In 1891, Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." More than a century later, the saying still rings true — except today, it's the virtual art of Photoshop, Facetune and filters that's impacting real-life beauty ideals.
This relationship between online editing and offline "enhancements" has given way to a phenomenon informally known as "Instagram Face," the ubiquitous blend of Insta-approved facial features you've no doubt spotted on your feed. It's that uniformly wide-eyed, smooth-skinned, pouty-lipped look that Eve Peyser of the New York Times hilariously (and accurately) described as "a sexy baby meets Jessica Rabbit." It's the facial feature equivalent of uptalking, the artificial, filtered look that makes it hard to tell if you just scrolled past a selfie of Emily Ratajkowski or Bella Hadid. It's the aesthetic that prompts you to ponder lip injections… but, like, super subtle lip injections?
The thing about Instagram Face, though, is that almost no one is born with it — not even the influencers that influence it. "These celebrities most likely have enhanced their appearance, whether it be with permanent procedures, semi-permanent procedures or something temporary," Courtney Casgraux, the founder of Los Angeles' GBY Beauty, tells Fashionista, noting that her clients regularly present her with images of those they wish to "emulate" through aesthetic treatments — usually Hadid, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner.
Many of the photos that Casgraux's clients reference also appear to be digitally altered with Facetune (or something similar), an app that allows users to edit images in ways large and small. Even celebrities who've (maybe, probably, allegedly) physically altered their appearance with surgery or injectables use it, lifting their brows, carving out new jawlines or smoothing out less-than-perfect skin before posting. Not that this is new. Every other day seems to bring a new Photoshop "scandal," and there are plenty of Instagram accounts dedicated to documenting stars' minor manipulations, like @celebface, in which Hadid and Jenner are main feed fixtures.
According to Dr. Anna Guanche, a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert based in Calabasas, Calif., the prevalence of filters has created a frenzied demand for fillers from public figures and private citizens alike. The numbers add up: The worldwide medical aesthetic market is projected to be worth approximately $26.53 billion by 2024 — a significant leap from $10.12 billion in 2016.
"One of the biggest things I tell my patients is, 'You want to look more like your filtered photos — what can we do to make you look more like them, so people don't see you in real life and go, what?'" Dr. Guanche shared with a small group of journalists at an event hosted by Allergan, the makers of Botox Cosmetic.
She regularly works with celebs and influencers — including Olivia Culpo, who is arguably the epitome of Instagram Face — to help them "look a little more gorgeous," in her words. "They ... look pretty when they post their own photos [and] they can do all kinds of things to them," the dermatologist continued. "But when you go to an event, other people are going to photograph you, so you have to be ready with skin that looks good in real life, too."
It sounds like a plot point from a sci-fi film, but today, it's actually entirely possible to make your digitally-enhanced avatar a reality — and quickly, too — with an array of non-surgical injectable innovations. "Non-surgical" meaning no downtime; in most cases, patients are Insta-ready almost instantaneously.
Ahead, a comprehensive guide to every in-office aesthetic treatment it takes to transform an average face into an Instagram Face. To be clear, I'm not saying your favorite interchangeably-beautiful influencers have gotten these exact procedures… but I'm not not saying that, either.
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"Lines are something we just don't see in the celebrity/beauty world, and I use Botox Cosmetic to achieve smoothing of the forehead," Dr. Guanche tells Fashionista. She typically charges between $240 to $350 for the full area and notes the side effects of Botox are "minimal," citing "droopiness, asymmetry, infection at the injection site, bruising and allergic reaction," as some potential problems.
The dermatologist also offers "Baby Botox," a modified treatment aimed at millennials. "Here, Botox is used off-label in smaller doses to prevent lines from forming," she says. ("Off-label" means clinical trials have not been done to prove the safety of this particular technique.) "Millennials love Baby Botox, as well as actors who wish to maintain facial expression while still reducing wrinkles," says Dr. Gauche. In fact, she reveals actors often opt for Baby Botox while filming and full Botox during awards season.
In both cases, the neuromodulator will last for four to six months before it's time for a touch-up.
It's not Instagram Face without a high brow and a wide eye, aka, the IRL embodiment of Snapchat's dog filter (minus the dog part). In the aesthetics world, the look is known as the "Botox brow lift" and involves a series of injections just above the natural brow; which, again, isn't an approved treatment area. "It ends up opening the eyes by moving the brows and eyelid skin upwards," Dr. Marcelo Antunes, a double board certified facial plastic surgeon with The Piazza Center in Austin, Texas, tells Fashionista.
Dr. Guanche adds that treating crow's feet with Botox can also affect a brow lift, calling it a more "modest" approach at $350. Clients typically pair these treatments with brow shaping and micropigmentation ($1,000) along with lash extensions, a lash tint, and/or a lash lift ($175) for full effect.
