What is Fat Transfer (Fat Grafting)?
There has been a small revolution in our thinking about the aging face over the past twenty years. For decades, doctors had focused on the roles that gravity and sun damage play in making people look old, but had largely ignored the loss of youthful fullness that also occurs. This was probably because medicine could offer no good solutions to that problem, even though it was obvious that young people have full, softly contoured faces and older people don’t.
Two big advances occurred in the 1990’s: 1. hyaluronic acid fillers emerged as a practical short-term method to restore facial volume, and 2. Dr. Sidney Coleman in New York City pioneered the surgical transfer of body fat to the face as a long-term method to restore volume. These techniques served as an epiphany for doctors interested in facial rejuvenation, and facial plastic surgeons around the world have gradually developed increasingly comprehensive strategies to help people look as young as they feel.
How Does Facial Fat Grafting Work?
Fat cells that are taken from the belly, hips, neck, or thighs and grafted into the face continue to live in the new location. Dr. Coleman’s central idea was that the fat cells must be grafted in small bits at multiple levels in the face so that they will each have enough oxygen and nutrition from the facial blood supply to survive. Since his early work, the techniques of fat micro-grafts have evolved so that we now use tiny cannulas to place the fat in precise response to the particular and individual needs of each patient. Once the fat grafts have taken, they become a permanent part of the person’s face for the rest of her/his life.
Fat Transfer Procedure
Facial fat transfer (grafting) is a surgical procedure that involves harvesting fat from an area in the body. These areas include the belly, hips, neck, or thighs. Dr. Fante uses specialized and gentle liposuction under local anesthesia or twilight sedation. During the same procedure, Dr. Fante places the fat in the face to improve the appearance of areas of concern. These include:
- Under-eye regions for dark circles
- Tear trough
- Upper eyelids
- Marionette lines near the mouth
If needed, the fat transfer procedure can be repeated to further improve these areas over time. Since most people want to avoid looking “overdone”, Dr. Fante is careful to achieve a natural appearance. Facial fat grafting can be safely performed in an ambulatory surgery center (ASC) or in our office surgery procedure room. This depends on the person’s health and the types of concomitant surgery that are planned.
Can You Combine Fat Transfer with Other Procedures?
Fat Transfer Recovery
After the fat transfer surgery, there is always some swelling and bruising the first day. This swelling subsides over 7-10 days. Pain is typically minimal, and patients with quickly resume quiet activities.
Non-Surgical Alternatives to Fat Transfer
Much like the fat transfer procedure, FDA approved fillers can be used to contour the face and add volume to rejuvenate the lips, cheeks, under-eye regions for dark circles and the tear trough, upper eyelids, eyebrows, temples, lines around the mouth, and jaw lines. Modern facial fillers, lasting from about six months to two years, can be injected in minutes, and are very popular.
The majority of patients are happy with the results. First-timers also like the idea that the fillers are reversible and can dissolve if they’re not happy. The possibility of bruising and the fact that the fillers are temporary are the primary downsides. Instead, the transfer of body fat to the face is more permanent.