The changes that come about with age are relatively well known to the public. These include facial thinning, sagging skin, the loss of cheek volume and the appearance of deep facial lines. To disguise these and to delay the appearance of ageing, many have opted to undergo treatments such as subcutaneous injections of artificial fillers, or even with preparations from their own blood.
In a fat graft procedure, fat is gently removed from another area on the patient’s body, (usually the tummy or thighs) and can be processed and injected into the target. This can be used to help improve the volume and contour of the shape and used to fill in defects just like facial fillers.
Fat grafts have been popular for improving the volume and shape of tissues of the face, hands, lips and more recently the breast. In my practice, I have also used fat grafts for correcting contour irregularities in patients who have received unsatisfactory liposuction procedures elsewhere.
In essence, fat grafts can be considered biological fillers and used almost like the facial fillers that are very common nowadays.
Is fat grafting a new procedure?
No, the technique was invented more than a hundred years ago. Plastic surgeons have used fat grafting for reconstructive purposes throughout the last few decades, but there is certainly a renewed interest in the cosmetic applications of fat grafting procedure in the last few years, with more patients and plastic surgeons now recognising the advantages of this process.
Is it a complicated process?
The basic technique is simple to understand. Living fat cells are harvested gently from a part of the body that some more fat tissue, and re-inserted in very small columns in the areas where one would like a change. These columns of cells are placed in layers to build up shape and volume.
Both the harvesting and the placement of cells are carried out using blunt metal tubes which are of fine diameter – only about 1 -2mm in diameter – so the incisions are almost invisible and most patients are unable to see the incision sites after a few weeks. Fat cells are very delicate so the placement has to be accurate and gentle.
Is the procedure safe?
Fat grafts are very safe if carried out carefully and in the correct manner. The procedure involves very minimal access incisions, minimal bruising and fast recovery – most patients go home the same afternoon after the procedure.
Client satisfaction is usually high. However, like any surgical procedure, the process is only as safe (and as good!)as the surgeon makes it. There have been reported instances where patients have had lumpy changes, infections, wound breakdown, bad scarring and very asymmetric results.
Of course, the results also vary depending on the artistic appreciation of the surgeon – some patients do not like the results of the facial sculpting that they are given by their therapist.
The process is very operator dependent. Thus it is important that patients seek out experienced surgeons with good training and an appreciation for the anatomic detail as well as an eye for facial harmony and balance.
FAT Can Be your Friend (part 1)
by: Dr. Yap Lok Huei
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon