How long do dermal fillers really last? MRI scans provide evidence

Article medically reviewed by Dr. Gavin Chan (MBBS, cosmetic physician, liposuctionist)

Dr. Gavin Chan

Templestowe Lower and Berwick Clinics

Dr. Gavin Chan has a background in intensive care, anaesthesia, and emergency medicine. Since 2004, Dr. Chan has provided cosmetic procedures, including anti-wrinkle injections, dermal fillers, liposuction, fat transfer, skin needling, and laser treatments. He is a doctor trainer for various dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections.
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Over the last couple of decades dermal fillers have become a popular non-surgical method to enhance the lips, face, cheeks and brow area. Composed of a substance that’s naturally found in your body, more people are discovering that dermal fillers can help slow down the effects of the natural ageing process. For the last 15 years Dr Gavin Chan (MBBS, Cosmetic Physician, Liposuctionist) and his team of highly trained and experienced Cosmetic Doctors and Cosmetic Nurses have been using dermal fillers on patients to transform their faces.

In the last year Dr Gavin Chan has discovered something about dermal filers that has ‘blown him away’ regarding the longevity of dermal fillers. He explains, “traditionally we’ve been told that dermal fillers last for between 6 and 12 months, perhaps 18 months. If you search the Internet, ask other Cosmetic Physicians who regularly inject dermal fillers and then ask patients about how long dermal fillers last, the answer is usually the same; 6, 12 or 18 months.”

But over the last few months, Dr Gavin Chan has started to question how long dermal fillers actually last. This trailblazing enquiry began when he noticed patients who had tear trough dermal filler treatment a few years ago came back from follow up dermal filler treatments. Many of them came in worried that they had puffy bulges under their eyes, with some patients putting it down to the natural ageing process.

After seeing this pattern occurring a few times, Dr Gavin Chan decided to research why this was happening. He hypothesised that maybe there were dermal fillers still present that created the bulging eye bag appearance. To see if this was the case, he used hyaluronidase (a dermal filler dissolver) and almost miraculously the eye bulges disappeared.

While Dr Gavin Chan knew it could be dermal filler present (sometimes after 6, 7 or 8 years) he needed to have scientific proof. Some dermal filler brands estimate that fillers only last 6 to 12 months, so Dr Gavin Chan decided to refer his patients for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan to his colleague Dr Mobin Master (MBBS FRANZCR). Dr Mobin Master is qualified in both Radiology and Cosmetic Medicine and was the perfect Doctor to investigate these types of dermal filler issues. Dr Mobin Master explains, “I think MRI is an underused tool in Cosmetic Medicine. Using this tool enables us to see exactly where the dermal filler is present in the lips, cheeks and eye areas.”

dermal filler above the lip line

Over many years, one of Dr Gavin Chan’s patients had received quite a few millilitres of dermal filler in her lips. After referring her for an MRI to Dr Mobin Master it was clear there was dermal filler still present in the bottom and top part of the lip. The MRI also revealed that the dermal filler had migrated upwards above the lip line and below her nose.

This clear MRI image of the dermal filler in an area of the face it wasn’t injected into has confirmed what Dr Gavin Chan and Dr Mobin Master have been noticing over the last few years. With the popularity of dermal filler treatment rising and the increasing number of clinics offering ‘cut-price’ dermal filler treatments, people are having more dermal filler injected into their lips resulting in a duck-like protrusion.

Dr Gavin Chan’s theory that the dermal lip filler has migrated upwards has been confirmed by using MRI scans. He explains, “I see this as the new frontier of Cosmetic Medicine. We’re clearly seeing lip filler migrate upwards towards the nose. When patients come back to me after 3 weeks of having dermal lip filler treatment and say that the dermal filler has ‘all gone’, I now know it hasn’t just dissolved.”

In the past, Dr Gavin Chan and his team would have agreed with the patient and proceeded to inject more dermal filler into the lips. Instead, the Cosmetic Doctors or Cosmetic Nurses will dissolve the dermal filler before injecting new dermal filler into the lips.

Facts that all Cosmetic Doctors and Cosmetic Nurses must consider before injecting dermal fillers

1. More dermal filler treatments are not the answer

With more people deciding to get dermal filler treatments, there seems to be an expectation from patients that ‘the more dermal fillers they have injected, the better.’ Combine this with the effect of social media influencers having non-surgical cosmetic treatments and it’s no wonder patients can start to believe this. Dr Mobin Master notes, “the problem with dermal fillers is that patients forget what they look like before they had them.” He reminds his patients what they looked like before their dermal filler injections and advises them that more dermal filler doesn’t result in a better-looking face. He also cautions his patients who have developed a bulge above lip, to get the dermal filler dissolved before new dermal filler is injected.

