'It feels great knowing my lips won't rub off' - Why lip fillers are the new Louboutins for young Irish women
A few years ago red-soled shoes or an It-bag were the ultimate status symbols for young Irish women. Today, it's lip fillers that create the perfect Instagram pout that they're aspiring to - and openly flaunting. Here, our reporter examines the rise of 'aesthetic surgery' in Ireland and asks the experts what it means for our self image…
In February of this year, Sarah Lester finally took the plunge. She was passing a salon close to her home when she saw an advert offering 25pc off on a first lip filler treatment - performed in the salon, by a nurse. She couldn't resist. The 23-year-old civil servant from north Dublin had a millimetre of filler injected into her lips. She has since repeated the procedure thrice.
What pushed Lester on to surgically alter - or, the preferred word, enhance - her physical features? She cites a big focus in the media and amongst her peers on having the perfect lips.
"I don't recall being nervous at all," Lester says of the prospect of having a foreign body injected into her face. "Just really excited to have big lips."
Lester is one of a growing number of young - and not so young - Irish women who believe life is better after 'aesthetic' surgery. "It's an expensive habit to have," she says, but a worthwhile one. "Having your nails, lashes, extensions and now lips done can give you more confidence. They make you feel girly and good about yourself."
When Lester first had the lip procedure done, her lips were swollen for the rest of the day. "They go down, but in my case, I always want them to be as big as when they're swollen," she says.
For young women today, the glamour stakes have never been higher. Previously reserved for big nights out or special occasions, incredible grooming is now a must during daylight hours - regardless of whether they actually leave the house.
During the recession, cosmetic companies were amongst a small number of luxurious brands that actually increased sales. People may have had less disposable income but aspirations of beauty increased. Indicative of a global trend - and no doubt spurred on by social media and selfie culture - it's seen as quite 'natural' for a woman to have acrylic nails, additional lashes and dark, groomed eyebrows.
But amongst the younger demographic, make-up, hair extensions and even semi-permanent eyebrow tattoos are not enough to satisfy their craving for the perfect look. Step up 'aesthetic surgery' - which allows young women to surgically alter their appearance to emulate the look du jour - popularised by celebrities they follow online.
In the past, young women might have aspired to owning a Louis Vuitton handbag or a pair of Louboutins, now lip filler is topping the wish-list. And just like those designer Celtic Tiger totems, having an aesthetic procedure is something to be flaunted and bragged about openly, not hidden away like the secretive plastic surgeries of the past.
Search the hashtag 'lips' on Instagram and you'll find 3.1 million posts covering everything from products and make-up techniques designed to give you the bee-stung look, to countless pouting selfies. A search for #lipfillers brings up some 77,000 posts, while #lipinjections has a further 46,000 entries. Here, you can see before and after photos, testimonials and special offers from salons promising 'heart-shaped lips' and 'the perfect pout'. You can also watch videos of the procedure being done, some featuring women injecting their own lips.
"Still a bit bruised but the swelling has gone down and I'm completely in LOVE," writes one UK-basked poster. "Send help," writes a 30-year-old from Ireland, under a close-up of her swollen lips. Twenty-four hours later she posts a heavily made-up pouting selfie tagged: 'Love them.'
The proliferation of celebrity magazines and gossip websites are radically altering the general perception of a 'normal' face. Many of the young women populating reality TV shows have had some sort of cosmetic work done; work they promote on their social media profiles, often in lieu of payment. The stars of British programmes Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex and Ex On The Beach have over the course of their shows, physically morphed into slimmer, more plumped up versions of themselves; Geordie Shore's Chloe Ferry recently commented on how "ugly" she looked when she first appeared on MTV, as she spoke of her desire to escape the natural look and have even more "work done". Meanwhile, cast-mate Charlotte Crosby - who has spoken about her lip enhancements as well as having had rhinoplasty, or a 'nose job' - garnered more than 69,000 'likes' on Instagram for a photo of heavily-filled lips tagged 'Call the lip police'.
It's possible to get new lips for a couple of hundred euro in a salon or even have the service administered in your kitchen. The results are obvious and lasting, meaning instant gratification and attention.
