Harvesting Your Own Fat As Injectable Fillers

It sounds perfect: Take fat from somewhere you don't want it and put it where you can use more. Use your own fat to plump up lips, fill out wrinkles or folds, make cheeks or chin more prominent, or raise acne scars. As an injectable filler, your own fat is almost perfect. It is soft and feels natural, it does not cause immune problems, and you already have some. The fat is harvested from some other spot on your body, such as your abdomen, and is often a byproduct of liposuction.

Using your own tissue (in this case fat, but in other situations cartilage, fascia, or bone) is referred to as autologous grafting. It is widely done to repair serious facial injuries and other problems due to disease, trauma, or birth defects.

Although fat grafting and other types of grafting are still not perfect, they have certainly come a long way. The results are becoming more dependable and predictable.

Fat grafting requires very little fat. Most people have more than enough fat tissue that can be used in facial procedures.

Fat grafting (also called facial fat rejuvenation, fat transfer, autologous fat grafting or transfer, micro-lipoinjection, and fat injections) is the process of taking small amounts of fat from one part of the body and reimplanting it elsewhere, where it is needed. Fat injections are being used on the lips, the nasolabial folds (the folds from the corners of your mouth to your nose), marionette lines (creases from the corners of the mouth down to the jaw), the under eye areas, the cheeks, and other parts of your face and body.

The main downside to using your own fat as a filler is that it often does not last. Your body tends to absorb the fat injections to some degree. Some studies have found that almost all the transferred fat is absorbed, but in recent years there have been a lot of improvements in how the fat is harvested and treated before it is injected, and many cosmetic surgeons are reporting very good, lasting results. A lot depends on factors including how the fat was removed, how it was concentrated and treated, how much was injected, where it was injected, how still you kept the treatment area in the time right after treatment, and on your metabolism and how well your body heals itself.

With fat grafting, anywhere from 10% to 90% of the fat may be absorbed by the body. Most surgeons who offer fat grafting offer repeat treatments to their patients at a discount. Many patients may need more than one treatment. The results of fat grafting can last from 3 months to 3 years, and in some cases, longer.

You cannot solve the fat absorption problem by just injecting large amounts of fat the first time, assuming most of it won't last. Putting too much fat in an area can overwhelm the growth of new blood vessels and the fat cells all die at once, leading to irregularities or migration of fat out of the area where you want it.

The other, more minor, downside to fat grafting is that unless you are planning to have liposuction you will need to harvest the fat from somewhere in your body, which means an incision and a small risk of an adverse reaction such as infection or bad bruising at that site.

The most common treatment sites for injections of fat are in the hollows under the eyes, the tear troughs under the eyes, the temples, the cheeks, the chin, the lips, the jaw line, and the forehead, and the glabella. The site receiving the injections must have good blood circulation and enough capillaries and larger blood vessels so that the injected fat cells are nourished and will be able to form their own blood supply. This helps increase the chances of getting the longest lasting results.

Before the procedure, your surgeon will usually mark your face to show where the injections should be placed. Most fat grafting procedures are performed under local anesthesia for the site where the fat is harvested and regional anesthesia for the treated area. However, if you are having liposuction on your body and will have some of the suctioned fat injected in your face, you will probably be under intravenous sedation. If you are having liposuction under your chin, you may be under oral sedation and local anesthesia. Your surgeon suctions out a little fat, which is then spun in a centrifuge or treated in some other way to remove excess fluids and the damaged fat cells are separated out.

Rather than inject fat cells, some surgeons implant individual strands of fat cells one by one. This procedure takes more time, but is said to last the longest. The down side is that you may have several extremely small incisions where the strands are inserted.

After your injections, you will be told to try not to move the treated area or massage it for a few days. Some surgeons recommend using cold packs for the first 24 to 48 hours, while others do not. Follow your surgeon's instructions.

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