Quest For The Perfect Lips
Is there such a thing as the perfect set of lips? Yes and no. It all depends on what you start with, and what you want. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all. Just ask Dr. Lips.
WORDS Ivette Figueroa
The quest for perfect lips is as old as civilization, and as new as the latest starlet on the block. Ever since the ancient queens of Egypt applied lip liner, luscious lips have been sought-after and prized. And for today’s movie stars, from Scarlett Johansson to Angeline Jolie, full, succulent, luxurious lips are a must. When a star doesn’t have them, she gets them.
In modern times, and especially during the past decade, the popularity of lip augmentation has significantly grown, as new advances beget new demand. Whether using skin-friendly liners to accentuate lip size or more permanent methods of enhancement, a prominent pout is now more accessible than ever.
What’s more, patients today are not only partaking in the perennial search for sultry, sexy lips, but are also in pursuit of eternal youth, which means younger, sexier looking lips at any age. While most lip and perioral augmentations until now have been focused on lip enhancements, now the aim is also—thanks to all the baby boomers—to improve lips as part of cosmetic anti-aging.
Which begs the question: With so much attention on servicing lips, why isn’t there more of a science to the art of creating wonderful, lush lips? And why are there so many botched lip jobs out there, creating the ‘trout pout’ look that is so obviously overdone?
These are the questions that plagued Robert Gordon, DDS, a cosmetic dentist and oral/facial specialist who, as the self-styled Dr. Lips, has made it his mission to create a system for classifying lips, and clearing up some of the confusion about what makes a perfect set of smackers.
“The vision for me started 4 or 5 years ago,” says Dr. Gordon. “I was down in the Plaza Hotel in New York, attending a plastic surgery symposium, and they were lecturing on lips. And I realized these were the best [surgeons] in the world, but they had missed the point. There were no unifying concepts; it wasn’t even presented like an artist would, let alone with an eye toward the surgical procedure.”
The experience led Dr. Gordon to years of research and focus, to writing several books on the subject, and to devising a basic classification system that made sense of the choices available for women.
“As a cosmetic dentist, I have studied the lower portion of the face in great detail,” says Dr. Gordon, who has offices in Miami Beach and New York City. “I have mastered the lips’ anatomy and used my expertise to develop and write “Vermillion Dollar Lips,” the world’s first textbook dedicated completely to lip and perioral augmentation.”
The book, originally geared toward the cosmetic dentistry field, provides insight into the art of lip augmentation and categorizes lips in six signature styles. Using these as a basic vocabulary, Dr. Gordon now trains other doctors in the language of lips.
According to Dr. Gordon, five visual planes shape the appearance of your lips: Three in the upper lip and two in the lower. All lips have these five structural planes in common, yet each individual’s lips are unique.
“You have to know the implication [of putting filler in] the lips, and you have to understand how the lips move,” says Frank J. DiMauro, DMD, a cosmetic dentist in Middleton, Mass. “Dr. Gordon was the first to come up with a classification system describing the different zones of the lips.”
The idea behind proper lip augmentation is to master the lips’ anatomy while also taking the patients’ specific features into consideration. “You want to enhance beauty, not distort it,” says Dr. DiMauro. “A lot of my patients have said they’ve been waiting for years to do their lips, but have been afraid. They’ve been turned off by the Hollywood horror stories.”
Amber Ausnehmer, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Canfield, Ohio, who studied under Dr. Gordon, agrees: “There are different lip styles, and not everybody is a candidate for every style. You shouldn’t try to be Angeline Jolie if you don’t have those kinds of lips. Th en it looks like you’ve had work done. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got to make you look better.”
Indeed, says Dr. Gordon, “Far too often, patients leave a practice with an inadequate lip procedure due to a doctor’s attempt to duplicate another person’s set of lips.” The problem lies in the fact that no two people have the same lips. So in attempting to put another person’s lips on your face—and frequently ones that are out of proportion—the results can be aesthetically disappointing.
This idea runs in tandem with an overall shift in cosmetic surgery today, from facelifts to nose jobs, in which doctors are being more conservative and producing far more natural results—the ‘less is more’ philosophy—with far fewer of the radical procedures that left patients looking over stretched, overdone and overblown. And nowhere has the old school approach been more apparent than with the all-too-common ‘trout mouth’ of lips pushed too far forward.
“A little bit goes a long way with lip fillers,” says Tina Miranda, MD, a South Florida cosmetic and anti-aging doctor. “If you want that natural look, you put just a little bit in.”
Beyond understanding that subtlety is key, the next step is realizing that shape is just as important as size.
“The art of lip augmentation is knowing where to place it, how much to put in and what is going to look right. If it’s placed in the right area, and for a certain lip style, you are going to get a very natural result,” says Dr. Ausnehmer. “It’s about enhancing the beauty you have rather than trying to create something different with filler.”
“I make the comparison to an artist, the patient being the canvas and the injectable, the medium. This combination of art and science is crucial when dealing with the planes, zones and segments of the lips,” says Dr. Gordon.
When it comes to deciding which lip style is best suited for a patient, Dr. Gordon stresses the importance of analyzing the entire facial structure, including the teeth and lip length. Outlying factors must also be taken into consideration, for example a patient’s age, race, and sex.
“As we age, sometimes the lower lip just disappears—especially with Caucasians,” says Dr. Miranda. “The lips and the corner of the mouth start to wrinkle and you need to give them a little touch up.”
Indeed, like other areas of the face, lips lose volume as we get older. Women don’t necessarily want a different set of lips, but to recapture the lips of their youth.
“Women in their 50s want the lips they had in their 20s. Most patients are more interested in replacing lost volume rather than [their lips] being fuller than what they had,” says Dr. Ausnehmer.
Cost and Happiness
With so much focus on making lips simply bigger, another factor affecting the landscape of lip enhancement is cost. The various fillers used to increase lip size are, well, expensive, and when a lot is used the price tag can become prohibitive.
“Not many people want to spend $750 on having their lips plumped,” says Dr. Miranda. And with touch-ups needed after every six months or so, plumping up your puckers can put a real dent in your wallet.
Unlike doctors who are determined to use up the entire vile or syringe of filler they’ve purchased for a patient’s lip augmentation, Dr. Gordon’s conservative approach to tweaking the appearance has the side benefit of lower costs.
“Most practices attempt to stuff the entire contents of the syringe into their patient’s lips,” says Dr. Gordon. By using only the amount of filler needed to create the subtle lip shapes, a doctor can save what’s left of the material for the next time the patient comes in for a touch-up. There is no waste, and money is saved.
“Depending on the lip style that you have, the middle of the line is $285. It’s very affordable. Someone who is younger and doesn’t need as much volume will pay less than that,” says James C. Ross, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Novi, Mich., who has expanded his practice to include facial aesthetics.
The other benefit is less risk of an overblown look. “The biggest mistake that other doctors make is that they put the same line that defines the upper lip on the bottom one, which clues people in that it’s not natural,” says Dr. DiMauro. “That’s when you get a lot of them looking like ducks.”
By using Dr. Gordon’s approach, “You are customizing to the patient, not the product,” says Dr. DiMauro.
And the end result? “I have happy patients, and it centers around less is more,” says Dr. Ausnehmer. “It’s not a drastic change. Patients don’t look in the mirror and see someone else. It’s them—only better.”
Says Dr. Gordon: “Women at any age should be able to enjoy a fuller, sexier set of lips, but ones that are designed specifically for them.”