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Facing Facts: Real News in Facial Fat Grafting

Dec 06, 2017 02:00PM ● By Caley Breese
By Caley Breese

It’s common in life to be told to always put your best foot forward—through the miracle of modern science, we now have the opportunity to put our best face forward, as well. When it comes to the aging process, it’s only natural to be discouraged when we look in the mirror and see we are, indeed, getting older—and no amount of anti-aging cream or moisturizer can totally reverse the tide. However, the good news is modern science continues to work to define and refine rejuvenation treatments which in the past may have seemed inconceivable. One of those treatments is facial fat grafting. We reached out to local experts to get the latest info on this treatment process.


Although it’s been around since the 1990s, fat grafting, also known as fat transfer, remains a popular technique when it comes to the facial enhancement. Its purpose is to restore volume loss due to the aging process. Unlike synthetic fillers—an older and alternative technique to renewing fat and volume loss—fat grafting involves removing fat from one area of the body, harvesting that fat, and then injecting it into the desired facial area. The fat is generally taken from one’s own abdomen or thighs. According to Dr. Paul Buhrer, M.D., with Plastic Surgery Specialists, fat is sometimes taken from beneath the chin when a facelift is occurring at the same time.

Dr. Buhrer explains that being able to utilize one’s own fat as opposed to synthetic fillers is preferred by many patients and doctors alike. Dr. Lee A. Kleiman, M.D., FACS, of Severn River Plastic and Laser Surgery explains that fat grafting involves fine tissue that becomes re-vascularized, (the surgical improvement of blood circulation) which helps it stay alive and remain viable longer.

While Dr. Buhrer and Dr. Kleiman both agree that patients would want to receive facial fat grafting largely for aesthetic reasons, a doctor might medically recommend it for facial atrophy. Additionally, like any procedure, there are possible side effects. Some facial fat grafting side effects include: infection, bruising, lumpiness, swelling, asymmetry, and partial reabsorption.


Depending on the volume of fat being transferred, the process can take anywhere from a few minutes to around two hours. Some common areas of the face where fat grafting is performed are around the mid-face, buccal areas (or sunken cheeks), temporal areas, lips, nasolabial folds, and tear troughs. Receiving a facial fat graft can help rejuvenate the appearance and texture of the skin, help heal scars, and revive the skin, leaving a more youthful appearance. When it comes to seeing results, it can be as early as two weeks.

The minimally-invasive surgical procedure of facial fat grafting is similar to the fat transfer process (something you can read about in our June 2017 issue!) Facial fat grafting is a multiple-step procedure that involves extracting fat from one area of the body and then harvesting it by decanting and centrifuging to separate the fat from other liquids. Then, often using a blunt cannula (a thin tube inserted for the delivery of medicine) or a small syringe, the fat is transferred by microdroplet technique—this allows for smoother-looking results.

Potential vs. Problems

While fat grafting can help restore volume to revitalize different areas of the face and help with the aging process, it is vital to understand some difficulties with the procedure.

“My biggest concern with fat grafting is its somewhat unpredictable take,” Dr. Buhrer says. “Some of the fat will develop its own blood supply and actually live in its new location; some will die, but stay in the area maintaining its fullness—though somewhat lumpy or firm. And some will die and be reabsorbed by the body. Unfortunately the percentages of each vary from individual to individual.”

Dr. Kleiman agrees, stating: “The greatest problem is when the free fat graft doesn’t remain viable and subsequently reabsorbs. This necessitates additional procedures and costs in some cases.”

When a patient decides he or she wants facial fat grafting, it is important to know that this change is long-lasting, so it’s important to seek out advice from your doctor before going through with the procedure.

“I usually suggest patients try a filler such as Juvederm first to be sure they like the look prior to fat grafting, as the fat transfer is permanent,” Dr. Buhrer explains. This is a great way to exercise due diligence on the procedure and preview what enhancement looks like on you before undergoing treatment.

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