When people picture cosmetic surgery or plastic surgery, they often conjure up images of large, artificial implants to increase the size of breasts, buttocks and other areas of the body. But one of the biggest recent trends in cosmetic surgery can achieve the same enhancement of implants by using one of the body’s own resources.
That resource? Fat.
What Is Fat Transfer?
Fat transfer is a cosmetic procedure to take fatty tissue from one area of the body and move it to another. It’s also called fat grafting or fat injections. The technique was developed in the 1990s, and today, many plastic surgery patients prefer fat transfer, as it often can create a more natural look.
As with any type of graft, the goal is to move living tissue from one area to another, much like a skin graft can be used to help people recover from burns or large wounds.
The first step to fat grafting or fat transfer is deciding which part of the body will donate its fatty tissue. A liposuction procedure then removes the desired amount of fat, and that tissue is processed to get rid of dead cells, excess fluid and other materials that might make the graft less successful.
Fat cells are then reinjected into the area of the body being enhanced, a small amount at a time so the area receiving the new cells does not reject the tissue.
Fat Transfer Applications
There are a few areas of the body where fat transfers or fat grafts are most commonly used, and fat transfer is sometimes joined with other cosmetic procedures in cases where patients don’t want to rely on implants. Here’s a look at the most common areas of the body to receive fat transfers:
- Breasts: Fat transfers can be used in breast augmentation, breast reconstruction, scar repairs and more. When used in breast augmentation, fat transfers can increase breasts by two cup sizes, which helps patients get a natural-looking increase to their breast size. Fat grafts are also used to give uneven breasts a symmetric appearance as well as to repair and reconstruct breast tissue damaged in the course of treating breast cancer.
- Buttocks: About 28,000 butt augmentations using fat transfer were performed in 2019, which represents about a 20% increase in just a single year. Using fat to help create a more shapely rear end is ideal not only to remove fat where it’s not wanted but also to avoid the use of buttock implants.
- Face: The use of fat transfer in the face can repair scarring, improve the texture of the skin and restore volume to areas of the face that have earned wrinkles.
- Hands and feet: As in improving the skin of the face, using fat transfer to the hands and feet can create a more youthful appearance or even make especially bony feet feel more comfortable.
- Hips: Fat grafting used in the hips and midsection can help patients achieve a smooth, shapely silhouette.
- Lips: For those who don’t want to use artificial fillers to create a fuller lip, fat transfer can provide a long-lasting, plumper appearance.
Side Effects & Recovery Time
All cosmetic procedures, whether surgical or minimally invasive, carry a degree of risk and have their own set of side effects and downtime. For those undergoing fat transfer as a part of another major procedure, such as breast or buttock augmentation, recovery time is likely to be much longer than for those who are using fat transfer to create a more youthful appearance in their face.
It’s also important to remember that patients will experience side effects on both sides of the procedure, meaning the donor and recipient areas of the body. Around the area where fat was removed, the most common side effects are bruising and swelling, while anesthetic liquid may drain from the area for about a day. And the recipient area will also experience pain, bruising, and swelling, which can vary depending on the overall procedure. For those having fat transfer not in conjunction with other procedures, they’ll usually be back to normal activities in about a week.
Research indicates that for those undergoing fat transfers such as in the lips or face, it’s common for the body to absorb as much as 50% of the injected fat, and once the body has completed the healing process, results are more or less permanent, assuming the person does not lose a great deal of weight that would cause fatty tissue to be lost.
Fat Transfer FAQs
Still have questions about fat transfer? Here’s a look at the questions prospective patients most often have about fat transfer or fat grafting:
Does fat transfer last forever?
Regardless of where the fat comes from and where it’s injected, some percentage of the cells will be absorbed by the body, meaning it won’t survive the transfer. This percentage can depend on many factors, but it’s estimated that at least half the cells transferred will begin to live in the new area of the body, meaning unless the person loses a great deal of weight and causes the fat to burn away, the transfer will be permanent.
How many procedures are involved in fat transfer?
If the only procedure you’re undergoing is a fat graft or fat transfer, it may be possible to remove the fat, process it and inject it into the new area of your body in as little as an hour. If the transfer is part of another procedure, such as breast or buttock augmentation, it will probably take closer to four or five hours.
Why do they take more fat than is needed?
In typical fat transfer procedures, regardless of the target area of the body or face, a bit more fat than is sufficient to create the desired look will be removed through liposuction. The biggest reason for this is that some percentage of the fat cells will not survive the transfer. This also gives the surgeon a bit more freedom in creating the overall look the patient desires.
Dr. Smita R. Ramanadham is a double board-certified plastic surgeon offering aesthetic care to her patients throughout the New Jersey, New York City, and Tri-state areas. As a female plastic surgeon, Dr. Ramanadham works to understand their specific needs and goals before formulating a personalized procedure plan. As a New Jersey native, Dr. Ramanadham understands the unique goals of women and men in the Tri-state area.