Lips Thin With Age: Why It Happens & What To Do About It
As we age, our skin changes. This is simply a natural part of life—we all get older, and our bodies change because of it. One area this happens that people frequently notice is the lips: With time, they lose volume and become thinner.
Now, not everyone finds this to be a major concern (some people simply don't notice a change, in the same way some never get forehead wrinkles or under-eye bags; all our faces are different and respond differently). However, if you notice that this is a problem for you, there are steps you can take to help enhance your lips.
Why lips thin as we age.
Lips thin for the same reason our skin sags or we lose suppleness: collagen loss. "Collagen literally holds us together—it makes up 30% of the body's protein and 70% of the skin's protein," functional medicine practitioner Robert Rountree, M.D., tells us. "The No. 1 cause of skin aging is the loss of collagen." When we lose this precious collagen, our skin's structural integrity declines and our overall volume diminishes. Essentially, our lips deflate with time.
And unfortunately, this process starts earlier than you might expect: Your 20s (yep and yikes!), and continues at about a 1% loss every year after1. "Our bodies always balance collagen production and degradation," board-certified dermatologist Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "When we are young, our bodies produce more collagen than we break down. That balance tips the wrong way with age since tissue regeneration decreases."
Bummer, no? Well, the even worse news is that in addition to age, collagen can decline for a number of other not-so-great reasons. These include but are not limited to the following:
- UV damage. One study exposed collagen to UV light and found that there was a "significant decrease" in collagen structure afterward2.
- Smoking. Cigarettes not only cause "smokers lines"—or the fine lines that develop around your mouth—they can also make your lips appear less plump. "Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to tissues. Therefore, tissue cannot regenerate and is more likely to become damaged and die," Goldenberg tells us.
- Excessive inflammation. Inflammation causes oxidative stress, and oxidative stress damages our skin cells. When this happens, we lose collagen. And inflammation can be triggered by stress, poor diet, irritation, or pollution.
What to do about thinning lips.
If you are concerned this is happening to you, there are plenty of ways you can help the area, resulting in plumper, healthier lips:
Take a collagen supplement.
Listen: Collagen loss happens, this we cannot refute. But you can take hydrolyzed collagen peptides to help your body enhance its natural production. Collagen supplements work by supporting your cell's fibroblasts. These are the parts of the cells that actually create collagen and elastin. In fact, the research shows that these collagen peptides are able to support skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density3.*
Protect the area from sun, smoking, and inflammation.
This is a purely preventive, but proactive measures are just as important as reactive. Considering we can't stop time, and therefore aging, the best we can do is to make sure we're not accelerating it. First up, stop smoking if you currently are: It's one of the best things you can do for your skin. From there, use a safe, physical SPF on the area when outdoors.
"Don't forget sun protection," says Shawna Jones, PA-C, aesthetic nurse practitioner. "Protecting your lips from the sun is just as important as protecting your face. Look for products that have a physical sunblock [titanium dioxide and zinc oxide]. Some also contain other moisturizing actives, like hyaluronic acid, to hydrate and smooth the lips."
And do your best to manage internal inflammation. This is easier said than done as inflammation comes at us from many sources, but try de-stressing techniques, eat a balanced diet, and do not irritate or damage the area.
Try a lip plumper.
Hearing "lip plumpers" may take you back to the stinging, tingling variety of your youth, but the modern interactions are delightfully sophisticated and easy to use. Check out our favorite lip plumpers here.
Use a lip-nourishing treatment.
These are not plumpers in the sense that they are stimulating your lips in an effort to enhance their appearance immediately; instead, they are masks, oils, and balms loaded with good-for-skin ingredients to help tend to the delicate area. Just as you apply an eye cream when you start worrying about crow's feet or a vitamin C serum if you are worried about age spots, you can invest in a good lip treatment to help the area out.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.