Too much lip filler makes you look like a duck – so chimes the voiceover, rather bluntly, of one advert.
‘The good news is, it’s simple to undo.’
‘Not happy with your lip filler? Then reverse the result,’ advises another, from a cosmetic clinic on video-sharing app TikTok.
‘An eraser enzyme instantly dissolves the filler [and can return] your lips to their natural shape and form.’
For the uninitiated, lip fillers are medical-grade gels that are injected into the lips. They sit beneath the skin and add volume, creating a plump, pillowy pout.
Once the preserve of wealthy middle-aged women looking for an anti-ageing pick-me-up, the number of twentysomethings and teens undergoing the procedure has soared over the past five years, no doubt inspired by sexually charged images of social-media celebrities and reality TV stars who’ve had the jabs.
One recent survey of 18-to-24-year-olds suggested that as many as seven per cent of this age group had undergone a cosmetic lip enhancement, while a staggering 68 per cent said they knew someone who had.
A recent survey of 18-to-24-year-olds suggested that as many as seven per cent of this age group had undergone a cosmetic lip enhancement, while a staggering 68 per cent said they knew someone who had
Yet experts have warned they are now having to tackle a ‘tsunami’ of unhappy patients with botched or abnormal-looking results who are desperate to have lip filler removed.
So is it, as another advertisement claims, possible ‘to start over’? The answer, worryingly, is that it can be far more risky than they make out.
The drug that must be injected into lips to dissolve filler gel can also destroy healthy tissue, leaving cavities, irregularities and other deformities, cosmetic doctors have told The Mail on Sunday.
If carried out by a well qualified injector, the procedure is safe and effective. But in the wrong hands, both lip fillers, and the jabs given to remove them, can leave patients permanently disfigured, they warn.
Recently, a number of reality TV stars have spoken publicly about having their lip fillers reduced, claiming they’ve decided to go for ‘a natural look’.
Last year Love Island contestant Molly-Mae Hague, 22, boasted she had spent thousands having procedures, including jaw and lip fillers, reversed.
Experts have warned they are now having to tackle a ‘tsunami’ of unhappy patients with botched or abnormal-looking results who are desperate to have lip filler removed. One woman, Daniella Bolton, 24, from Edinburgh, recently needed treatment with steroid medication after her lips ballooned to ’20 times their normal size’.
She’d first had her lips enhanced when she was 17 – something that would now be illegal, as offering cosmetic jabs to under-18s was banned in October – and in a YouTube video that’s been viewed more than two million times claimed she did not miss her ‘lumpy, bumpy horrible filler’.
A few months earlier, Kylie Jenner, 24, a member of the reality TV Kardashian clan who has more than 300 million followers on Instagram, admitted the reason she was looking different in photos was ‘because I got rid of all my filler’ – sparking a slew of magazine articles proclaiming ‘the end of lip injections’.
However, it’s not always possible to reverse lip-filler procedures, warns Dr Raj Acquilla, who runs cosmetic clinics in London and Cheshire. He says he regularly sees young women who have ‘realised what they’ve done doesn’t suit their face’.
My advice to young women? Don’t have your lips done in the first place
He adds: ‘They feel ashamed at what they’ve done to themselves, and are desperate to look normal again, but in many cases we have to tell them there’s only so much we can do to help.’
While he isn’t against the use of lip fillers, Dr Acquilla continues: ‘One problem I see often is a uniform amount of filler injected throughout both lips, giving them an abnormal sausage-like appearance, rather than the natural heart shape they should have.’
And poorly applied lip filler isn’t just a cosmetic issue.
He says: ‘Big duck lips that project outwards look unnatural, but they can also affect the function of the mouth. Some patients can’t form certain words properly. And expressions can become warped – the corners of the mouth turn up but the lips don’t move.’
He calls this ‘a Joker smile’, after the grotesque, clown-like villain in the Batman comics and films.
A big part of the problem, he says, is that most lip filler procedures are being carried out – perfectly legally – by practitioners with little or no training. Lip fillers are classified as implants, so don’t need to be prescribed as medicines do.