Dr Gavin Chan agrees, “patients are become acclimatized to getting more and more dermal filler. A good Cosmetic Doctor or Cosmetic Nurse working at a reputable medical clinic specialising in these non-surgical procedures will have had the training and experience to keep their patient’s ‘in line’. They’ll be able to recommend with kindness that they’ve had enough dermal filler for now.” He cautions that the Cosmetic Medicine industry can be driven purely by money and profit making which can result in patients being unconsciously coerced into getting more dermal filler treatments.

2. Dermal filler lip treatments can migrate

With clear evidence from the MRI scans that dermal filler lip treatments can migrate upward, Dr Gavin Chan has a theory about why this happens. He explains ‘the mouth is very active, particularly the orbicularis oris muscle which controls movements of the mouth and lips. This muscle is constantly contracting, and it makes sense that over time the fillers could migrate north as a result of this lip movement.’ While MRI scans can be expensive, many patients consider it’s a worthwhile investment to work out what’s going on.

3. Dermal filler eye treatments can also migrate

Over the last 12 months Dr Gavin Chan has been referring patients to Dr Mobin Master, particularly when he needs to know if the swelling under the eyes is a result of old dermal filler or fat deposits. He notes, “we need to know if it’s fat or filler. If it’s dermal filler, we can dissolve it. If it’s fat and they’re worried about it, they’ll need to consider having eyelid surgery (also called Blepharoplasty).

4. Dermal filler can last longer than expected

Dr Mobin Master notes that dermal filler can last a lot longer than the dermal filler brands say it will. He explains that overusing dermal filler in the face can result in a ‘chipmunk’ style face – the direct opposite of what most patients are striving for.

Dr Gavin Chan has noticed when patient’s he saw a few years ago come back after seeing other practitioners their face has expanded and looks watery and swollen noting, “it’s like they’ve lost the beautiful slender shape they used to have. Constantly adding dermal filler to the face results in a swollen looking face – it’s not natural and definitely not the type of look the patient originally came in for. But over time they don’t notice that they’re looking swollen and unnatural.”

Dr Gavin Chan’s ground-breaking revelations over the past 12 months has changed the way all Cosmetic Doctors and Cosmetic Nurses at his clinics inject dermal fillers. By seeing his patient’s MRI scans he now believes that a conservative, minimalist approach to injecting dermal fillers creates the best results.

He notes, “a few years ago it was thought that 1mil of dermal filler would be used for one part of the face: 1ml for the lip and 1ml for the cheek area. Today I’m only using 1ml of dermal filler for the entire face. I’m also only treating patients with dermal filler every 12 months or so – this has resulted in my patients looking more natural. They get the benefits of dermal filler but without the swollen unnatural look.”

Dr Mobin Master agrees stating, “we should take a lot more care with dermal fillers and really treat them as a semi-permanent non-surgical treatment. Some dermal filler brands don’t last as long as others. And once fillers have been in the face for a year or so, it can become harder to dissolve them with hyaluronidase. This is where I send patients to get MRI’s so I can ascertain where the fillers are.”

Dr Gavin Chan explains, “the gold standard for patient care with dermal fillers should be to review them every 12 months. If they’re happy with how they look, that’s fine. But if the dermal filler hasn’t met their expectations it’s time to dissolve it.”

Questions all patients must ask before getting dermal filler treatment

With the growing demand for non-surgical treatments, there have been more clinics opening that are offering cut-price dermal filler treatment. If you’re going to attend these clinics, it’s important to do your research. We suggest you only consider getting dermal filler treatment at a reputable medical clinic who have a team of highly trained and experienced Cosmetic Doctors and Cosmetic Nurses.

Questions all patients should ask include:

  • What training and experience have they had?
  • Do they know how to dissolve dermal fillers if you don’t like the result?
  • Are they aware of the side effects of dermal fillers (including blindness)?
  • How long will the dermal filler last?
  • Is it permanent or semi-permanent? There’s now evidence temporary fillers are more permanent than first thought.
  • What’s the long-term effect going to be on your face if you keep injecting dermal filler into it?
  • Would having less dermal filler injections make you look more natural?
  • Where could the filler migrate to if you keep having dermal filler injections?

Where to get the best dermal filler treatment in Melbourne

Led by Dr Gavin Chan, his team of highly experienced and trained Cosmetic Doctors and Cosmetic Nurses have successfully treated thousands of patients with dermal filler since 2005. Call our friendly customer service team to book a consultation today 1300 863 824 or fill in the form below.

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Dr. Gavin Chan
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