May 30, 2023

Up close of a young woman's face, with full lips

The many paths to a plumper pout can sound like a game of Bop It: Plump it! Line it! Fill it! Flip it!

Unfortunately, similar to a round of the hands-on classic, the options are all short-lived and inconsistent—lip augmentations tend to require maintenance and upkeep and rarely turn out the same every single time.

Enter: the lip lift, a lip-enhancing treatment closer to ‘Operation’ than ‘Bop It!’. The surgical procedure, which is performed under local anesthesia, helps lips look youthful and full without the need for return visits and refills—ever.

Whether you’re a member of the itty bitty upper lippy committee (like me), looking for a more permanent plump, or simply curious about the procedure, we’ve got you covered with the help of two pros: Peter Lee. MD, FACS, of WAVE Plastic Surgery and Dara Liotta, MD, FACS, of Facial Plastics NYC.

What Is a Lip Lift?

In brief: A lip lift is a permanent surgery that increases the amount of pink tissue that’s visible in the upper lip, which results in a fuller-looking, more pronounced pout. It’s typically done under local anesthesia (and sometimes sedation, according to Lee) and takes less than an hour from start to finish.

To be more technical, the surgical procedure does two main things: it enhances the vermillion border—the line where the reddish-pinkish tissue of the lip meets the surrounding skin—and reduces the distance between the bottom of the nose and the top of the lips (called the philtrum). To do this, cosmetic surgeons remove a wedge of tissue from beneath the nose, which causes the upper lip to move upwards. There’s no use of fillers or implants in the lips themselves.

Benefits of a Lip Lift

  • Balances the face
  • Increases upper lip volume and height, resulting in fuller-looking lips
  • No upkeep or maintenance needed

Obviously, the permanence of a lip lift is perhaps its greatest appeal. Unlike other lip augmentations, there are absolutely no touch-ups or refills needed.

While you can manipulate both the size and shape of the excision to customize results based on the amount of lift and subtle changes in the Cupid’s bow, experts warn that a lip lift isn’t for everyone. The biggest factor in lip lift candidacy is philtral distance, which can droop and elongate as we age.

“The ideal patient is a late to middle-aged woman who has noted elongation of the upper lip and decreased tooth show when smiling,” says Lee. That being said, Liotta notes that lip lifts can also be good for younger patients that are tired of unnatural lip filler results—so long as they have a long enough philtral distance for the surgery.

So, how can you tell if you’ve got the philtral length for a lip lift? Liotta explains that, ideally, there should be a small amount of upper tooth visible when we relax and part the lips slightly. If not, you might be eligible for a lip lift and should further consult with a doctor.

How to Prepare for a Lip Lift

Lee suggests preparing for a lip lift the way you’d prepare for any surgery—keep yourself in good health before, avoid alcohol for 48 hours before surgery, as well as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications for at least a week before surgery, etc.

Liotta suggests taking 500 mg of vitamin C and multivitamins twice a day to promote healing and improve general health for two weeks or more pre-surgery. She also suggests limiting vitamin E intake to less than 400 mg per day.

What to Expect During a Lip Lift

Patients should show up bare-faced—no moisturizer, serum, or makeup of any kind—and in loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t need to go over the head (think: zip-ups and button-downs).

After patients are put under local anesthesia with sedation, surgeons cleanse the skin and numb the surgical field before excising a mustache-shaped piece of skin under the nose. The wound is carefully closed with sutures (medical-speak for stitches), and patients are soon discharged home. In total, the process should take less than an hour.


The recovery doesn’t tend to be very difficult. Liotta says patients should expect to see a line of black stitches underneath the nose for approximately 10 days post-operation, after which they’ll be removed in a follow-up appointment.

Patients are encouraged to ice the area for the first 48 hours to decrease bruising and swelling. But, Liotta is careful to note that patients should not ice the area after the first 48 hours, as this will slow the resolution of bruising.

Patients should avoid making expressive facial movements for the first few days. Even smiling and talking should be kept to a minimum during the first week to avoid stretching the sutures or incision.

There is usually a little bruising and swelling, as expected, but Lee says the pain tends to be mild, with patients returning to regular activity fairly early. He does note that most people may want to wait until the sutures are removed before being seen out in public.

As with any procedure, complications are a possibility—that being said, lip lifts are very straightforward surgeries. While there’s a possibility of visible, long-lasting scarring, it’s usually well hidden under the base of the nose.

“It’s a real surgery, with a real scar that takes time to heal,” says Liotta. “I tell patients to expect to use cover-up on the incision for up to three months after the surgery.”

Lip Lift vs. Lip Fillers (and Other Lip Treatments)

The biggest difference from other lip augmentations is that lip lifts are permanent, surgical treatments. In contrast, other nonsurgical treatments are temporary and will need repeating every so often as they wear off. This is partly due to the surgical nature of a lip lift, but it’s also because of what exactly a lip lift targets in comparison to other lip augmentations.

“Although a lip lift is designed to produce a fuller appearance to the upper lip, it is really addressing a different problem than an overly thin vermillion portion of the lip,” Lee says. “The goal is to shorten the long upper ‘white,’ allowing the ‘red’ lip to be more visible. Fillers seek to plump the vermillion itself.”

Whereas other lip treatments add something (be it Botox, filler, etc.) into the lips to create a plumper look, a lip lift removes extra skin from the area to get similar results.

The Cost

While the procedure cost varies widely, Lee says to expect to pay between $3,000 and $5,000. Meanwhile, Liotta estimates a price closer to $9,500—though that number includes all surgery fees, operating room fee, and anesthesia fee, as well as all pre-and post-operative appointments.

The Final Takeaway

If you feel a long philtrum is leaving your lips looking thin and dull, ask your doctor about a lip lift. With no maintenance needed and life-long results, it’s simply an unmatched option when it comes to lip augmentation.

That being said, both Lee and Liotta warn that the surgery isn’t for everyone—it’s specifically geared towards those with elongated upper lips and decreased tooth show when smiling. Not you? Stick to the filler, flips, and tricks you’re using now.