In 2019, Ashley booked in for a new kind of lip-filler procedure, dubbed ‘Russian lips’, in which extra filler is injected into the centre of the lips to accentuate the cupid’s bow – giving a Russian-doll-like look, hence the name. She immediately regretted it. Pictured: Ashley before, posing with her enhanced pout
Ashley paid about £250 for her Russian lips procedure – but £3,000 for three appointments at the end of last year with Dr Acquilla to have them dissolved. Pictured: Ashley after, now with a natural look
Research suggests up to eight in ten of those offering the injections are beauticians or people with no medical experience.
Other investigations have found jabs being offered in gyms and leisure centres, hair salons and even living rooms, usually at a fraction of what a private doctor or nurse would charge.
And many, it would seem, now offer treatments they say will ‘fix sausage lips’ and ‘correct ugly results’ – promoting their services directly on social media.
Patients post ‘lip filler dissolving journey’ videos, often mentioning the name of their beautician – on TikTok there are seemingly endless posts tagged ‘lipdissolve’ and similar – with claims such as ‘my lips were completely free of filler and no longer swollen in two days’, and ‘I had my old filler dissolved and redone’.
IT’S A FACT
Love Island’s 2021 series sparked a 37 per cent rise in enquiries for lip fillers, a British analysis of Google searches found.
The most commonly used lip filler is a jelly-like substance called hyaluronic acid, a man-made version of a naturally occurring compound found in the skin and cartilage where it provides moisture and suppleness. It can be broken down in minutes by injecting the drug hyaluronidase.
But inexpert lip dissolving can be even more disastrous than badly done filler, warns Dr Acquilla.
‘Hyaluronidase can break down healthy lip tissue, as well as the filler. If it’s not done right it can leave patients with irregular shaped lips and even cavities – as if bites have been taken out of the face.
‘These poor girls go for dissolving treatment because they feel bad about the way fillers have made them look, and are left in even more of a state.’
Women who are unhappy with hyaluronic acid filler results can play a waiting game – the gel is naturally reabsorbed by the body over six months to a year. However, things may never look the way they did. In these cases, the only option is to keep filling.
‘We can help women look more normal, but some will need reconstructive treatment for the rest of their life,’ continues Dr Acquilla.
‘Filler expands the tissue, so the lips might be left looking stretched and baggy. Filler also stimulates the production of scar tissue inside the lips, which can cause permanent thickening and lumps which would have to be cut out. Many patients aren’t aware that if they have lip fillers, the results can’t always be fully reversed.’
His patient Ashley Stobart is a case in point. The 31-year-old, an aesthetic practitioner at a cosmetic clinic, began having lip fillers when she was 18. ‘I wasn’t unhappy with the way I looked – I just wanted to be a better version of myself,’ says the mother-of-one from Cheshire.
In 2019, Ashley booked in for a new kind of lip-filler procedure, dubbed ‘Russian lips’, in which extra filler is injected into the centre of the lips to accentuate the cupid’s bow – giving a Russian-doll-like look, hence the name. She immediately regretted it.
Last year Love Island contestant Molly-Mae Hague, 22, boasted she had spent thousands having procedures, including jaw and lip fillers, reversed
She adds: ‘I did it on a whim. I’d seen pictures on social media, and I’m always one to follow a trend. It was done by a nurse at a well-known cosmetic clinic – but they looked just horrific.
‘Absolutely low-rent porn-star vulgar. At work and I could see people thinking, “What’s she done to her face?” It was so embarrassing, especially as I work in the industry. I should have known better.’
Ashley paid about £250 for her Russian lips procedure – but £3,000 for three appointments at the end of last year with Dr Acquilla to have them dissolved.
The inner structure of her lips has been permanently damaged by the fillers, which made reconstructing a ‘natural’ shape a tricky procedure. She will need to have filler injected for the rest of her life in order to look normal.
‘The skin above my top lip has been stretched by the weight of having fillers for so long, too,’ adds Ashley, who uses her social-media channels to warn about the pitfalls of cosmetic treatments.
It was embarrassing. I could see people thinking, ‘What’s she done to her face?’
‘I’ll probably need a lip lift to fix it at some point. My advice to young people is: don’t have your lips done.’
Lip-dissolving jabs can also cause severe allergic reactions, and again on TikTok there are dozens of videos showing the dramatic swelling that can occur.
One woman, Daniella Bolton, 24, from Edinburgh, recently needed treatment with steroid medication after her lips ballooned to ’20 times their normal size’.
