From Sophia Loren to Angelina Jolie to Kylie Jenner, plump and pillowy lips have always been synonymous with vitality and youth. In fact, having a perfectly plump pout is something we tend to take for granted in our youth, doing very little to protect and care for our lips with the same kind of attention we give our complexion.
One day, however, time catches up, and it’s inevitable that we will glance in a mirror and notice that our lips are thinner, drier, and filled with distress lines and wrinkles. If we’ve always been proud of our pout, it can be a shock – and short of turning to a cosmetic surgeon for some help, not even Angelina’s famous pucker is immune.
So what happens? ‘As we age, the muscles and tendons that hold our mouths in a pleasant position start to become weak, and our mouths slowly turn down at the corners,’ says New York-based aesthetic dermatologist Whitney Bowe. ‘A turned-down mouth adds age to the face and makes you appear unhappy or angry even when you’re not.’
And we don’t just have weak muscles to blame, but also a steady decline of collagen as we age – the same culprit for the appearance of those pesky fine lines and wrinkles on our face. ‘Young lips are full because young skin contains plenty of collagen and naturally occurring hyaluronic acid, which keeps lips moist and plump from the inside out,’ says Dr Jessica Wu, a professor of dermatology at University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Think of collagen as the stuffing in a mattress that loses its bounce after years of use. As we get older, our body simply doesn’t create as much – and as production slows, our skin (including that youthful pout) loses the plumpness we have always taken for granted.
Genetics play a part too. Dr Wu says: ‘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.’
That’s not all. The lifestyle we choose is to blame too. According to Dr Wu, however, one of the biggest misconceptions about lip thinning is that it only happens to smokers. ‘Smokers’ lines can appear even if you never smoked, due to puckering your lips, chewing the inside of your lip, and drinking out of straws,’ she says. ‘Drinking out of straws can make these lines appear and will also break down the collagen in your lips and make them smaller and more wrinkled.’
Dehydration is another culprit, caused by too much caffeine or simply not drinking enough water. And finally, if your teeth wear down as you age, your lips will sink in with them – so a good relationship with your dentist (and excellent dental hygiene at home) is one of the most important tools for protecting that pout.
Now the good news… Despite lip thinning being a natural part of the ageing process, there are things we can do to cheat our way to perfect plumpness (without a surgeon’s needle in sight). Read on for a five-step action plan – and we guarantee that your 70-year-old self will thank you for it.
1. DRINK WATER
We’ve heard it time and time again, but it really is that simple. Drinking plenty of water improves the health of all your skin, including your lips.
‘To keep your lips looking youthful and smooth, the first thing you should do is make sure that you keep your body hydrated,’ explains Chicago-based aesthetician Gigi Greene. ‘Drinking water is good for every part of your body, including your lips. Always keep a water bottle by your side so that you can drink whenever you are thirsty to ensure that you stay hydrated.’
If you find drinking plain water boring, why not infuse it with slices of cucumber, lemon, fresh mint or your favourite fruits? Keep a bottle next to you on your desk at work, and one in your bag for when you are out and about, so as to ensure you keep drinking regularly.
In the evening, opt for herbal tea rather than soft drinks. It might not be rock and roll, but your pout will compete with the best of them.
Try: Fruit infused water bottle Dh50 (desertcart.ae)
2. USE SPF EVERY MORNING
If you’re clued up on skincare, you will already be making sure that your daily face moisturiser includes SPF protection. Sometimes you probably even remember to spread it across your neck and décolletage. Applying SPF to your lips on a daily basis, however, is unlikely to have crossed your mind.
‘Most people don’t use sunscreen on their lips or they feel that lipstick is enough because it provides a barrier,’ says skincare expert Peter Thomas Roth, ‘but everyone should be using a lip balm during the day that contains SPF to protect from harmful UVA/UVB rays.’ After all, exposure to sunlight is one of the single biggest influences in skin ageing – and our lips shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Simply getting into the habit of applying SPF to your lips every morning will go a long way in keeping our lips youthful. Throw one in every bag to ensure SPF protection is always on hand.
Try: Dr Organic Vitamin E Lip Balm with SPF Protection Dh28 (Basharacare.com)
3. BOOST MOISTURE
Think of your lips as a sponge. When exposed to moisture, they absorb water and plump up,’ says Dr Bruce Bart, a dermatologist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. ‘When dehydrated, they dry out and shrink.’
This is for a couple of reasons. Not only is the skin on our lips thinner than the rest of our body, but there is also a lack of sebaceous glands to keep the skin moisturised. This means that an extra dose of moisture is pretty essential if you want to avoid painful cracks and premature fine lines.
If you are already applying SPF lip balm every morning (kudos for remembering), pick an intensive treatment or mask that you can use to boost hydration levels at least a few times a week.
‘I’m a fan of lip ointments and oils,’ says Dr Wu. ‘Slick on a thick layer before bed and your lips will be plumper in the morning.’
Try: Clarins Instant Light Lip Comfort Oil Dh100 (Clarins counters)
Got your suspicions that a celebrity pout has had an appointment with a cosmetic surgeon? It’s possible – but the other possibility is that they have simply used a lip scrub before stepping in front of the camera.
Exfoliation not only makes your lips look fresh and young by sloughing away dead skin cells, but it also boosts blood flow to the lips. This makes them look juicier naturally without the use of lipstick or lip gloss. Think of lip scrubs as a quicker, easier, and more affordable way to plump your pout – with the added benefit of helping to delay the ageing process.
‘Lip exfoliators [products that contain fruit-acid-based alpha or beta hydroxy acids] slough off dead skin – much like the ones you’d use on your face’, says New York dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross. ‘But if you have sensitive skin or your lips are severely chapped or cracked, use these products cautiously – no more than once weekly – as they contain acids that can irritate skin.’
Try: Laura Geller Smoothing Sugar Scrub Dh99 (Glamazle.com)
So what to do if your pout is past the point of no return? Cheat your way back to pillowy plumpness, of course.
Top make-up artist Laura Mercier recommends arming yourself with a lipstick and matching lip liner to retrace the outer line of your pout. ‘Following the natural contour of the bow, draw your line a bit above the actual upper lip. Then use your pencil to make the middle of the bottom lip a bit rounder by drawing a line just outside the fullest part’ she says. ‘Then fill in the space between the new lines and your lips with the same pencil – and apply lipstick over the entire area for a mouth with much more impact.
She says: ‘Never redraw the lips completely from corner to corner – it looks too phony.’
Try: Givenchy Lip Pencil, Dh95
Givenchy Le Rouge, Dh170 (both wojooh.com)