Dear Daniela: How To Get Fuller Lips (Without Fillers)

Artwork by Meg O'Donnell
Dear Daniela,
I don’t think I want lip filler (yet!) but I am curious as to how I can help my lips look plumper and fuller with makeup. Aside from those plumping lip glosses – they just seem to really burn – what can I do at home to try and play around with the shape a little?
Alys, 26
Thanks to one wig-loving Calabasas girl, getting lip fillers is now about as pedestrian as having a facial in some beauty circles. Really, lip injections have been de rigueur in Hollywood for decades – it’s just that no one underwent SUCH a transformation in the public eye before. While the cosmetic industry will surely thank her for the uptick in bookings, the truth is that naturally full lips have long been considered attractive. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Karen Mulder, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Rihanna... even Audrey Hepburn had a pretty pillowy pout. Assuming you want your lips to resemble more of the latter group than the former, there’s plenty you can try before resorting to the needle.
First things first: hydration. Finding a lip balm that works for you is crucial – if your lips are dehydrated, they will appear to shrink and shrivel a little, and any dehydration lines will be more prominent. After many years in this business, I’ve come to realise that lip balm preferences are seemingly as hardwired as being a morning or night person, and results vary wildly from person to person.
Personally, I’d recommend Elemental Herbology Lip Nourish Plumping Balm, Nuxe Reve de Miel, or Charlotte Tilbury’s new Collagen Lip Bath (available end of May). Regular readers will know that collagen doesn’t perform topically in the same way that it does subcutaneously, as the molecules are too big to penetrate the skin, so take that part of the name with a pinch of salt. Either way, it hydrates brilliantly, and has peppermint extract to give a soft plumping effect without the burning sensation you mentioned. The reason so many lip plumpers are painful to use is that they work by causing inflammation, which makes blood rush to the area. The irritation makes your body release chemicals like histamines and prostaglandin, which gives a temporary plumped effect. Quite often, they use ingredients found in spicy dishes to get this effect – which explains why my lips looked so luscious after I made a particularly piquant pad thai last week.
Exfoliation has a similar effect. As well as removing dead skin cells, the stimulation of manually scrubbing will give you a short burst of added volume. You can buy a lip scrub for this (Lush and MAC make decent ones), but I find using lip balm on a cotton bud is just as effective.
Now you need to find your perfect shade. Personally, I’d advise against a really matte liquid lipstick. I’ve tried so many, and found them all really drying, which can lead to the aforementioned prune mouth situation. I think a regular matte or even satin finish lipstick would be best – some of my favourite textures are Topshop, Charlotte Tilbury, Tom Ford and NYX. You can apply some concealer to your lips first if you’re going for a bold colour – this takes all the natural tone out of your lips and makes the lipstick go on its swatch-perfect colour. Use a lip liner that matches your lipstick closely (MAC and Bobbi Brown are both good starting points), and sharpen it super finely. Draw ever so slightly over the edge of your lips, being especially careful around your Cupid’s bow. Then, apply your lipstick. An old makeup artist trick that really works is to apply gloss to the centre of your lips for a more 3D effect – clear is fine, and more utilitarian than buying one gloss for every lipstick you own. A dot of highlighter on your Cupid’s bow can help enhance this effect, too.
Ta-da! Send me a selfie, please.
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to ‘Dear Daniela’ become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

More from Makeup

R29 Original Series