Lip Reduction

Updated: Mar 14, 2023
  • Author: Rohit Seth, MD, PhD, MRCS(Edin); Chief Editor: Jorge I de la Torre, MD, FACS  more...
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The goals of lip reduction surgery are to achieve a harmonious relationship between the upper and lower lips that is in balance with the entire face, as well as to attain normal lip competence.

Reduction cheiloplasty, as performed through classically described techniques, has traditionally focused on reduction of lip volume through excision of a single strip or ellipse of tissue, with direct closure and a change in the posture of the lip. [1] However, lip reduction procedures are now placing more emphasis on the resultant contour of the lip and the volume relationship between the upper and lower lip.

"Bikini" lip reduction, introduced in 2007, is characterized by a restoration of an attractive labial contour. Using this technique, instead of an elliptical excision, authors describe bikini-shaped excisions: a "bikini top" excision in the upper lip, consisting of two cups and a middle strap, and a "bikini bottom" excision in the lower lip, in the shape of a triangle. [2]

There has been a "Brazilian" modification to the bikini lip reduction, featuring a bikini bottom excision on the lower lip that is less triangular and more curved; the upper excision is also more conservative. [3]

For patient education information, see the Aesthetic Medicine Resource Center.



The purpose of lip reduction is not always purely cosmetic. Macrocheilia, or excessively prominent lips, may interfere with oral function, with an inadequate seal between the upper and lower lips resulting in incompetence and drooling. It can also interfere with speech patterns and functionality and can alter self-perception and confidence, since the condition can sometimes be a source of ridicule and a target of bullying. Macrocheilia, which is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups, has multiple etiologies and can affect one or both lips. (See the image below.)

Frontal and profile view of a 45-year-old African Frontal and profile view of a 45-year-old African American woman seeking reduction of her upper lip.


Macrocheilia can be due to normal ethnic variations, particularly in the Afro-Caribbean/American and Asian populations, as well as in other non-Caucasian groups. Other congenital causes of macrocheilia include "double lip" and labial "pits." In fact, the double lip can also be acquired; it most often occurs in the upper lip. [4]

Macrocheilia can also result from dentofacial deformities (pseudomacrocheilia), hemangiomas, inflammatory or lymphedematous infiltration, glandular hypertrophy, and generalized thickening of all tissues. [5, 6, 7] .

Port-wine (capillary) vascular malformations that enlarge the lips (port-wine macrocheilia) are a different category of lesions and have a different pathophysiology. They may require complex reconstruction. [7, 8]

Other causes of macrocheilia include infection, trauma, iatrogenic complications, neoplasms, and syndromes such as Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome and Ascher syndrome. Miescher granulomatous macrocheilitis, a monosymptomatic presentation of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, is characterized by granulomatous swelling of the lip. [9, 10]

Macrocheilia can also take the form of cleft lip lower-lip deformity. This occurs when, following repair of cleft lip/palate, the lower lip appears particularly large and anteriorly rotated, with the commissures inferomedially displaced. The etiology of this condition is not completely clear, although one hypothesis suggests that scar tissue causes the upper lip to contract horizontally, resulting in protrusion of the lower lip. That calls into question, however, why the lower lip is particularly thick in patients with bilateral cleft lip/palate. Another hypothesis is that “malocclusion secondary to discrepancy between the maxilla and mandible” strains the lower lip’s musculature, resulting in hypertrophy. There is also indication that owing to insufficient upper lip function, the orbicularis oris muscle in the lower lip compensates through hyperfunction, contributing the cleft lip lower-lip deformity. [11]



As previously mentioned, macrocheilia is associated more commonly with certain ethnic groups and is a normal variation. Such ethnic variations demonstrate diffuse thickening of all lip structures and may require resection of muscle.

The double lip deformity occurs because of the persistence of the transverse sulcus between the inner pars villosa and the outer pars glabra, resulting in glandular hypertrophy along with redundant labial mucosa. The excess tissue forms an accessory lip, which is more apparent during smiling. The underlying orbicularis oris muscle is not involved.

Ascher syndrome is identical to double lip deformity, with associated blepharochalasis and endocrine disorders. Another example of hypertrophy is cheilitis glandularis simplex, a sarcoidlike condition. [5, 6]

Traumatic causes result in an inflammatory infiltration leading to fibrosis and subsequent lip enlargement, as shown below.

