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Fat Grafting: The Plastic Surgery Gold Mine

Model in white showing figureFor plastic surgeons, fat is worth its weight in gold. You might not feel this way if you’re carrying a few extra pandemic pounds these days. But to a plastic surgeon, the fat you have in unwanted areas can be a treasure trove of material to enhance other areas of your face and body. With procedures like breast augmentation and Brazilian butt lift, our San Jose patients certainly appreciate the benefits of fat transfer.

The Good News About Fat

Over the past decade, plastic surgeons have come to appreciate the principle of volume restoration. Rather than always tightening, pulling, and lifting, it is clear that replacing lost volume is sometimes a better alternative. As we age, we lose fat volume in certain areas of the face and body. This causes us to look sunken, hollowed out, and tired. Sometimes, the key to creating a youthful appearance or pleasing cosmetic contour is to fill an area with volume.

And what better material to fill the void than your own fat taken from an unwanted area and placed into an area in need? The benefits of fat over implants and fillers are clear: Your own fat is soft, pliable, and once accepted, won’t go away or get rejected like foreign substances.

How Does Fat Grafting Work?

The process is simple and effective. Fat is gently removed from any area of the body using the standard liposuction technique. Small incisions are created and a slim cannula is placed under the skin in the fat layer of the tissues. The cannula is connected to a vacuum device that suctions out the unwanted fat. This process is repeated until a pleasing contour is achieved. But rather than throwing out the fat, we can process it to remove unwanted elements and then reinject it into any area of the body. Watch this American Society of Plastic Surgeons animated video to see how the process works.

Where Can I Use My Excess Fat?

The most common uses are to restore volume in the face, breast, and buttocks. It can also be placed under scarred and contracted skin to make it more supple and soft.

Brazilian Butt Lift

In the buttocks, the fat grafting procedure is called the Brazilian Butt Lift or BBL. While we technically aren’t “lifting” buttocks, the increased volume gives the buttocks a more youthful contour. The fat is injected through small incisions using a special cannula and pump that gently place the fat in the tissue layer between the skin and muscle. We can increase the width and projection of the buttocks with the added volume of fat. This is often safer and less invasive than using silicone implants or injectable fillers. If performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon in an accredited facility, the procedure is safe. The recovery process takes about 2 to 3 weeks, and patients wear a special garment to help support the grafted areas and compress the areas of liposuction.

Breast Augmentation

In the breast, the procedure is often called an autologous breast augmentation. That just means the material used to enhance the breast comes from the patient (autologous) and not from a foreign object like a silicone implant. This procedure is performed using the same equipment and technique as the BBL. Recovery time is similar. The breast can only be enhanced about ½ cup size each time the procedure is performed, so it is often reserved for patients who want a modest amount of enhancement.

Fat Grafting to Breasts - Steven Bates MD

Fat Grafting to Breasts – Steven Bates MD

Facial Rejuvenation

In the face, we can use fat rather than injectable fillers such as Restylane® or JUVÉDERM® to achieve similar volumizing results. For facial fat grafting, we can use a much smaller cannula and incisions, and the procedure can often be done under local anesthesia since the volume of fat collected is much smaller. Recovery is often less than a week, and patients don’t require the use of special garments afterward.

Where else can your own body fat be used? Read our related blog post to learn more.

What About Safety?

Risks and complications of fat grafting are minimal, although as with any surgery, there are some involved. Your surgeon should discuss these possible complications with you prior to surgery. The most common issue that arises with fat grafting is loss of volume after the procedure. Assuming we have enough fat for the grafting procedure, it is always possible to achieve the desired contour on the operating table. Unfortunately, during the recovery phase, some of the fat is reabsorbed by the body and volume is diminished. Typically, a patient will keep about 30 to 70% of the fat we inject at the time of surgery. 

It is difficult to determine which patients will keep more or less fat, but no patient will retain 100% of the fat we inject. For this reason, patients need to have a clear understanding of the expected range of outcomes and be aware there might be a desire for a second round of grafting if needed. This can typically be done between 4 to 6 months after the first round. Please go to our photo gallery to see examples of our patients’ fat grafting before-and-after images.

So, don’t hate your fat. Think of it as a bonus-in-waiting. Your plastic surgeon may see gold in them thar hills!

Ready to use your excess fat to reshape your body? Use our online form to request a consultation with the board-certified plastic surgeons at our plastic surgery practice in San Jose or call us at (408) 356-4241.

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