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A brief history of lip augmentation

From tuberculosis to Kylie Jenner: how did we become so obsessed with the perfect pout?

Welcome to Beauty School, the corner of Dazed Beauty dedicated to learning. From guides to histories, this is where we shed light on past subcultural movements and educate our readers on current trends and various goings-on.

We’ve come a long way from Goldie Hawn’s duck-billed lips in The First Wives Club, and plumping your pout has become women’s - and increasingly, men’s - alteration of choice. Lip fillers are the most Googled beauty treatments in the UK, and while some beauty trends enter the zeitgeist out of nowhere and re-enter oblivion just as quickly, lip augmentation has been a mainstay for decades. So how did we get here?

Lip jobs used to be a rare and risky luxury reserved for the very wealthy, but thanks to today’s non-surgical techniques they’re more affordable, easily accessible and require minimal downtime. Where there’s demand, there’s supply, and interest in lip fillers has grown exponentially. “Google searches for lip fillers in the UK were ten times higher than they were four years ago and have continued to increase,” says Theresa Yee, Senior Beauty Editor at trend and forecasting company WGSN. “Lip augmentation was the most popular non-surgical cosmetic treatment of 2016, and we are seeing a big focus on lips right now,” she tells Dazed Beauty.

They might seem like an overnight phenomenon but lip fillers date all the way back to the early 19th century. Injectable fillers made from analogous fat were originally introduced in dermatology as a way to reconstruct facial deformities in patients with tuberculosis, but despite their somewhat macabre origin, by the early 1900s doctors started performing lip augmentation as a purely cosmetic procedure. Although it was an experimental procedure and never quite took off.

Since the conception of fillers, surgeons have injected pretty much everything into lips. After fat came liquid paraffin, but that was quickly proven to be a massive fail. Fast forward to the 60s and silicone entered the scene, giving birth to the ‘trout pout’. Results were questionable and potentially dangerous, so the method was quickly abandoned. For a while in the 70s surgeons were even injecting bovine collagen (as in, beef) into lips.

By this point, in one form or another, injectables had been around for a whole century, but it wasn’t until the 90s that they really took off, and human collagen was introduced. Nowadays fillers are a lot more sophisticated and made of hyaluronic acid, a substance that’s found naturally in the body and in essentially every skincare product ever.

2015 was undeniably the year that made lip fillers what they are today, turning them into a decade-defining beauty trend. Kylie Jenner confessed she’d had her lips done and within 24 hours there was a 70% rise in enquiries for lip fillers. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than 27,000 Americans had lip augmentation treatment in 2015. That’s one every 20 minutes. That same year Jenner debuted her line of Kylie Lip Kits, and the rest is history. Just like her big sister Kim crafted her image from her ass (you could say she literally pulled a career out of it), Kylie built her empire thanks to her lips.

Kylie might have spearheaded a movement, but she isn’t the only reason plump lips are ubiquitous. “It’s generally seen as more acceptable in society and social media has, of course, played a huge part in showcasing celebrities such as the Kardashians, who have set a trend in having lip fillers,” says Aesthetic expert and medical director of Cosmedics UK Dr. Ross Perry, who adds that even men are having fillers done too. “A huge proportion of clinics and doctors use Instagram to showcase their work,” adds Dr. Perry. In an age where all forms of cultural change are driven by social media it’s not surprising, and the hashtag #lipfillers generates almost 630,000 results on Instagram.

The more demand there is, the more accessible fillers become, and with prices starting at £250 pretty much anyone can get them done if they wanted to. “The ever-increasing presence of social media pictures certainly means that having bigger lips is more normalised. It’s not an expensive treatment to have done and therefore has been made popular by celebrities, models and reality stars, many of which have a huge fan base wishing to emulate the same look,” he tells Dazed Beauty. Fillers have become so common they’re no longer reserved for red-carpet celebs, look no further than your average reality star or influencer’s Insta page and you’d think fillers were a clause in their TV contract. Since Love Island’s very own Megan Barton-Hanson strutted into our lives last summer, some clinics reported a 200% surge in demand for lip fillers and now offer the “Love Island package” (botox, fillers, and a discounted non-surgical nose job).

It’s been a long, bumpy ride but lip fillers have managed to carve a space into our culture, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to leave anytime soon, you just need to keep topping them up every six to eight months.