Dubliner Lauren Bejaoui (21) is a model and a blogger with 25,000 Instagram followers. She had her first lip injections six months ago. "I became really tired of over-drawing my lips with liner to make them appear bigger, so after a lot of consideration and research, I decided to get filler last May," Bejaoui says. "I've always found full lips really aesthetically pleasing and unfortunately for me and my own personal idea of beauty, I wasn't blessed in the lip department."
Bejaoui has appeared in several magazine editorials and a campaign shoot for the brand American Apparel. Despite her natural beauty she still desired that full-mouthed look. "I feel like it has just balanced out my face and gave me that natural-looking pout that I've always desired. Confidence comes from within, but it absolutely makes me feel great knowing my lips won't rub off."
Bejaoui - who had her filler administered by Dr Mukesh Laloo at the Cosmedics clinic in Blanchardstown - says that everything these days evolves at such a fast pace, and our perception of beauty is no different. "Social media exposes us to treatments out there and their results. But I can't express enough just how important it is to do your research before having filler. Injecting a foreign substance into your body is only a job for a qualified professional in a completely sterile surrounding. This new idea of going to a hair salon to have you lips done terrifies me. You wouldn't go to a salon to have a tooth pulled."
However, many salons around the country do offer filler procedures to willing customers. A nurse visits the salon for the day and sees people by appointment. Because there is no regulation of the cosmetic surgery industry in Ireland, the lip filler procedure can be performed by just about anyone.
Some might remember the consequences of actress Leslie Ash's lip augmentation, a botched job that earned her the title "trout pout" and served as a cautionary tale to many of her generation. But nowadays, the procedures are more refined and offer short-term, reversible results - hence their ubiquitous appeal.
Dr Darren McKeown, who runs a UK clinic that provides a wide range of surgical and 'non-invasive' procedures, including facial fillers, says that lips are increasingly big business. "Lots of young girls come looking for lip filler but in my experience, 80pc don't need it. No-one ever truly needs it, it's not a medical requirement but the benefit of it is seen when someone's lips are disproportionate to their features and might detract from their appearance.
"Most young women that come wanting filler actually have very nice, normal size lips but they want big lips because it's a trend. There's no question that it's Instagram and social media encouraging the trend. You see women on there posting selfies with big pouts and filtering them to maximise their lips. Then everyone else aspires to look like that, even though the girls in photos don't look like that all the time. Young women are aspiring to a level of beauty that's not even real."
Patients often have misconceptions about how long the effects of these treatments actually last, says Dr McKeown whose STOP range of skincare and anti-ageing products can be found at Harvey Nichols in Dublin. "Most fillers are regarded as temporary. It will go away at some point and eventually will dissolve, but it can hang around for longer than people give it credit for - years even.
"If filler is poorly done, and done repeatedly, eventually you get a build-up of scar tissue from constant over-injection. This can have a lasting effect on the lip tissue, and it can become misshapen. Another problem I see is that young girls forget what their lips looked like before and lack any insight about how they look, so they keep going back for more and more filler until the lips look stuck on.
"My advice to anyone seeking filler would be to find someone who is highly experienced and ethical, and willing to give them objective advice," he says. "If that advice is that they don't need it or shouldn't have it done, they shouldn't just go to the next place."
Aisling Cleary, the clinic manager of River Medical in Dublin, agrees. "We are registered nurses and we provide an ethical service. But unfortunately there are places out there that will give women whatever they're looking for, and just pump in the filler. At River Medical and anywhere reputable, there's a consultation - the nurse will sit you down and tell you what we can and can't do. If we thought someone had unrealistic expectations, we wouldn't be comfortable performing the procedure. I have turned girls away.
"We've definitely seen an uptake in young women requesting lip filler; I genuinely think it has a lot to do with the Kylie Jenner effect. But with lip filler we can only work with what someone has. If you have thin lips, we're not giving you the full works. It's not what we do here."
Cleary says that clients should be mindful of the prices they see on offer, as they're indicative of the quality of the ingredients used. "When you see lip filler advertised for under €200, you have to realise that it's not possible to provide the service for that price; you wonder, if it's that cheap, is it the FDA-approved brand?"
She says people should expect to pay around €350 for the procedure, and because lips move more than other parts of the body, to know that the filler breaks down more quickly, in around four months.
