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What is Fat Transfer?

Also known as fat grafting or fat injection, the procedure transfers fat from areas in which you have excess fat, such as the outer thighs, and injects it into areas of the face that may be lacking in volume. Fat transfers have been used for more than 100 years to fill in facial flaws such as hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes or indented scars. A fat transfer involves your own fat cells, which means that it’s biocompatible and may help eliminate the risk of allergic reaction or rejection.

Pros and Cons

The top pros and cons to weigh when considering fat transfer are:

Pros

  • Autologous fat (from your own body), as opposed to dermal fillers, replaces “like with like,” reducing the chance of allergic reactions to foreign substances.
  • Fat transfer results are natural, long lasting and safe.
  • Fat transfer is a noninvasive method for achieving facial rejuvenation.

Cons

  • It is time consuming to prepare fat tissue before transferring it, compared to dermal fillers, which are prepackaged.
  • Though longer lasting than dermal fillers, fat transfer costs more.

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Is a Fat Transfer Right for Me?

Although exercise and maintaining a normal weight are the best ways to improve your appearance, aging and genetics may, over time, negate the positive effects of healthy living. For example, genetics may cause fat to be unevenly distributed. And, beginning in their mid-30s, people tend to start losing volume in specific body areas, including the face and hands. In these scenarios, fat transfers may help because their purpose is to augment or fill in volume-deficient areas.

Consider a Fat Transfer if:

  • You have facial areas that appear creased and sunken
  • You desire more permanent correction than is provided by temporary fillers
  • You wish to improve your body contour, revise scars, fill bodily depressions and rejuvenate your face.

Good candidates for body fat transfer should:

  • Be in good overall health, both physically and emotionally
  • Have realistic expectations about what the procedure can and can’t do for them.
  • Stop smoking for several weeks prior to and following your procedure as smoking can slow the healing process, increase your risk of complications and impact negatively on your final cosmetic result.
  • Have adequate fat deposits for the graft.

Discuss the specific fat transfer procedure that interests you — including its pros and cons — with a board certified plastic surgeon.

The Fat Transfer Procedure

Body fat transfers are performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon in his or her office, outpatient center or hospital. The procedure may take up to two hours and is often performed under “twilight sedation,” which combines a number of medications that leave you sleepy and numb but awake. The procedure may also require general anesthesia, especially if it is being combined with other cosmetic surgeries.

If you have facial creases, such as laugh lines, smile lines, and crow’s-feet, fat can be removed from your abdomen, thighs, or other areas and be injected into your face. Acne scars and sunken areas of the face, lips, and cheeks can also be filled in. Your plastic surgeon can even use grafted fat to minimize lines between your nose and mouth, correct skin depressions or indentations and minimize forehead wrinkles.

The fat transfer procedure varies depending upon the technique used by the doctor and the area to be treated.

What are the Risks

As with any medical procedure, complications are possible, but complications from fat transfers are rare. The most common include bruising, swelling, redness, fatty bumps beneath the skin, uneven skin texture, infection, an abscess, excessive bleeding, and scarring. If fat is injected into two or more areas, asymmetry may occur.

Treatment for complications can range from oral medications to surgery. To reduce your overall risk of body fat transfer complications, follow your doctor’s instructions before and after the procedure.

Recovery & Results

After the procedure, you will need someone to drive you home. You may also need someone to help you with daily activities during your recovery from fat transfer surgery. Your doctor should provide you with specific post-op instructions including taking it easy for up to three weeks after the procedure. Within two to three days after the procedure, your doctor will remove your bandages and you will be able to shower again.

The treated area may be red for the first 48 hours following your fat transfer. There is typically some swelling for several weeks; however, any bruising should subside within a few days. Scabs may also form at the injection site. Oral pain medications can help treat any discomfort. Your doctor will give you a prescription or discuss appropriate over-the-counter (OTC) medications with you. Some OTC products, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, may increase your risk of bleeding and should not be used unless your doctor advises otherwise. You should notice a marked improvement in your appearance after the procedure, although final results may not be evident for several months or more.