Next up: Dermal filler directly injected into the "tear troughs" (a fancy name for the ridges around under-eye bags) to plump and smooth for $600. "People that have a lot of pictures taken of them come in more for tear trough fillers, since this area can look deeper in certain lighting situations," Dr. Summit Kundaria, a plastic surgeon with Nuance Facial Plastics in North Carolina, previously told Fashionista. In other words, it's an influencer's dream — as long as none of the off-label fillers' potential risks (occlusion of blood vessels, the formation of nodules, allergic reaction and poor cosmetic result) get in the way.
"High, soft-looking cheekbones enhance beauty," says Dr. Guanche. "I call it "sculpting your face with a needle.'" Specifically, a needle of Juvéderm Voluma. While many older patients choose cheek fillers to counteract sagging, "there is also a great deal we can do to take millennials' faces to the next level," the dermatologist says. Translated: Everyone of every age is doing it. The only downside? Well, besides the general risks (others include infection, bruising, redness and swelling), injections only last between six and 12 months, and can cost anywhere from $750 to $3,000.
Not born with a straight, upturned influencer nose? Don't have the time for a full rhinoplasty? You're in luck: Practitioners can fake the effect of a nose job in as little as 30 minutes by using fillers to "fill depressions, smooth out sharp angles or change the angle of the tip of the nose, restore symmetry and make your nose appear more attractive and in better harmony with your face," a representative from cosmetic surgeon Dr. Alexander Rivkin's office previously told Fashionista.
The pros: A "liquid rhinoplasty," which typically costs about $1,000, requires no recovery time, so you never have to take a conspicuous break from the 'gram. The cons: It's an off-label enhancement that carries quite a few risks including, in extreme cases, blindness. "It is imperative that the patient only works with a very experienced injector for this type of injection," Dr. Guanche says.
Just under the nose are the "nasolabial folds," or lines that run from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth, which are remedied easily and often with a $300 to $600 touch of filler.
"In the model/influencer/actress world, there are many who do subtle, modest filler treatments in their lips," says Dr. Gaunche, who wields a syringe of Juvéderm Ultra for a pouty, pillow look. "When artfully done, it is not obvious that the lips were filled." For just $750 to $1,600, you, too, can look like you haven't had lip injections.
Of course, lips are just one half of a social media smile — a uniformly beautiful face demands uniformly perfect teeth. "We can do so much with veneers; they literally transform a smile," Dr. Victoria Veytsman, a cosmetic DDS with Cosmetic Dental Studios, tells Fashionista. "It can shave 10 to 15 years off of someone's face." Each individual tooth costs between $2,500 to $3,500, so veneers are probably the priciest part of the Instagram Face equation. (At $750, professional whitening is a more affordable option.)
Chin & Jaw
These days, a little bit of filler can give you a whole new jawline — no invasive bone shaving or chin implants necessary. (Once more, this is a non-regulated use of dermal filler that hasn't been through clinical trials.)
Dr. Guanche takes this off-label approach to the next level with what she calls the "GuancheLift," a mix of Botox and Juvéderm strategically injected around the lower face and neck, under the hairline, to recreate the effect of a face lift, sans surgery. According to her site, the procedure "redistributes the … jowls" and pulls "the skin of the neck upwards" for $1,500.
Another option is Kybella, an injectable that essentially destroys fat cells, and thus, double chins — all the better for those Instagram angles. Three sessions can run upwards of $5,000, but results are permanent, which sets Kybella apart from other options. (Well, the possible side effects set it apart, too: hair loss, ulcers, bruising and even necrosis at the injection site, to name a few.)
The finishing touch? Flawless skin, of course. "To achieve 'celebrity skin,' first get rid of your facial hair by doing laser hair removal," advises Saime Demirovic, the founder of GLO Spa NY. You can eliminate peach fuzz — or at least, 60 to 80% of it — with six sessions at $600 total.
From there, the recommended facials and peels are presumably endless and always evolving. Dr. Guanche's latest off-label creation combines a microneedling tool with Botox and filler to "deliver tiny doses of neuromodulator and hyaluronic acid to the surface of the skin," she says. "This is the models' favorite." And for good reason: The facial is essentially in-person airbrushing. Besides treating fine lines and plumping the face, the shallow "microdose" of Botox tightens pores. "You don't squeeze out as much sweat and oil because the little muscles around your pores and oil glands [are frozen]," Dr. Guanche explained to journalists. It's recommended to get the $500 procedure every four months.
And hey, if after 16 treatments and $17,000, you're still not satisfied with your brand-new, albeit temporary, Instagram Face? There's always Facetune.