Of course, there are plenty of women spending the same amount and more on make-up. Given that beauty has always been a desirable quality in women, is it merely a case of same concerns, radically different solutions? Psychologist Joanna Fortune believes that women's perception about their body's worth is changing dramatically. "There is a much higher level of emotional charge around women's bodies in today's society than in the past," she says. "It's a lot more about how we look rather than how we behave and we are judged and judge others based on this premise. Social media plays a significant role in this, as online, everything and everyone looks perfect, which sets a new, unrealistic and often heavily filtered and modified, ideal to aspire to."
Fortune says the advent of reality television shows which document real people accessing plastic surgery and body modification services can result in what was once exceptional practice becoming normalised and mainstreamed. "The costs and easy access to such services is another factor."
What we are really seeing in young women is a different sort of vanity, says psychologist and behavioural specialist Jo Hemmings. "The latest make-up and hair styles have always been seen as the acceptable face of 'vanity' but we are now seeing a change, mainly because of the rise of selfies and social media images, photos that were once restricted to celebrities are now accessible and used by ordinary girls, who rate their popularity and success by the responses to them."
Simple beauty treatments such as a hair-do or a manicure give women a sense of confidence, so Hemmings says it's no surprise that something more drastic such as Botox and fillers will make them feel the same way. There is, she says, nothing inherently wrong with that, other than that these injectables are expensive, and very often unnecessary, may be done by people not adequately qualified and can become addictive.
However, she says, the problem arises because the procedures are also being done to boost self-esteem, "based on the reactions of other people to their photos on social media as well as the compare and contrast to other girls of their age", which means that it may simply become a competitive exercise rather than adding any real long-term value to the women's confidence or their self-esteem.
"For many girls, these judgements have become intrinsic to their feeling of self-worth, which at the end of the day is - literally and metaphorically - only skin deep, and not related to any real or enduring sense of achievement," Hemmings says.
Jeanette Dunne is the co-owner of Renew Aesthetic Clinic and a registered nurse. While beauty is her business, she says she must have a genuine reason to put filler in someone's face. "It's a moral obligation. If a young girl comes in with full and proportionate lips, I won't fill them."
Dunne is also concerned that we've yet to see the long-term implications of over-filling lips at a young age. "It could have an impact on the tissue, there are a lot of sensory nerves around the mouth.
"When someone comes in to me, I tell them about the things that can happen, from a blocked artery to an allergic reaction or necrosis of the tissue. This is rare, but it can happen, especially if the product is in inexperienced hands."
Despite the risks, Irish women are a lot more open to having injectable procedures these days. Jessica Daly, a 23-year-old beauty therapist from Dublin, got some lip filler earlier this year, and says the results have given her more confidence. "Anyone else I've spoken to that has filler says the same thing. In the past when I've had hair extensions, it felt great when I saw the before and after. Now it's definitely the same feeling when I look at the difference in my lips. As far as cosmetic procedures, lips are as far as I'll go for now."
Those that do opt for more than lip fillers, plump for facial injections such as dermal filler and Botox. Nicola* (29), says she began with fillers after Snapchat made her more aware of her perceived flaws. "In using social media a lot and talking on camera, I began to notice my face in ways I wouldn't in the mirror, and I started to really dislike the frown and expression lines in my forehead. A few months ago I had a small amount of Botox, and the results are amazing."
There's a pressure to conform these days, says River Medical director Aisling Cleary. "I know in my 20s, I didn't even have a handbag. You could go out in a polo shirt and deck shoes and you were dressed up. But now there's a perception among young women that if they have big lips and long hair, it will make them more confident. This is my industry, I'm a big believer in someone doing something for themselves to make them feel better. But doing it to conform is worrying."
And yet, having lip injections isn't incredibly extreme amid the gamut of body-changing surgical procedures on offer. There's no anaesthetic involved and, in the right hands, the results can give a confidence boost - so what's so wrong with that?
As we sit on the cusp of a visual, social media-driven society, who knows how much importance our facial characteristics will take on in generations to come?
Sarah Lester says lip fillers are more than just a trend, but simply a new staple in a woman's beauty armoury. "Admittedly, it's not for everyone, but I don't see the demand diminishing any time soon."