Dr Nyla Raja runs a chain of cosmetic clinics and has recently set up a service offering free treatment to women aged 18 to 20 who have suffered botched procedures they can’t afford to get fixed.
She says: ‘We’re seeing a tsunami of patients with lips that are badly done or just far too big for their face. The truth is, many will be left with lifelong changes, such as lumps or lax skin. There was this obsession, fuelled by reality stars like the Kardashians and shows like Love Island, that bigger lips meant more beautiful.
‘We’ve always advised women away from anything that will leave them looking overdone, but other clinics don’t.
‘Now they’re coming to us asking for a more natural look, but reducing lip filler isn’t simple.’
Lip filler, injected wrongly, can cause serious complications. Bruising and swelling are common, as are hard lumps known as granulomas. More concerning is when filler either presses on a facial blood vessel, indirectly blocking it, or worse, is accidentally injected into the blood vessel itself. This can lead to tissue death, known as necrosis.
In rare cases, facial fillers have migrated into the blood vessels around the eyes, blocking them and leading to blindness. Experts say it is vital that anyone injecting filler is medically qualified to treat problems should they arise.
One of Dr Raja’s patients, Natalie Murphy, narrowly avoided having to have her top lip removed after she suffered a blocked blood vessel when she had her lip filler dissolved, then refilled, by a beautician.
IT’S A FACT
Complaints about botched procedures had jumped nearly ten-fold in five years – from 217 in 2016, to 2,083, say charity Save Face
The 35-year-old business development manager from Liverpool started having fillers aged 25 but in recent years, she felt trends had changed. ‘Girls in Liverpool used to get dolled up to go out on a Saturday night, but now it’s fine to wear jeans and heels.
‘And if you look at the vibe of people on Instagram, especially after lockdown, it’s more relaxed and undone. I just felt my lips were a bit much – the look didn’t sit right any more.’
Most cosmetic doctors charge £300 to £400 for lip fillers, and a similar amount to dissolve them. Beauticians charge as little as £180 for both procedure.
In October, Natalie opted to get rid of her ‘big’ lips and then have filler reinstated over two sessions to give a more natural look.
She says: ‘The night after I had the new filler put in, I noticed the skin above my top lip, just to the left of the middle, was darker. I called the beautician and sent her a picture, but she said it was probably just a bruise.’
When it didn’t go away, Natalie, still worried, called Dr Raja’s clinic. ‘She asked me to come in straight away.’
Fillers were blocking a blood vessel above Natalie’s lip, compromising the blood supply.
Dr Raja injected dissolving agent, and disaster was narrowly averted. ‘If Natalie had left it much longer, the tissue would have started to die and she’d have lost her lip,’ she explains. ‘I’ve seen some terrible cosmetic results from poorly done dissolving – women with dents in their faces.’
Last year MPs warned that a ‘complete absence’ of regulation for beauty treatments such as Botox and fillers was putting the public at risk.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing urged the Government to address the problem after the year-long inquiry that examined, among other things, the ‘serious issue’ of misleading advertising and posts on social media.
Yet it’s not the first time concerns have been raised. A decade ago, after a campaign by this newspaper, a Government-backed inquiry came to a similar conclusion. The General Medical Council and Royal College of Surgeons among others were tasked with setting standards expected of those undertaking aesthetic procedures, including non-surgical ones.
Why, then, has the problem festered? Former medical director of NHS England Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, who led the 2013 review, says: ‘It was clear then this was a time bomb waiting to go off, but the Government wasn’t keen to bring in unnecessary, heavy-handed regulation at that time.
‘These procedures are increasingly popular and some pretty dodgy practices are putting people at real risk. So the question is, how long can we afford to wait before clamping down?’
Plastic surgeon Simon Withey, who sat on the review board, agrees: ‘The idea was to set standards for anyone offering cosmetic treatments, and set up registers of properly qualified practitioners. It was hoped patients would choose wisely.
‘But it hasn’t worked. I don’t think the message got out that these are risky procedures – and I don’t think people who want to have them look at Government websites anyway. It may be time to make registration mandatory.’
In the meantime, Dr Acquilla says the best thing is not to have unnaturally large lip fillers in the first place: ‘Often, it’s the first thing that young women have done, and it upsets the natural harmony of the face.
‘It’s a bit like putting a huge sofa in a small room – it’s just going to look weird.’
To find qualified cosmetic therapists, visit saveface.co.uk.