The mouth area is not spared as the rest of the face ages. Most women focus on changes in the neck and jowls as well as around the eyes. And while there are some well known procedures that make great improvements in these facial areas (facelift, blepharoplasty), how to improve the mouth area is not so standard and well known.
The mouth looks older as a result of numerous anatomic changes. The upper lip will get longer and thinner. The corners of the mouth start to turn downward. From the downturned corners, grooves extend towards the jaw line creating marionette lines. The nasolabial folds or lip-cheek grooves which ‘parenthesize’ the mouth become more pronounced and deeper. Vertical wrinkles develop on both the upper and lower lip running into the pink (vermilion) of the lip, often resulting in lipstick which bleeds into them.
While wrinkle reduction around the mouth can be done with various laser methods and injectable fillers, improvement in that alone is often not enough to make an overall youthful change. Like the rest of the face, the mouth area can benefit from various ‘nips and tucks.’
There are some small but very effective perioral (mouth) procedures that can create some subtle but significant lifting and upturning of the lips. Youthful changes come from having more exposed vermilion and a more even or horizontal smile line. (mouth corner to corner line) These perioral rejuvenation procedures include lifts of the lip, corner of the mouth, and smile lines.
A long upper lip can be shortened with an upper lip lift, often known as a subnasal or bullhorn lip lift. It is done to primarily shorten the aged long lip, but a small amount of increased upper teeth may result when the lips are slightly open. By using a wavy or bullhorn-shaped ellipse of skin under the nose, the central part of the lip is upturned. The key to this procedure is to remove skin only. If one removes any of the deeper muscle, the upper lip will get tight and look unnatural when smiling. There will be a few millimeters or relapse over the first six months after the lift.
Rather than done under the nose, lip advancements are done lower at the actual border of the upper lip. It creates a different and more complete upper lip lift because it effects the entire horizontal width of the upper lip. Lip advancement achieves improved exposure of the vermilion and eliminates the bottom end of the vertical lip lines. A small strip of skin abobe the lip line is removed to make the whole upper lip look bigger as well as shortens upper lip length.
The corner of the mouth lift is the ‘cutest’ of the perioral procedures because it removes such a small amount of skin to achieve its effect. Its intent is to elevate the down turned corners of the mouth so that the smile line (lips at rest) becomes more horizontal. This makes one’s mouth appearance more perky. This is done by removing a small triangle or heart-shaped piece of skin above each corner which changes the location and angulation of the sides of the mouth.
Beyond the corners of the mouth, folds of skin may drape downward. This loose skin can be improved somewhat by a facelift but some patients may not want to invest that much effort for improvement. These “parachute” folds of skin can be removed, placing a fine line scar in the lower end of the cheek-lip groove. It also creates a small amount of lifting of the corners of the mouth as well.
One of the great benefits to these procedures is that they can be done in an office setting under local anesthesia. This keeps the cost down compared to more extensive surgery. They can be combined with injectable procedures such as Botox and fillers as well as laser and light skin treatments. They are a great compliment to be done with a facelift, either before or after.
Nips and tucks of the mouth area will result in some small scars as a trade-off for their rejuvenating effects. Minor scar revision and touch-ups may occasionally be needed as the margin of error or forgiveness of any scar abnormality is quite small in the very visible mouth area.
Dr. Barry Eppley