 20 antioxidants, and intense hydrators like coconut oil to leave lips looking discernibly fuller. “Within days, your lips get gradually plumper, and without a needle,” she says. “The hyaluronic acid and collagen stimulation gives a more natural look than injections.” And then, there’s StackedSkincare’s Hydrating Lip Peel, which chemically exfoliates the top layer of skin to reveal smoother, softer lips.
But perhaps the easiest anti-aging lip hack is just to remember that 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,” Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology in New York, says. “In the evening, try repairing treatments with retinol, growth factors, and peptides.”
For quick—and free—results, there is some evidence that simply massaging your lips and the area around them can give noticeable results. But Cheung says to manage expectations. “Massaging your lips can give you a temporary plump from swelling, and will boost circulation and lymphatic drainage, but won’t lead to a dramatic difference in lip lines.” For longer-term effects, the derm recommends another tactic: “You’re better off using a vibration device or microneedling roller at home, as there are clinical studies that show benefits with collagen stimulation and skin health.”
Lasers and Peels
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,” Zeichner says. In addition to the Clear + Brilliant laser, Neil Sadick, a dermatologist in New York, recommends a chemical peel with alpha hydroxy acids and a skin care regimen with skin-brightening ingredients like kojic acid or a hydroquinone derivative. He also recommends microneedling with or without radiofrequency, which creates tiny injuries to the skin around the lips and, therefore, stimulates collagen and elastic production. “There’s less downtime than a laser or peel, and they’re not melanin or pigment sensitive,” he says. Talk to your dermatologist about the treatments they offer and which one is right for your lips.
Not all lip fillers are done with the intention of creating Kylie Jenner’s lips. “With age, the border of the lip, the so-called white roll, loses its definition. It is common for lipstick to bleed from the red part of your lip onto your skin because you lost structure at the border,” Zeichner says. “This is best treated with a filler to restore volume and structure around the mouth. Overtreating the lip border can give you duck lips, but subtle treatments go a long way to define the lip from the skin surrounding the mouth.”
Hyaluronic acid injections like Restylane Silk, Juvederm, or the subtler Volbella can make the lips more defined—and, therefore, a little younger looking—without dramatically changing the size. Zeichner and Cheung note that if you’re more concerned about lines and wrinkles, a few drops of Botox can also help soften and relax the muscles around your mouth. “Microbotox injections are a popular treatment to create a ‘glass skin’ look around the lips and face,” Cheung explains. There’s a small caveat though: “You won’t be able to purse your lips as strongly and you may not be able to drink from a straw for a few months,” Zeichner notes. So if you can’t quit your daily iced coffees, peels or lasers might be your better wrinkle-fighting option.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.