Do Lip Plumping Glosses Really Work? We Asked the Pros

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Of all the lip products that exist, lip-plumping glosses are probably the most misunderstood. The majority of consumers probably don't know how — or if — they actually work. When I was younger, I believed that lip plumpers were just meant for people who wanted extra glossy lips, or people who had a weird affinity for tingly feelings. (And my thought then turned to, "If you just want your lips to be supershiny, why not go for a Lip Smackers gloss? At least it tastes good.") I remember trying on my older sister's lip-plumper gloss when I was a pubescent teen thinking that it would make my lips huge, but I thought it just felt like someone was pinching my lips.

I decided to consult a few skincare experts to get their take on the matter. From what I can tell, everyone agrees that they do work, but they don't agree as to whether or not people should actually use them. I picked their brains to see if lip plumpers are worth the coin, if they have the same effect as lip fillers, and if they're potentially harmful. Here's what they had to say.

What exactly is a lip plumper, and how does it work?
Unsplash | Ali Marel

What exactly is a lip plumper, and how does it work?

Lip-plumping glosses have ingredients that irritate the lips in order to cause the temporary "plumping" effect, also often described as a "bee sting" look or a "puffy pout," according to the experts I spoke with.

Clinical dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein says, "Lip plumpers aim to give a temporary bee-stung look to the lips without the discomfort of [lip filler injections] — and the risks and side effects that go along with that [procedure]. Many traditional lip plumpers use various ingredients that irritate the delicate skin of the lips to produce a noticeable increase in lip volume."

Clinical dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner adds that lip plumpers also work to moisturize the lips while causing the mild inflammation in order to keep the lips feeling healthy and moist over the time that the effect takes place.

Cofounder of Le Jolie Medi Spa Brian Nourian notes that, while Le Jolie offers lip fillers as one of their services, many of his clients turn to lip-plumping glosses when they're in a bind for an event, or if they want to see what lip enhancements might look like. He says, "There is no downtime after using them, and they offer instant results." He continues, "If you're thinking about going under the knife, they're also a noncommittal way to enhance your natural lip shape and see what your lips look like slightly enhanced if you've never gotten fillers or injections."

What is the science behind the products?
Unsplash | Diao Darius

What is the science behind the products?

The experts I consulted agree that the science behind lip-plumping glosses starts with the ingredients, which cause a mild dermatitis — or skin inflammation — that makes the lips appear larger.

Esthetician and on-air beauty expert Liz Kennedy says, "The ingredients are proven to be efficient in hydration, and [the] different irritants swell the lips." She continues, "Hyaluronic acid brings hydration to the lips, because when the acid is applied topically, it holds 10 times its water weight. The same effect happens to the lips [when you apply a lip plumper that contains hyaluronic acid]."

Clinical dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali adds a precautionary note, saying, "The mild contact dermatitis causes the lips to appear larger. The issue is that we never know how much of a reaction a person can have, and [I] see many patients come in with issues including infections from these."

What ingredients should we be looking for when we shop for lip plumpers?
Unsplash | Jhoe Alecrim

What ingredients should we be looking for when we shop for lip plumpers?

All of the experts recommended looking for gentle hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and collagen, while avoiding harsh products that may cause irritation.

Nourian notes, "Both [hyaluronic acid and collagen] help draw hydration to the top level of the skin to naturally plump and define lips. Avoid harsh ingredients like peppermint oil and cinnamon, as these ingredients work to boost lip shape by irritating the skin to increase blood flow to the surface. These irritants are doing more harm than good."

What lip plumping products do you recommend?

What lip plumping products do you recommend?

Personally, I love Buxom's Full-On Lip Plumping Polish ($21). All of Buxom's products have their signature lip-plumping complex to leave your lips a little tingly and just ever-so-slightly more pouty. The formula comes in a whopping 100 shades, ranging from ultrasheer pinks to deeper reds and plums. Wear them alone for a natural, your-lips-but-better look, or layer them over your favorite matte lipstick for a little extra oomph.

Other recommendations from the experts include the Dior Addict Lip Maximizer Plumping Gloss ($34) and the Grande Cosmetics GrandeLIPS Hydrating Lip Plumper ($27).