A. Face-on view of a 25-year-old male who sustaine A. Face-on view of a 25-year-old male who sustained facial trauma 1 year ago. He presents with persistent upper lip enlargement after all other facial edema subsided. B. Pursing of lips shows exaggerated eversion. C. Profile view.

The Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, a condition characterized by a triad of facial paralysis, facial edema, and lingua plicata (furrowed tongue), similarly results in an infiltrative process of the lips. Migraine headaches are frequently associated with this syndrome. Over time, the recurrent bouts of edema render the tissue indurated. [5] Cheilitis granulomatosa produces a similar infiltrative process and lip enlargement.



Clinical signs of macrocheilia include a protruding lip, which often stands out as the most prominent feature of the face, attracting undesirable attention. A proportion of patients present with oral dysfunction; functional difficulties such as labial incompetence interfere with speech, salivary control, and mastication. (See the image below.)

A. Child (age 6 years) with cerebral palsy who has A. Child (age 6 years) with cerebral palsy who has hypotonic upper and lower lips presents with lip incompetence and uncontrollable drool. B. Design of the lower lip full-thickness excision.

Other clinical presentations include granulomatous conditions and syndromes. In Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, for example, the lip swelling can present on its own as granulomatous cheilitis, a subtype of orofacial granulomatosis. [12, 13] Granulomatous cheilitis is also a well-documented manifestation of Crohn disease. [14, 15]



In most cases of lip reduction, the surgery is performed at the patient's request, with a significant number of patients seeking the procedure because of concern about their looks. Other indications include functionality problems, such as excessive drooling due to labial incompetence, and the development of poor speech patterns.

Lip enhancement complications (eg, postoperative infection or overfilling with injectables) and trauma-related scar formation are additional indications for lip reduction.


Relevant Anatomy

The lips are the most prominent structures of the lower third of the face. [16, 17] They are an important element in conveying emotion and attractiveness. In the "normal" lip position, the commissures lie between the pupils and are slightly wider than the ala of the nose. In profile, the lips should be slightly parted and the lower lip should lie only just posterior to the upper lip. The upper lip ideally covers two thirds of the incisors. Normally, slightly more lower lip vermillion is exposed than the upper. In profile, excessive protrusion of either lip is considered unaesthetic.

The upper lip extends from the base of the nose superiorly to the nasolabial folds laterally and to the free edge of the vermilion border inferiorly. The lower lip extends from the superior free vermilion edge superiorly, to the commissures laterally, and to the mandible inferiorly. Around the circumferential vermilion-skin border, a fine line of pale skin accentuates the color difference between the vermilion and normal skin. See Lips and Perioral Region Anatomy for more information.

The nose, chin, and lips have an aesthetic relationship. To evaluate the nose-chin-lip relationship, a vertical line tangent to the upper lip (normal projection) typically has the lower lip passing posterior (2 mm) to this line and chin posterior to the lower lip (in men it is slightly stronger). A horizontal line from nasal tip to the ala cheek junction should have 50–60% of the line anterior to this vertical line. This defines the ideal tip projection. [18]

A second aesthetic relationship, a line from the subnasale tangent to the pogonion, has the upper lip protruding 2-5 mm and the lower lip 1-4 mm beyond the line. [19] The female lip is typically more protrusive than the male lip, except for the adolescent male, whose lip protrudes more than the female's. [16, 20, 19] Vermilion height norms vary in different ethnicities; for example, on average, African American males have 13.3-mm upper lips and 13.2-mm lower lips, and African American females have 13.6-mm upper lips and 13.8-mm lower lips. North American Caucasian vermilion height norms of upper and lower lip for males and females are 8.0 and 8.7 mm and 9.3 and 9.4 mm, respectively. Consider ethnic variations of anthropometric norms when planning reduction surgery. [17]



Contraindications to reduce lip size include pseudomacrocheilia, acute inflammation, and psychological instability. If dento-osseous abnormalities are not recognized, lip reduction is inappropriate and causes loss of normal lip volume. Avoid operations during the acute inflammatory phase of Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome or cheilitis granulomatosa, as the inflammation makes the procedure extremely difficult. Multiple surgeries may be required, and the patient should have realistic expectations of the outcome. Patients perceived as psychologically unstable should not undergo reduction surgery.