Also known as fat grafting or fat injection
A fat grafting procedure transfers fat from areas in which you have excess fat, such as the outer thighs, and injects it into areas that may be lacking in volume, such as your face, hands, breasts or buttocks. This safe, long-lasting, well-tolerated procedure produces natural-looking results. Every year, thousands of people undergo successful fat grafting and are pleased with the results.
When to Consider Fat Transfer
- If you have facial areas that appear creased and sunken
- If you desire more permanent correction than is provided by temporary fillers
- If you wish to improve your body contour, revise scars, fill bodily depressions and rejuvenate your hands and face
- For use in breast reconstruction, to fill in contour irregularities or hide obvious signs of breast implants
Fat is harvested from one part of your body, washed and purified, and then carefully reinjected with specially designed needles into the areas that need augmentation. It may be necessary to repeat the fat grafting procedure several times to achieve the desired result. Fat grafting can be explained as a three-stage process: (1) harvesting (2) purification and transfer and (3) placement.
Harvesting: You and your surgeon will select a site for fat removal and will inject it with a local anesthetic. Your surgeon will then create a small incision in the area for fat removal and, using a sterile technique, insert a cannula connected to a syringe to carefully extract fat (liposuction).
Purification and transfer: Once enough fat is obtained from the donor area, your surgeon will process it to prepare the fat cells for transfer to small syringes that will be used for fat injection. Purification may require the use of a centrifuge to spin the fat or a filtration process to remove impurities.
Placement: The area designated to receive the graft will then be prepared. Your surgeon will insert a needle or cannula into the incision point of the site being augmented. The injection needle is usually passed in and out of the areas to be augmented multiple times. Each time the needle or cannula is withdrawn, a line of fatty tissue parcels is carefully deposited in natural tissue planes. This process is repeated until the desired correction has been achieved, creating a grid of grafted fat. Some surgeons recommend massaging the grafted areas to create a satisfactory contour. Others prefer to rely on the placement technique to create the appropriate contour. The surgeon may also place a dressing or bandage over the grafted area.
The goal of your aesthetic plastic surgeon and the entire staff is to help you achieve the most beautiful and natural-looking results, as well as to make your surgical experience as easy and comfortable as possible.
Your surgeon will provide thorough preoperative instructions, answer any questions you may have, take a detailed medical history, and perform a physical exam to determine your fitness for this procedure.
- Your surgeon may take pre-procedure photos.
- Regardless of the type of surgery to be performed, hydration is very important before and after surgery for safe recovery and the best outcomes.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
- Stop smoking at least six weeks before the procedure to avoid poor wound healing and scarring.
- Avoid taking aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs: Advil, Motrin, Aleve) and vitamins/homeopathic regimens that can increase bleeding.
- Regardless of the type of procedure to be performed, hydration is very important before and after for safe recovery.
- Arrange for someone to drive you home after surgery and stay with you for at least the first twenty-four hours unless you and your surgeon have decided on other postoperative recovery options. (See Aftercare and Recovery).
What can I expect on the day of fat transfer?
Your fat grafting procedure may be performed in an accredited hospital, a free-standing ambulatory facility, or an office-based surgical suite.
- The length of your procedure depends on how much fat is removed and the number of liposuction sites. Obviously, you will need much less fat for facial filler than to augment your breasts or buttocks.
- You will receive medications to make you as comfortable as possible. Frequently, local anesthesia and intravenous sedation are used for patients undergoing fat transfer, although general anesthesia is sometimes desirable.
- For your safety during the operation, various monitors are used to check your heart, blood pressure, pulse and the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood.
- Your plastic surgeon will follow the surgical plan discussed with you before your fat grafting procedure. Once the procedure has begun, he or she may decide to combine various techniques or change a technique to ensure the best result. It is important that you feel comfortable and trust your doctor to make these decisions.
- After your procedure, you will be taken into a recovery area, where you will continue to be closely monitored. You may be wearing a compression garment at your liposuction site to help “shrink” the skin. Many patients state that the area feels sore, as if they underwent a vigorous workout.
- You will probably be permitted to go home after a short observation period unless you and your plastic surgeon have made other plans for your immediate postoperative recovery.
Your own fat may be used to alter your body contour, revise scars, fill depressions created by liposuction or cancer surgery and rejuvenate your hands and face. Common sites for obtaining fat include the abdomen and the flanks (love handles), posterior arms and the hips and thighs. The options your plastic surgeon will discuss with you are:
- Which areas will benefit from fat transfer?
- Which areas are best for fat removal?
- Whether any other procedures are appropriate?
- Fat can be harvested from areas like the thighs and buttocks.
- Fat can then injected into the lips (pictured) and elsewhere on the face.
It’s important to choose your surgeon based on:
- Education, training and certification
- Experience with fat grafting
- Your comfort level with him or her
Members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery are experienced and qualified to perform your aesthetic procedure. Learn how to select a surgeon.
After finding a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area who is experienced in performing fat transfer, you will need to make an office appointment for your consultation. Generally, because of the in-depth nature of the consultation, there is a cost associated with the initial visit, which is sometimes deducted from the price of the procedure.
During your initial consultation, you will have the opportunity to discuss what you want to achieve. Your surgeon will evaluate you as a candidate for fat grafting and clarify what fat grafting can do for you. Once the surgeon understands your goals, he or she may suggest additional or related procedures. It is important to be completely honest during the consultation. Bring several photos of yourself at an earlier age; they may serve as a good point of reference for discussing your goals. It’s a good idea to be fully prepared to answer these questions:
- Do you have any medical conditions or drug allergies? Are you being treated for any medical conditions?
