Fat Grafting Surgery


Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

November 28 2007

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If you've dreamed of moving fat from one area of your body, say your large thighs, to another "more deserving" location, you're not alone. Fat grafting, also known as fat transfer, has become a popular procedure that allows people to use their own fat to improve their looks.

Fat grafting involves taking fat from a part of the body where there is excess, such as the thigh or abdomen, and transferring it to another part of the body. Fat grafting the buttocks can improve the curvaceous contour of the rear, à la J.Lo. Under-eye fat grafting can fill sunken areas due to age. And facial fat transfer can enhance many parts of the mug. Some common uses of fat transfer include:

  • Fleshing out deep facial wrinkles and laugh lines
  • Plumping up and smoothing aged hands
  • Producing more shapely buttocks
  • Filling sunken cheeks or the area under the eyes
  • Increasing lip fullness
  • Reducing acne scars
  • Enhancing bicep, tricep or calf muscles

Breast augmentation is one area where fat grafting is not recommended because there is a lack of data concerning safety and effectiveness, and because it's believed that fat grafting may interfere with breast cancer detection.

Facts About Fat Transfer

The benefit of using your own fat, unlike using other injectable facial fillers like collagen or Restylane, is that there is no chance you'll have an allergic reaction – because the substance comes from your body. The downfall of using your own fat is that your body may reabsorb it. Doctors do take this into account and should inject more fat than is necessary to account for reabsorption during the weeks following a fat grafting procedure.

How Fat Transfer is Performed

Excess fat is typically removed from one area through a suction device (like in liposuction) or a syringe, and the fat cells are purified and processed by the doctor prior to injection in the desired area. Another method of fat transfer involves cutting small strips of fat from one area of the body and grafting or placing them into another area of the body through additional small incisions. A fat transfer procedure is usually performed by a plastic, cosmetic or dermatological surgeon and can take place in an out-patient clinic, a hospital, or a doctor's office, as long as the environment is sterile. The procedure can last one to several hours, depending on the complexity and size of the transfer.

What to Expect After Fat Grafting Surgery

Be prepared for some bruising, swelling or redness to occur at both the fat removal and injection areas, but the severity of the symptoms will depend on the size and area treated. While many people can resume their normal activities right away, if you're planning on fat grafting the buttocks or another large area of the body, you may need to halt your activity for a while. You should stay out of the sun until any bruising or redness goes away, and it's recommended to steer clear of massage treatments or excessive facial animation (if the face was treated) following a procedure to prevent fat from moving away from the desired site. Ice compresses used for the first 1-2 days can minimize any inflammation.

Keep in mind, because extra fat must be injected into the area to allow for reabsorption, the "overfilling" can make the injection area look puffy or swollen for several days. This will typically disappear as some of the fat is taken back into the body. How long the fat transfer lasts depends on the person. While some people have reported results lasting for over a year, most people say that at least half of the injected fullness goes away within 3 to 6 months. Taking this into account, "touch up" fat transfers may be necessary.

As is typical with any medical procedure, there are some potential risks and side effects associated with fat grafting surgery, such as bleeding or infection. So, if you're considering grafting, make sure to talk to your plastic surgeon and get all the facts.