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.
These are the top three pros and cons to weigh when considering fat transfer. If you wish to focus on what is unique to you, please consult with your aesthetic plastic surgeon.
Are you a good candidate for a fat transfer?
The purpose of fat grafting is to augment or fill in volume-deficient areas. Commonly grafted, or injected, areas include the hands, face (including the lips), depressions in the skin (following liposuction and scarring) and the breast and buttock (for augmentation). Of course, you must have donor sites from which fat can be taken. It is important that you do not have any circulation problems, either from a medical condition or smoking.
Facial fat transfer: 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.
Breast augmentation: If you desire a modest increase in breast size, you are a good candidate for fat grafting to the breast, but your breasts should already have a nice shape and good skin tone. If you have poor skin, sagging breasts, or want a significant increase in breast size, breast augmentation with fat transfer is not for you. The problem with only using fat for breast enhancement lies in getting large volumes of fat to predictably “take.”
Breast implants plus fat grafting: If your breast shape needs optimizing during a breast implant procedure, fat grafting can be useful. If you have residual breast irregularities after undergoing breast augmentation with implants, the irregularities can be filled in with fat to produce a smooth contour and an optimal shape.
Breast reconstruction with fat grafting: If you have breast defects following lumpectomy for breast cancer, fat grafting is an effective method for filling in these defects. Fat grafting is also an option for total breast reconstruction following mastectomy; however, to achieve sufficient breast volume, this is usually a multistage process that requires at least two to four sequential fat grafting procedures.
Buttock augmentation with fat grafting: Many people who desire a fuller, more rounded buttock will opt for a “Brazilian butt lift,” which uses fat transfer to provide a more curvaceous buttock without the use of an implant. Liposuction is commonly used to both sculpt the surrounding area and collect the autologous fat to be injected.
Hand rejuvenation with fat grafting: Fat grafting into your hands is effective for adding volume, “plumping up” wrinkled areas, covering underlying vessels and tendons and improving the quality of your skin over time.
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
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 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:
Your only scars may result from liposuction, which is used to remove fat from the donor site.
It’s important to choose your surgeon based on:
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:
Your surgeon may also:
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:
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:
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.
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.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.