Dermal fillers are an increasingly popular option for adding volume and smoothness to the skin, but they come with some risks. Working with a licensed dermatologist or plastic surgeon can minimize these risks and help you get the results you’re after.

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery estimates that more than 1 million people get dermal fillers each year, and their popularity continues to rise.

Dermal fillers involve the use of gel-like liquids that plump your skin. Healthcare professionals often use them to address signs of aging, correct asymmetries, or enhance features. Lip injections, in particular, have risen 312% from 2000 to 2017.

Since they’re minimally invasive and relatively quick to do, dermal fillers are sometimes nicknamed “lunchtime procedures.” But that doesn’t mean they don’t come with potential risks.

If you’re considering dermal fillers, here’s what to expect.

Doctors often use these gel-filled injections to reduce signs of aging or sun damage by:

  • adding volume to your skin
  • softening fine lines, wrinkles, or creases
  • reducing the appearance of age spots, scars, and other textural concerns

Unlike Botox, which is designed to relax the muscles that contribute to wrinkles, dermal fillers add volume and fullness.

Dermal fillers can also help with:

  • plumping your lips
  • minimizing the appearance of under-eye circles
  • smoothing out your nose bridge
  • adding volume to your cheeks
  • correcting asymmetries or abnormalities in your skin or face
  • smoothing out your hands, neck, or chest

There are many types of dermal fillers with varied benefits, including:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Your body naturally produces hyaluronic acid, which can help hydrate and plump skin. Doctors also use it for softening scar tissue. Brands include Juvederm, Restylane and Belotero.
  • Calcium hydroxylapatite: Your bones naturally produce this mineral-like compound in your bones. If you’re looking for a vegan dermal filler, calcium hydroxyapatite may be a good option since it doesn’t involve using any animal products. Brands include Radiesse.
  • Polylactic acid: Known as a “collagen stimulator,” polylactic acid stimulates collagen production. It’s the same ingredient medical professionals use to heal wounds after dissolvable stitch insertion. This is a synthetic ingredient that’s also biodegradable. Brands include Sculptra.
  • Polymethyl-methacrylate microspheres: These are tiny beads made from synthetic liquid. Healthcare professionals often use them to fill in deeply-embedded wrinkles or plump up your lips. This option lasts longer than others, but it may take several appointments of smaller injections to attain desired results. Brands include Bellafill.
  • Autologous fat injections: These come directly from fat in your body. Doctors use liposuction techniques to extract fat from a donor area, like the stomach. The doctor will then inject the fat into another area of your body that needs it. This is the only permanent dermal filler option.

While there may be some slight differences in the procedure depending on the type of dermal filler you choose, the process generally involves:

  1. Site preparation: On the day of the procedure, your clinician will clean and disinfect the injection site. They may also make some marks on the injection area.
  2. Anesthetic: They may provide some pain relief by chilling your skin with a cold instrument, applying anesthetic ointment, or using a local anesthetic. The type of anesthetic used will depend on the procedure and your preferences.
  3. Injection: They will inject the targeted areas with filler. Each injection should take less than a minute. Your clinician may gently massage the area to disperse the filler as needed. Sometimes, they may need to add a little more to attain the desired result. Depending on how many areas you’re treating, the process may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
  4. Healing: Your clinician might give you a cool compress to reduce pain and swelling after the injections. You can leave directly after the procedure and may go about your day as usual. The treatment site may feel a little sore for a couple of days, but many people recover without needing to take any medication for relief.

Before getting dermal fillers, it’s a good idea to meet with your clinician to discuss options. They can provide guidance on which type of filler can work best for your needs.

In some cases, they may alter some photos of you to demonstrate potential results. They may also take measurements to help plan the proportions and course of treatment.

You can also discuss anything that may affect your injections, including:

  • preexisting medical conditions
  • allergies
  • current and previous medications or supplements
  • alcohol and tobacco use
  • previous cosmetic procedures you’ve had that may affect the outcome

Your recovery time will depend on the quantity and type of filler you get.

In general, you can resume your usual activities immediately. But experts recommend avoiding strenuous physical exercise for at least a couple of days while you heal.

During this time, you may experience:

  • bruising
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • an “overfilled” look
  • numbness
  • redness or discoloration
  • lumpiness at the injection site
  • a bumpy or hive-like reaction

You can soothe irritation with ice or a cool compress.

These side effects should resolve on their own within a few hours to a couple of days. At this point, you may also have a clear image of your results.

If you have your own fat injected instead of another filler type, the healing process can take up to a few weeks.

If you’re unsure whether the side effects you’re experiencing during recovery are typical, contact your clinician immediately.

Get emergency medical care if you experience visual disturbances or weakness on one side of your body as you recover.

Dermal fillers are a minimally invasive, highly effective way to address skin volume and textural concerns. But results are temporary.

Depending on the type and placement of filler you get, dermal fillers can last anywhere from several months to several years (or, in the case of autologous fat injections, a lifetime).

Hyaluronic acid injections tend to have the shortest duration, lasting for 6 to 12 months. Calcium hydroxyapatite fillers last a bit longer, usually about 9 to 15 months.

When done incorrectly or in excess, the filler may migrate, causing dimpling, lumpiness, or other concerns. Ensuring you get treatment from an experienced professional, such as a licensed dermatologist or plastic surgeon, can help minimize undesirable results.

Aging, sun exposure, smoking, and other factors may also cause your results to fade more rapidly. To prolong results, make sure to wear sunscreen or wear protective layers when outdoors.

The total cost of your treatment will depend on how many injections you get and the type.

According to the most recent data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost for one syringe of the following fillers is:

  • Hyaluronic acid: $684
  • Calcium hydroxyapatite: $717
  • Polylactic acid: $853
  • Platelet-rich plasma: $981
  • Polymethyl-methacrylate microspheres: $1,058
  • Fat grafting: $2,508

In general, it’s best to avoid professionals that claim to offer services for much less than the average rate in your area. This could signal that they’re offering illegal services or lack experience.

Always check for licenses, board certifications, and examples of previous work before you commit to the procedure.

Though fillers are minimally invasive, they still come with some risks, including:

  • pain, discomfort, or irritation
  • bleeding at the injection site
  • lesions that resemble acne
  • asymmetric or undesirable results
  • wounds or sores
  • scarring
  • lumps
  • rashes
  • redness or discoloration
  • swelling
  • skin necrosis
  • blindness

Severe complications are unlikely. But in rare cases, a doctor might mistakenly inject the filler into the blood vessels instead of your skin, blocking blood flow. This could lead to skin loss, severe wounding, stroke, or vision changes (if near your eye).

Again, you can minimize your risk of serious complications by working with a licensed dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

Learn more about the potential risks and complications of facial fillers.

Dermal fillers are minimally invasive injections that add volume to the skin. They can reduce signs of aging, reverse skin damage, or correct asymmetries and other aesthetic concerns.

These results of dermal fillers last anywhere from a few months to several years. There are various filler types to choose from based on your unique treatment area and desired outcome.