Social media challenges seem to be both cyclical and ubiquitous. The newest challenge circulating cyberspace, dubbed the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge, is encouraging people to plump their lips to look like Kylie Jenner’s. If looking at the “after” photos of this aren’t enough to dissuade you, then let me tell you some of the potential hazards that come with this type of risky, at-home procedure.
What the Challenge Entails
This Internet “challenge” involves taking a small glass, placing it around the lips and applying suction. This causes the expansion of soft tissue – the skin, the muscles and all the tissue underneath – to create a more voluminous lip for a temporary amount of time. After looking at some before and after pictures of young ladies who have attempted this process by themselves, it’s surprising that this is phenomenon has caught on at all. Not only do the results look a little distressing even in the short term, the potential for causing long-term damage is a very real threat.
Why it’s Dangerous
Applying temporary suction to the lips concealed in a glass is ultimately utilizing a process called tissue expansion. Tissue expansion in general is a technique that plastic surgeons use for reconstruction, but not for lip augmentation. This method is medically sound when it is done in-office. The concept behind tissue expansion is that the skin can be molded and expanded to create more tissue. This controlled expansion performed by your plastic surgeon results in a smooth, voluminous lip contour. When done at home in the kitchen by a teen or preteen without training, the results of this uncontrolled expansion could cause permanent damage or disfigurement.
In the short term, you’re damaging tissue and causing bruising. In fact, many photos of young people who have attempted this method on their own show moderate-to-severe bruising around the lips. It can also cause necrosis (tissue death), blistering and damage to the muscles, blood vessels and nerves if the expansion occurs too quickly.
If this process is done too often, it is possible to expand the lips beyond their elastic limits – like a rubber band that stretches too many times and loses its elasticity – leading to permanently disfigured lips.
There Are Safer Alternatives
There are safe, FDA-approved ways to achieve a more voluminous lip contour. A hyaluronic acid filler, which is a temporary water-based substance that can be injected via syringe, is one common way to achieve this desired look. During this controlled process, someone well versed in the procedure can monitor the progress to assure safety. The good thing about this procedure is that it’s temporary, so in about six months, the change goes away. If you like the look, it can be redone in a controlled environment. If you don’t like it, nothing is lost. It gives patients more cosmetic flexibility.
For those patients who want a more permanent change, fat can be removed from somewhere on their bodies and injected into their lips. This procedure is well-tolerated because we use the body’s own tissues.
Maturity Is a Key Consideration
Unless the cosmetic surgery is to correct a defect or deformity, consenting age for surgery is 18. My general feeling is that you want to make sure the person receiving the treatment is at the right mental place and has the social maturity necessary to completely understand what they’re committing to. It also gives the faces of these patients time to finish growing. It doesn’t make sense to make a permanent, or even semi-permanent, alteration to someone’s appearance if their face hasn’t finished changing yet. There are a lot of medical ethical issues with that.
Another thing to keep in mind is that molding your life after a Kardashian is not realistic – they are normalizing this type of cosmetic-surgery-heavy behavior for young men and women, but there is little parallel between the lives of the average preteen or teen and the Kardashians. Cosmetic surgery is rarely appropriate, in my opinion, for the average teen.
Dr. Jamal Bullocks is a board-certified Plastic Surgery specialist whose clinical interests include reconstructive breast surgery, cosmetic surgery for men and women and body contouring after weight loss.