Fat Transfer


Before and after photos provided by the Maves Medical Group

stock35Fat transfer, or fat grafting, has been employed in the surgical field for over twenty years. Many choose to undergo a fat transfer procedure to enhance certain areas of their body by creating a more natural look. Over the years, cosmetic surgeons have been developing and advancing the procedural technique to ensure viability and satisfaction. In the proper hands, fat transfer results can be truly brilliant and also permanent.

What is fat transfer?
Fat transfer is a procedure that harvests one’s own fat from one area of the body and deposits it into another area. Fat cells are typically taken from the more corpulent areas of the body such as the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks. It is then refined and reintroduced into the body part the patient is looking to add volume to. There, the transferred fat will find its own blood supply and remain permanently.

What are the reasons and benefits of undergoing a fat transfer procedure?
As we grow older, many areas of the body lose volume and therefore appear more tired and aged. Places like the face lose their prominence as cheeks are not as full and wrinkles become more evident. The hands can look bony and veins become more pronounced. Having a fat transfer procedure is a good way to add volume to these areas, minimizing these effects and creating a youthful look. Many prefer this procedure over the use of dermal fillers because it utilizes a natural substance and also gives them permanent results. Most fillers do not last longer than just a few months.

Other individuals look to undergo the fat transfer procedure to enhance an area of the body, like the breasts or the buttocks. The goal here is to improve the overall shape and size. Having fat grafted into these areas will definitely ensure a more natural feel and appearance, and because the fat is originating from the patients themselves, there is no risk of rejection or any allergic reaction. Many find this preferable to implants because there is no chance of sensation loss, rupture, or replacement. If one already has implants though, fat transfer can also be used to reinforce them, allowing the target area to look and feel more natural.

The procedure is done under local anesthetic and therefore has minimal risks and downtime. There are no incisions made, so scarring and bruising won’t be an issue as with traditional facelifts or implant surgery.

What areas of the body can fat be transferred to?
Fat can be transferred to literally any part of the body. Typical areas include the face, lips, hands, arms, breasts, and buttocks.

What risks are associated with fat transfer?
Depending on the area and volume of treatment, a fat transfer procedure may also require a liposuction procedure beforehand to harvest the fat. Please review the risks associated with a body-jet water-assisted liposuction procedure on our body-jet page. The actual fat transfer procedure has very few risks, as it is a non-invasive procedure done under local anesthetic. As mentioned before, there are no incisions and therefore no scars or bruising. Unlike with implants, there is no risk of rejection, allergies, sensation loss, rupture, or replacement.

The most notable risk of any fat transfer procedure is that a given amount of fat will get reabsorbed into the body. There are many factors that influence how much this happens like the quality/viability of the fat cells, the fat cells’ ability to find a blood supply, and the patient’s lifestyle. It is extremely difficult for any physician to accurately predict how much fat will get reabsorbed. What can be said is any fat that remains after three months will be permanent. If more volume is desired, additional fat transfer procedures may be required. Because each case is different, more specific details will be thoroughly discussed during the patient consultation.

Who is an ideal candidate for fat transfer?
Candidates for a fat transfer procedure should be in good overall health. Depending on the area to be treated and the specific goals, individuals should have enough fat so that it can be extracted from the body in the amount necessary for the procedure. Fat transfer for the face and hands will require some fat, while the breasts and buttocks will require a lot. In general, people who are really skinny and highly active are not good candidates for fat transfer because, not only do they not have excess fat for harvesting, but their high rate of metabolism and active lifestyle will also discourage fat retension after the procedure.

What is the fat transfer procedure like?
Fat transfer is done as an outpatient procedure, under local anesthesia. If a liposuction procedure is required, the entire procedure can last anywhere from four to six hours. If an individual is looking only to enhance their lips for example, the procedure may last only thirty minutes. The fat transfer procedure entails three steps:

Fat removal (harvest) – For larger volume procedures, a body-jet liposuction procedure will be used to harvest the fat. For smaller volumes, a syringe is carefully used to extract the fat from the body.

Fat refining – During this stage, the fat is carefully processed to remove any extraneous fluids and materials. This will yield a viable, highly concentrated collection of fat.

Fat grafting – Utilizing special techniques, the physician will reintroduce the harvested fat into the body by injecting small micro-droplets of fat numerous times over layers into the target area. This will not only ensure smoothness, but also allow them to attain a blood supply and therefore remain permanently.

After the entire procedure is completed, the patient will spend an hour in recovery before being fully discharged.

What is the downtime after a fat transfer procedure?
Because the fat transfer procedure is performed under local anesthesia, patients can go home the day of their surgery. There may also be downtime associated with liposuction if that was performed as well; please visit our body-jet liposuction page for further details. Swelling is very common following a fat transfer procedure and there may also be some mild bruising near the injection sites. Typically, these effects subside after a week or two.

Recovery times can vary based on how much fat was transferred, where it was transferred to, and the patient’s response to healing. Many patients can perform light activities like running errands and minor chores almost immediately. Mild exercise can be resumed after a week, while more strenuous exercise should wait two to three weeks. If the fat transfer procedure was minimal, patients usually return to work in one to three days. However, bigger cases for the breasts or buttocks require more recovery time and therefore patients are advised to wait at least one to two weeks before returning to work. There may also be some restrictions on what exercises can be done and what clothing can be worn during the weeks after treatment. In general, the area that was treated should avoid having any agitation or pressure applied to it.

What size increase can be expected and when will it be visible?
The size increase after a fat transfer procedure is very dependent on the individual. Patients should talk to the physician about realistic outcomes for their particular treatment. A relatively skinny person will be disappointed if they expect to gain oversized breasts or huge buttocks from this procedure. It is highly unlikely that patients will see a large volume gain for these areas because there is only a finite amount of blood supply that can sustain new fat cells. Instead, a moderate gain is typical, such as an increase of one to two cup sizes for the breast case.

Because the physician actually over-injects the fat to allow for re-absorption, the overcorrection can make the treatment area swollen. Therefore, it can take some time to see the real results. Once the swelling subsides, the patient must also have adequate time to fully return to their normal lifestyle to see if the injected fat has acclimated well to the new area. Usually, three months after the procedure is when the final results should be measured.