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Do Lip Plumpers Really Work?

By Amalah

Photo by K√° .
Hi Amy,
The salon I go to is selling lip gloss that promises to ‘plump’ your lips up. I don’t want to look like Lisa Rinna, but a little fullness applied topically would be nice.
I did a little internet research and it looks like these plumping glosses contain some skin irritant which causes your lips to have something of an allergic reaction to it and thus swell up a bit.
I’m willing to put that on my lips once in a while, but would like to know what you think. Would you use such a product? Have you? Do they work – like can you tell a difference?
Not Plump

Yep, I’ve used them. DuWop Lip Venom, to be exact, which I *think* was one of the first of the plumping glosses, or at least the first one to hit the big-time and get a big push at Sephora. Now there are a million versions, or so, but all based on the same idea. Irritate the lips with ingredients like cinnamon or ginger oil, capsaicin (like from chili peppers) or a number of complicated-sounding chemicals that I frankly don’t feel like attempting to spell.
Others will claim to plump your lips with ingredients that “stimulate collagen production” (riiiiight), while others claim to do it with super-ultra-moisturizing ingredients that pull moisture towards them, making your lips puff up temporarily with excess water. You’ll usually see something in the ingredient list like hydrophilic-something-or-other for this kind of gloss, though make no mistake — it’s still a chemical causing a chemical reaction, despite the comforting use of the word “moisturizing.”
Am I saying these things are “bad” or “dangerous”? No. Not at all. For most people, they’re perfectly harmless. I kind of regard them in the same masochistic beauty category as those nose strips we were all so bonkers for once. Not really the BEST approach to the problem, but hey! Cool! Look at all crap I just temporarily ripped out of my pores! If you have an actual allergy to any of the ingredients beyond a surface sensitivity, that would be Bad, of course. And if you have sensitive skin, you’re likely to end up with a ring of red, irritated skin around your lips after a few uses. And then there is this!
But still. Lip plumpers are what they are. Bee-stung lips via allergen/chemical-stung lips, I guess. Do they WORK? Yeah…I…guess? Shrug? I bought one tube once and lost it after awhile and never really felt compelled to replace it? The plumping effect was rather underwhelming? (There’s a fine line between “subtle” and “why bother?”, if you know what I mean.) And while I signed up for temporary plumping, a half hour to an hour later you couldn’t see ANY difference, and if I reapplied the gloss too often the “slight stinging sensation” became downright annoying, bordering on painful.
It was fun, I suppose, for a little while — kind of like my past brief obsessions with false eyelashes and Manic Panic and body glitter. I tried a few others at Sephora but never again plunked down money for one. I have pretty thin lips, but just found the results to be so…meh.
If you’re curious about your salon’s offering, by all means ask for a tester. I would not buy any of these without trying them, because of the irritation factor. I mean, they’re DESIGNED to irritate your lips, so it’s just a smart idea to get a sense of what level of irritation you’re talking about. If you’re pleased with the results (i.e. there’s any kind of noticeable difference that lasts for more than 15 minutes without searing hot pain), buy it! Have fun with it. You certainly won’t get a trout-pout from these products (unless you’re really allergic, yikes), but you also probably won’t look like Angelina Jolie, either.


Published March 13, 2009. Last updated March 13, 2009.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Jess

    March 13, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    In my humble opinion…totally not worth it. I used Lip Venom a few times and while the zingy burning feeling was kind of fun the only effect I noticed what maaaaaybe a little teeeeeensy bit of swelling that totally went away after I licked my lips (which is the same reason I dont’ wear lipstick). It’s so subtle I didn’t think anyone even noticed and I’m not sure if what plumping I saw was all in my head.

  • aimee

    March 16, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I didn’t see much of a result with Lip Venom – but I did find two products that worked well. Lip Fusion is AMAZING. It’s really glossy though and kind of sticky – but the results…definitely there. Pretty Girl Makeup also has a lip plumper that works pretty good too. 🙂

  • Juny

    March 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I used one of those lip plumpers several years ago. It left the red ring Amy mentioned. So, yeah, slightly fuller lips… at the cost of an uber-white ring just around the lips surrounded by a BRIGHT red ring. Soooo attractive.
    About as attractive as a friend of my who had collagen injections that left her lips bruised for days and made her speech completely incomprehensible. “Wha? Wu wot wik mwa wips? Mmm haaa.”

  • Tiffany

    March 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I do like the feel of the slightly stingy lips and have noticed that they do look a little fuller, but very temporary. As Amy says, you’ve got to reapply to keep the effect. One note of caution though…if you’re going to be kissing, your partner will feel the same stinging as the gloss transfers a bit to their lips! Not so great for a first date surprise…or for a long suffering husband who has to put up with all our other beauty obsurdities already!

  • Susie

    March 25, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    I have a Mary Kay product that is for making the lipstick stay on longer. It caused no pain/sensation at all and has noticeably plumped my lips (permanently). I used to have extremely thin lips. I wouldn’t call them plump now; but, not thin anymore either.

  • Jenna Marquez

    April 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Thank you for the reviews.
    My absolute fave is this one:
    I love how well it works even while being so gentle on my lips.

  • Diana

    July 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    I only tried a lip plumper once. They offered a free trial (thank goodness). I don’t remember the brand. I do remember that I broke out from nose to chin. Bright red blotches. My lips plumped a little, but not enough to cover the break out. If you have sensitive skin, make sure you try before you buy.