What goes up must come down.
There is no shame in Jo’s voice as she explains everything she sees as wrong with her face – just pragmatism.
The 42-year-old is happy with her Botox, but her upper lip is overinflated with filler. Sometimes she wakes up, she says, and realises how much it protrudes. The solution, her aesthetic practitioner explains, is to dissolve the filler by injecting Hyaluronidase, an enzyme that breaks it down.
“I honestly can’t remember how much I had put in. I didn’t even know what was put in,” Jo says of the lip fillers she got a couple of years ago. “They were massive – and I don’t want to look fake, I want to look natural.”
For many non-surgical practitioners, a typical day in 2020 ends like this: a girl or woman like Jo sits across from them, bemoaning the fact she’s gone too far with filler – that there’s too much volume in too many places – and she’d like them to fix it.
Jo lays back in Dr Tijion Esho’s chair, as many other women already have that week, looking for a reversal of what’s now known as “Instagram Face”. Popularised by celebrities and reality TV stars, it’s a look that cherry-picks aesthetically pleasing elements of different racial profiles: full lips, raised brows and a chiseled face. As I discover at Esho’s clinic in southwest London, we are now far enough into the trend that an increasing number of women are getting this look either reduced or reversed completely.
Esho slowly injects the dissolvent into Jane’s lips, which expand as if they’ve been inflated with helium. Her lips, he explains, will continue to swell for a few days, but in two weeks she’ll be safe to come back for more subtle lip filler, to create a new, gently voluminous smile.
Moments earlier, Jo had told me that her 17-year-old daughter has been pestering her for filler: “She was just finding people on social media, saying, ‘Oh, this person’s really good.’ She doesn’t need to do anything. I said, ‘Please don’t go to get injected by someone you don’t know. Tweak it when you’re older.'”
I ask Jo if she was first tempted by filler after seeing girls not much older than her daughter with Instagram Face. Sometime over the past couple of years, Jo explains, she found herself surrounded by this aesthetic in real life and on social media: older women – celebrities, film stars in their forties and fifties – with tighter, younger-looking faces. As Dr Esho packs away his tools, he adds: “People think the pressure is just getting to the young, but it’s everyone.”
The use of filler is still on the rise, but an aesthetic recalibration is occurring, too. Years on from Instagram Face’s first appearance in the media, many are questioning how much is too much.
Social media influencers once normalised the idea of getting fillers; now, they’re sharing their return from Instagram Face. YouTubers upload videos with titles like “I miss you old face…. getting my filler removed”, or “WHY I GOT MY LIP FILLER DISSOLVED”, the latter to an audience of 4.5 million viewers. A Google video search for “YouTube lip filler removal” produces 323,000 video results, “YouTube chin filler removal” 113,000 results and “YouTube cheek filler removal” a smooth 134,000 results.
Scottish model Amanda Hendrick even posted before and after photos of her post-filler lips on Instagram. “I’d been having my lips filled for years and even though I hadn’t touched them in almost two years there was such a build up of filler that just wouldn’t budge,” she wrote.
JO UNDER THE NEEDLE AT THE ESHO CLINIC.
“Over the last five years there’s been a shift from the ‘more is more’ LA look to the ‘less is more’ Parisian style approach to fillers,” Dr Esho explains. According to Esho and Ashton Collins, the director of botched lip-fillers charity Save Face, those reversing Instagram Face are a mix of people casually working towards minimising the impact of their look and those who have specifically come to this conclusion as a result of excessive procedures.
“We are starting to see an influx of women who regret the work they’ve had done, either over-filled lips, cheeks or jaw lines,” says Collins, adding that reversing the effects of fillers isn’t as simple as it seems: “What people don’t realise is that, with lips in particular, excessive stretching of the tissue with over filling and repeated treatments over a short period of time – some getting them ‘topped up’ every couple of months – is that the tissue hardens and scars, which can be impossible to correct.”
Olivia, a 22-year-old from Newcastle, had her lips reduced after they became “sausage-like” from fillers. “My lips have always been on the bigger side – I just tried it because it was becoming more normal, like getting your nails done. Then the novelty of it wore off and I decided I didn’t need or want it anymore,” she says. “The filler look is a trend, and it will be something else this year that people are trying out.”
For Olivia, it was the over-saturation of the dramatic Instagram look that put her off. So she contacted a woman who could dissolve the filler. “She said she did minimal dissolving in the first few years of her practice, and all of a sudden it was being requested a lot, as if everyone decided to get rid of it at the same time,” Olivia recalls. The beautician brought along a trainee and told Olivia that she’d begun to let others shadow her on filler removal appointments. More customers had been requesting it, but many practitioners who administer filler don’t also know how to remove it.
Dr Esho confirmed later over email that more clinics are having to offer filler removal as the trend increases.
According to Ashton Collins, lips will lose volume if left untreated – filler naturally breaks down in the body over a period of six to 24 months, and requires top-ups for maintenance – but incorrectly filled lips will remain lumpy and uneven, making it difficult to return to a more natural look. Many women then find themselves having to top-up with small amounts of filler to get a symmetrical pout.
Louise*, a 24-year-old influencer from London, has cheek filler and 2ml of filler in her lips. Her first filler injections for her lips were gifted by a clinic in exchange for social media promotion – something that has become increasingly prevalent within the influencing community. Next, a friend’s brow lift got her interested in that procedure, too. The slightly mismanaged up-keep of these procedures – too much, too regularly – is how she ended up with what she considers an excessive version of the Instagram Face. “The problem was the moreish nature of it, really,” she says. “Once you get used to having your face look great, it’s easy to think you need a top-up every six months, which is what they tell you when you get it done, even though you probably don’t need a top-up.”
The follow-up appointments suggested by practitioners are only guidelines, and the way that every person’s body metabolises the product is different. Still, once you get used to your new appearance – as anyone with tattoos will know – it’s easy to keep the momentum going. You might even forget what your old face looked like until you see it in photographs.
Louise has decided to let her filler break down naturally and “start again” from a place closest to her natural face. “I think the look of that much plumpness will be something social media and Love Island moves away from,” she says, before clarifying that the trend for slightly fuller features – rather than OTT Instagram Face – likely won’t go anywhere. As filler techniques become more specialised, non-surgical cosmetic experts are in agreement that we’ll only see more people testing it out.
In the cab from Dr Esho’s clinic to Wimbledon station with Jo, she turns to me and asks for the third time if her lips look too swollen. Because the swelling has balanced out the rapidly disappearing lips, they looked deceptively similar to how they were before. She goes on to tell me that all she wants now is to look as young and natural as possible for her age. Heavy Botox and massive lips are off the menu – but before I’d arrived at her appointment, she and Dr Esho had discussed if she could get applications of filler injected into the rest of her face. A lifting and plumping of appropriate areas, and of course, more filler back into the lips