Explainer: What are Lip Plumpers and are they Really Safe?

Are pricey lip plumpers risky business, or do they pay off?

Explainer: What are Lip Plumpers and are they Really Safe?

What are lip plumpers

We have all heard the mantra ‘beauty is pain’. We might have even chanted it to ourselves while plucking our eyebrows or slipping on that pair of heels. The sting of lip plumpers is certainly no exception. So, before you grin and bear it, let’s find out what popular lip plumpers are really made of and whether they are safe for regular use.

How do Lip Plumpers Work?

Lip plumpers have become increasingly popular as the trend of full, enhanced lips has taken hold. There are two key ways in which common lip plumpers achieve their volumizing effects: irritation and hydration.

Mild Irritants

That tingling sensation we get after applying most lip plumpers results from ingredients which can be classed as mild irritants. This temporary irritation to the sensitive skin of the lips causes an increase in blood flow to the area. This results in a swollen, fuller appearance to the irritated area.

Any good lip plumper which includes these irritants, however, should also contain hydrating, moisturising ingredients which mitigate the drying effect these ingredients can have.


Have you ever noticed how much thinner your lips appear when they are dry and cracking? Many milder lip plumpers subscribe to the philosophy that the more hydrated lips are fuller, plumper lips.

Lip plumpers that focus on drawing moisture into your lips achieve a plumping effect without the pain and tingling of the irritant method discussed above. This comfort may come at the cost of slightly less swollen lips than irritants can provide.

What are the Active Ingredients?

Keeping your eye on the ingredient list of a prospective lip plumper is important to understanding what makes them work. Here are some key active ingredients to look out for:


Often seen on ingredient lists as: Capsicum Frutescens Resin/Extract

The most common irritant you will find in popular lip plumpers is capsaicin in one form or another. Look out for ingredients like cinnamon, menthol and even capsicum or chilli.

The capsaicin in these ingredients is responsible for the stinging, swelling, redness and fullness which your lips gain after application.

Yes, the tingling sensation of many lip plumpers is just like the burning feeling you get while eating a spicy curry! They both originate from the same core ingredient – capsaicin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Often seen on ingredient lists as: Sodium Hyaluronate

Hyaluronic acid falls into the hydration method of lip plumping discussed above. The hydrating powers of hyaluronic acid comes from its ability to attract and retain large amounts of moisture.

So, how does it plump the lips? As we know, hydrated lips look fuller. Hyaluronic acid’s ability to hold over 1000 times its weight in water has a volumising effect when applied topically to the lips.

Bee Venom

Often seen on ingredient lists as: Bee Venom

As scary as it sounds, there are some lip plumpers which include small amounts of bee venom. This is yet another ingredient which irritates the skin of the lips, causing an inflammatory reaction.

Usually bee venom lip plumpers also include other bee-derived ingredients like manuka honey and beeswax which help to nourish and soothe lips after the initial sting. Lip plumpers with bee venom are few and far between as it is a difficult ingredient to source.

As bee venom is an animal derived ingredient, any lip product which includes it cannot be considered vegan. If this is an important consideration for you, bee venom lip plumpers should be avoided.

So, Are Lip Plumpers Safe?


As you may have already noticed, many of the volumising ingredients in lip plumpers are potential allergens.

Spices like cinnamon and chilli account for 2 percent of all allergies, according to Healthline. These allergies often go undiagnosed as the tingling, itching and swelling which are hallmarks of the allergy can be confused with normal consumption experiences.

Bee venom is also a common allergen, with 5 to 7.5 percent of people experiencing a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, according to the Journal of Asthma and Allergy. Severe reactions can include extreme swelling and even difficulty breathing.

Knowing your personal history with allergies and understanding the active ingredients of a potential lip plumper is key to ensure safety of use.


Perhaps a more universal risk which lip plumpers pose, is the symptoms of overuse. Remember how we said that the irritants in most lip plumpers cause drying effects?

Overuse of these products exacerbates this dryness and can cause cracked, bleeding and scaly lips. Lower quality lip plumpers are more likely to cause these effects as they may not be formulated with essential, moisturising ingredients which pull hydration back into the lips.

It is also possible to build up a tolerance to the irritation of lip plumpers over time with very frequent use, making them less effective overall.

Final Thoughts

Lip plumping products can generally be considered safe to use. Checking the ingredient list for any potential allergens and irritants can help to mitigate the risk of harm.

If you want to avoid these risks all together, there are other options for achieving fuller looking lips like. Overlining and using different shades of lipsticks to contour the lips are popular alternatives. Opting for a lip plumping product that is hydration based, like a hyaluronic acid lip plumping gloss in another great option to avoid the risks which irritants pose.

Lip Injection Extreme


This cult-favourite lip plumping gloss delivers a capsaicin punch which lives up to the grandiosity of its name. Soothing avocado and jojoba oils work to rehydrate the lips and ensure they reach their plumpest potential. Expect a strong tingle and a clear, glossy finish.



Plump it up Lip Gloss


Sick of the sting? PYT Beauty’s plumping lip gloss is the most nourishing one around. With powerful hyaluronic acid, mango seed butter and sunflower seed oil, this gloss delivers fuller lips, naturally. A great option for all preferences, PYT’s plumping gloss is also vegan and cruelty free.



Powerglass Plumping Lip Gloss


Need a lip plumper that goes with any outfit? MAC’s Powerglass lip gloss comes in over ten shades, for every occasion. This gloss has a perfect balance of the keys to plumping: hydration and irritation. Ginger and menthol are paired with hyaluronic acid and coconut oil to give you the perfect pout.



Outrageous Plump Lip Gloss


Sephora’s plumping gloss is a great option for the beauty lover on a budget. With plumping ginger and peppermint, at under half the price of other popular alternatives, this gloss really is outrageous!





Buxom is the OG when it comes to lip products which provide fullness and definition. Their Plumping Lip Polish is no exception, with a complex mix of peptides to promote pillowy, plumper lips. Buxom’s Plumping Polish is the absolute queen of inclusivity and variety, with over 70 (yes, 70!) different shades and finishes.



GrandeLIPS Hydrating Lip Plumper


Here’s another non-stinging lip plumper, powered by hyaluronic acid, that really works. There is even some evidence to suggest that long term use of this product (over 30 days) can result in lasting plumping and hydrating effects. We have to love Grande’s motto: true plumping power, no ‘stings’ attached. And with a cute, cushiony applicator, how can we say no?



O Gloss Intuitive Lip Gloss


This unique gloss is about as personalised as plumping can get. Never agonise about picking the right shade again! With innovative powers of camouflage, Smashbox’s O-Plump goes on clear, then transforms into the perfect shade of pink for your lips. With plumping peppermint and capsaicin, this gloss delivers on the fullness front too.



Sexy Mother Pucker XL


Another awesome and affordable pick, this gloss gives you more for less. Soap & Glory’s antioxidant filled lip plumper will have you feeling like a sexy mother pucker! Expect that trusty tingle and sheer, glossy finish signature of great plumping glosses. This gloss is also great for creating a smoothing effect, masking any fine lines.



Lip plumping, as with all cosmetics, is a personal choice. Loving our lips, no matter their size, is the best predictor of a perfect pout. Ultimately, lip plumpers are a temporary enhancement tool to help you change up your look.

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