- Have you had any previous surgeries?
- What are your current medications and vitamin and herbal supplements?
- What is your current use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs?
- What is your history with any noninvasive cosmetic procedures?
- What outcome do you expect from the surgery? What is your chief motivation in undergoing fat transfer?
Your surgeon may also:
- Ask you to look in a mirror and point out exactly what you would like to see improved.
- Take photos for your medical record, measure your face and use computer imaging to show you improvements you can expect.
- Evaluate your health status, including pre-existing health conditions or risk factors.
- Evaluate the elasticity of your skin.
- Discuss your options and recommend a course of treatment.
- Discuss likely outcomes, including risks or potential complications.
- Discuss the type of anesthesia that will be used.
Based on your goals, physical characteristics, and the surgeon’s years of training and experience, your surgeon will share recommendations and information with you, including:
- An approach to your procedure, including the type of procedure or combination of procedures.
- The outcomes that you can anticipate.
- Your financial investment for the procedure.
- Associated risks and complications.
- Options for anesthesia and surgery location.
- What is needed to prepare for the surgery.
- What you can expect to experience after surgery.
- The doctor will also share before and after photos of cases similar to yours and answer any questions, so you can make the most informed and intelligent decision.
For a general list of questions to ask your surgeon about his/her background, to find out about plastic surgery safety and to plan your procedure, visit the Planning Toolkit.
We developed these questions to help you:
- Make the most informed and intelligent decisions about your procedure.
- Confirm that you have the right surgeon for your procedure.
- Make your initial consultation as rewarding as possible.
- Understand your options, potential outcomes and risks.
It is important for you to take an active role in your surgery, so please use this list of questions as a starting point for your initial consultation.
- Am I a good candidate for fat grafting?
- Are the results I am seeking reasonable and realistic?
- Do you have fat grafting before-and-after photos I can look at for this procedure?
- How many fat grafting procedures have you performed, and in what areas of the body?
- Where will you perform my fat grafting surgery, and how long will it take?
- Will my scars be visible?
- What kind of anesthesia do you recommend for me?
- What will be the costs associated with my procedure?
- What will you expect of me to get the best results?
- What kind of recovery period can I expect and when can I resume normal activities?
- What are the risks and complications associated with my procedure?
- What are my options if the cosmetic outcome of my fat grafting procedure does not meet the goals we agreed on?
Ask your doctor how long it will be before you can return to your normal level of activity and work following this procedure. After surgery, you and your caregiver will receive detailed instructions about your postsurgical care, including information about:
- Drains, if they have been placed
- Normal symptoms you will experience
- Any potential signs of complications
See options for short-term recovery locations in Aftercare and Recovery (Planning Toolkit).
How will I look and feel immediately following a fat transfer?
Your plastic surgeon will advise you how to care for the sites from which fat was extracted. Recovery from fat injections is variable and perception of that recovery is even more highly variable. Here is some general recovery information related to facial fat injections:
- The swelling and bruising during the first week are significant, and you will not be ready to see others socially or professionally.
- In the second week the bruising resolves, but you will still have swelling.
- There is great improvement in most cases between the seventh and tenth days, but you may still not be ready to go out in public. Most people who have very little time off from work take one week off, including two flanking weekends. Those who can afford two weeks off or more are even better positioned to return to work.
- By the third week you will begin to look more like yourself. Careful application of makeup can be helpful in camouflaging any residual signs of swelling or bruising.
- Once the swelling recedes, you will be able to appreciate the changes, but subtle swelling may persist for weeks.
You can expect the areas to which the fat was transferred to appear softer and fuller, giving you a refreshed and rejuvenated appearance. You may even notice an improvement in skin texture.
- The survival of the fat and longevity of the results depend on the surgeon’s skills, how the fat was harvested and purified, and how and where it was injected. To be performed successfully, fat grafting requires a surgeon with highly developed skills based on experience and knowledge of the technique.
- A process called microfat grafting, although labor intensive, is the best way to ensure that the highest percentage of grafted fat will take.
- When done successfully, the injected fat establishes a new blood supply from your body and receives the nourishment it needs for survival. When this happens, results can and often are permanent; however, there may be a percentage of fat that does not take, which is why touchup procedures are sometimes necessary.
Maintain a relationship with your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For safety, as well as the most beautiful and healthy outcome, it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon’s office for follow-up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you have any questions about your fat transfer healing and results.
The cost of a fat grafting procedure varies from doctor to doctor, from one geographic area to another and with the fat grafting technique that is performed.
These numbers only reflect the physician/surgeon fees last year and do not include fees for the surgical facility, anesthesia, medical tests, prescriptions, surgical garments or other miscellaneous costs related to fat transfer.
Because fat grafting is elective surgery, insurance does not cover these costs. Many surgeons offer patient financing plans to make the procedure more affordable.
Choose your surgeon based on quality, training and experience—not cost.
See why ASAPS members are widely recognized for upholding the highest standards in the area of aesthetic plastic surgery by viewing their basic credentials, training, and certifications.
Fortunately, significant complications from fat grafting are infrequent. This procedure is usually performed without any major problems.
Risks and potential complications of surgery is a subject you should discuss during your consultation. The risks in most surgeries are similar. Some of the potential complications of all surgeries are:
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Hematoma or seroma (an accumulation of blood or fluid under the skin that may require removal)
- Changes in sensation
- Allergic reactions
- Damage to underlying structures
- Unsatisfactory results that may necessitate additional procedures
You can help minimize certain risks by following the advice and instructions of your board-certified plastic surgeon, both before and after your fat transfer.This article was originally published for Smart Beauty Guide and was legally licensed