Increased lip volume has become the branding focus for lip care and makeup products across the market. With semi-permanent lip filler injections readily available, cosmetics and skin care brands have been following suit with offerings that claim to plump and smooth lips to the same effect.
While it is clear that you can’t achieve the same volumising effect from a topical product, brands often include one or more of the following irritating ingredients (keep an eye out on your lip balm, scrub or mask ingredient lists for these) in order to plump lips:
Cinnamon – Capsaicin – Peppermint/Menthol – Camphor – Caffeine
Let’s take capsaicin, one of the most irritating on the list, as an example. In a 2009 Canadian Institute of Health Research article, “Vascular and Psychophysical Effects of Topical Capsaicin Application to Orofacial Tissues” it is noted: “Applications of 1% capsaicin or vehicle cream to the glabrous lips and tongue were randomized between two two-trial sessions…greater increases in blood flow and temperature paralleled more intense burning pain and larger areas of perceived pain for the lips compared to the tongue.”
The skin on our lips is defined as ‘glaborous’, meaning free from hair or down, and (as discussed in our previous review of Hurraw lip balms) with the stratum corneum being thinner here (allowing the underlying blood vessels beneath to show through in this area).
When we apply irritating ingredients like capsaicin to this area, even at a significantly lower percentage than that discussed above, we can expect swelling and more redness from increased blood flow, a burning sensation and warmth, all suggesting that plumping is occurring. In reality, this is your skin’s natural response to irritation, and the long-term results will likely result in sensitised lips.
A 2011 article on The American Association for Cancer website summed up the research on capsaicin for human, topical application, stating: “Evidence for the effectiveness or safety of capsaicin use in pain relief is controversial. Application of capsaicin to the skin causes an enhanced sensitivity to noxious stimuli, followed by a period with reduced sensitivity and, after repeated applications, persistent desensitization… capsaicin-induced dermal pain is common after exposure to capsaicin-containing hot peppers, personal protection sprays, or topical creams. A condition known as “Hunan hand,” which is a form of contact dermatitis, has been noted in workers handling peppers.”
Any swelling from these irritating products is most certainly temporary, and will require consistent re-application of the product to ignite swelling again, although desensitisation will make it more likely for you to over-apply without feeling the full affect of the product over time. For an irritant-free way of boosting lip volume and blood flow, try a gentle massage with a wash cloth and warm water, followed by your favourite lip balm to keep lips protected.
Have you tried a lip plumping product that contains an allergen like capsaicin? Let us know in the comments!