Traditional fat grafting has been around for over 125 years. Over that time, generations of surgeons and physicians have studied to refine and perfect the technique to make it more predictable, safe, and effective. While fat grafting has been used for numerous other medical applications, our focus is to use this time-proven technique to achieve youthful and natural face rejuvenation.
How Does Fat Transfer Work?
Fat transfer is aimed to add volume to areas of the face where volume loss has resulted in a hollowed, aged appearance. Areas of the face that are traditionally reinforced with fatty-soft tissue to provide youthful, round contour include the jawline, cheeks, under-eyes, and temples. As one ages, several processes contribute to loss of volume in these areas including bone resorption, fat and muscle shrinkage, and migration of soft-tissue (facial droop). This results in a hollowed, tired, and sometimes unhealthy facial appearance associated with the aging process. However, some young patients can also experience this problem if they are endurance athletes, have undergone significant weight loss, or if it is simply part of their hereditary traits.
Based on the patient’s preference, a fat transfer can be performed while awake through minimal sedation or through twilight sedation in the operating room setting. We begin with the removal of fat through traditional liposuction of the abdomen through a small slit around the belly button. After adequate fat has been removed, fat is processed to optimize for transfer. Next, fat is injected to the areas of volume loss on the face using small micro-cannula. The key is to inject in deep plane to avoid palpable nodule formation, a known risk in fat injection.
What is the Recovery for a Fat Transfer?
We tend to overcorrect to anticipate for some fat graft resorption within the first several months. First several days, patients will notice swelling at the site of fat grafting. Most of the swelling is from numbing medication or from the saline solution in which fat grafts is transferred, and the body will quickly absorb it over the following few days.
Over the first several months, the grafted fat goes through inosculation, during which it settles into a new home by recruiting new blood supply and establishing a connection with surrounding structures. During this time, patients may notice that the initial result of new facial volume (from swelling) is dissipating. However, after this settling period, the grafted fat will begin to volumize and the result will become more apparent.
What are the Benefits of a Fat Transfer Over Alternative Options?
Contemporary trend is to seek non-invasive treatments for facial rejuvenation. For this reason, more patients undergo dermal filler treatments in our practice to restore volume. These include hyaluronic acid-based fillers, including Radiesse®, and Sculptra®.
There are several significant advantages to a fat transfer for facial rejuvenation compared to the non-invasive fillers. First, most patients have plenty of fat around their abdomen to donate to volumize their face. Whereas each 1cc of volume costs hundreds of dollars for non-invasive fillers, one treatment of fat transfer achieves a minimum 20cc or more of volume to restore volume throughout the face in multiple areas. Second, fat grafts last a long time. Depending on the type, the fillers may last from 6 months to several years. However, a fat graft is one’s own living tissue, and after its initial swelling and settling, a fat graft stays put. While it is vulnerable to shrink if one’s metabolism changes (with aging or weight-loss), it is by and large living tissue as part of the face. Lastly, fat grafts do more than just add volume. A fat micrograft contains stem cells, which is involved in promoting survival of the fat graft but also influences the repair and remodeling of surrounding tissue including the skin. As a side note, the first described fat graft was performed in 1893 to treat scars.
We recommend that the patients who are interested in a fat transfer should seek consultation to explore all treatment options to determine which procedure is the ideal option for them, given their unique anatomy, expectations, medical profile, and risk factors.
Double Board-certified Facial Plastic Surgeon Dr. Sang W. Kim at Natural Face™ Clinics specializes in aesthetic enhancement of the face, head, and neck, exclusively. Patients come to see us from the Syracuse metropolitan area and Central New York area, including Ithaca and Rochester. At Natural Face™ Clinics, we specialize in restoring the youthful neck contour, tired appearance of the brows and eyes, and skin laxity. We offer customized treatments, both surgical and non-surgical. Find out more by scheduling your personal consultation today.