Fat Injections / Transfer
What are fat injections?
Fat injections are a popular way to plump up thin lips, hollow cheeks, and wrinkles. These procedures use the patient’s own excess fat which is removed from an area of the body via liposuction surgery before being injected into the face or other parts of the body such as buttocks or during breast augmentation procedures.
Other names for fat injections include:
- Autologous fat transfer
- Fat grafting
- Fat filler
Are you a candidate?
Though fat injections may be used on adults at any age, they are most popular among people 30-65 years old who are looking to reverse the signs of aging.
In general, you might be good candidate for fat injections if you:
- At or near your ideal weight.
- In good overall health
- Do not smoke
- Have sufficient fat on your body, especially if enhancing a large areas such as the butt.
- Have realistic expectations
Some common areas of the body where fat injections may be used include:
- Breasts – If you’re looking into breast augmentation, but only want to increase your bust by about one cup size, a fat graft might be suitable for you. In such cases fat transfer breast augmentation can provide more natural looking results than implants.
- Buttocks – When performed on the buttocks, this procedure is more popularly called a Brazilian butt lift. A Brazilian butt lift enlarges and lifts the butt, providing you with a more youthful and perkier profile.
- Face – One of the places where age related volume loss is most obvious is in the face. As you age, you start to lose the fat that gives your face a plump, youthful look. Volume loss can be especially noticeable around the eyes, cheeks, and jawline. A fat transfer can be used to fill out the cheeks, temples, lips, and any other area of the face where it’s needed.
- Hands and feet -As you age, the skin on the back of the hands starts to thin out, exposing the bones, veins, and tendons beneath. Wrinkles also become more pronounced and severe. Fat can be taken from other parts of the body where it isn’t needed or wanted, like the abdomen, and used to give your hands a more youthful volume and appearance. This same procedure can also be done for the feet to help with similar age-related volume loss.
Fat transfer procedure
A standard fat transfer procedure is made up of three steps: fat removal, fat isolation and purification, and fat re-injection.
Fat removal: First, the fat is harvested from the patient’s own body. The fat is typically removed from areas such as buttocks, thighs, love handles and belly.
The doctor will use a syringe or cannula (a thin tube connected to a suction device) to remove the fat cells. This procedure, known as liposuction, may remove only the fat needed for the injection or it may be performed to sculpt the area removing a larger portion of excess fat.
Isolating and purifying fat cells: Once enough fat has been collected from the donor site, the fat needs to be purified so that damaged cells are removed and only whole, undamaged, and cleansed fat cells are left to be used for the actual graft.
Excess fluid harvested from the body, as well as any tumescent solution infiltrated during that process, must also be removed prior to grafting. This may be done through an extremely high-speed centrifuge that spins the fat. This whirling action separates the fat cells from the liquids that are also removed during liposuction.
Fat re-injection: The final step in any fat graft is the re-injection of the purified fat cells into the target site. By this time, the doctor will have already decided on the site for each fat injection, using his or her skill and experience to correct imperfections and create a new shape or contour. Different needles will be used to inject the fat cells at various depths to achieve the desired results.
It’s important to remember that in many cases, some of the fat that is re-injected into your body may be re-absorbed over time, causing volume loss. In fact, as much as 50% of fat absorption should be expected, but it’s difficult to predict exactly how much.
For this reason, many doctors will add more volume than you might think necessary to compensate for that loss. Touch-up treatments may also be required to achieve the best results
Patients are free to leave the doctor’s office as soon as the procedure is complete.
How much fat can be transferred?
This depends on the patient and their goals. When the face is treated, only a few cubic centimeters (cc’s) of fat are typically required. When the buttocks or breasts are treated, a hundred or more cc’s may be necessary. The amount of fat that is taken from the donor site is usually about two times more than what would be re injected.
Will the skin at the donor site get saggy?
When a lot of fat is removed, your skin will need to tighten up to the leaner contour. Wearing your compression garment will help this process. If only a few cc’s of fat are removed from the donor site, loose skin won’t be an issue.
Risks and side effects
Some potential risks and side effects of fat injections may include:
- Fluid buildup
- Fat gets stuck in a vein and goes to your lung
- Most fat cells not surviving
- Undesirable results.
Before your procedure, be sure to discuss all the potential risks and complications with your plastic surgeon.
After the procedure, you may experience swelling, bruising, and redness, usually persisting for less than a week. Most patients return to work within a few days, while many other daily activities can be resumed immediately following treatment.
There will be a ‘donor site’ on your body that must also heal, in addition to the treated area. This area may require a dressing or bandage and may be bruised or swollen.
Initially, the treated area may appear ‘overfilled’ to account for the portion of injected fat cells that will be reabsorbed by the body soon after treatment.
Limiting fat re-absorption
One of the main concerns patients have about their results is the problem of fat re-absorption. Due to natural processes much of the fat that is re-injected will be absorbed by your body.
The survival of the fat and longevity of the results depend on a number of factors, including your surgeon’s skill, the process through which the fat was removed, purified, and re-injected, and your own behavior during your recovery.
Depending on these elements, anywhere between 20% and 90% of the transferred fat can be absorbed, although the average is somewhere between 25% to 50% when advanced techniques are applied. Experienced surgeons are of course aware of this loss, and plan for it during the procedure.
These are a few things you can do during your recovery to make sure your fat re-absorption rate is low:
- Wear appropriate clothing: In addition to the compression garments your doctor gives you, you’ll need to wear loose fitting clothing during your recovery. Squeezing freshly transferred fat into tight clothing is one of the fastest ways to kill it.
- Be mindful of how you sleep: For facial fat transfers you should ideally sleep on your back, keeping your face out of the pillow. Breast augmentation patients should sleep on their backs as well. Buttock augmentation patients, on the other hand, should sleep facing down to keep weight off their backside.
- No smoking: Your transferred fat needs to make a connection with your body’s blood supply in order to take hold in its new location and flourish. Smoking prevents that from happening. Cigarettes affect the flow of oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream, effectively crippling your body’s ability to heal.
- Feed the fat: During your recovery phase, your body will need extra calories to continue to provide your transferred fat with blood. Eating nutrient-rich foods with healthy fats will help your body form a lasting connection with the graft and ensure most of it isn’t re-absorbed
There’s no real way to accurately predict how long the results of a fat graft will last, but under the right circumstances it can be for a very long time, with some surgeons claiming the results are essentially permanent.
When will you see results?
The results of fat injections are permanent. However, not all fat cells survive the procedure, so patients may not achieve the volume they want with one procedure. On average, it takes about six months for the injected fat cells to develop a new blood supply and to see final results.
How long will your results last?
The results from fat injections last for several years, and in many cases, the results are permanent. Once the fat is integrated into your tissues, it will remain there for a long time. A second treatment can be done to maintain or improve the results.
Cost of fat injections
The cost of fat injections vary widely depending on the extent of the procedure. In general, patients can expect to spend between $2,500-$15,000.
Below are some average costs for various types of procedures and areas of the body.
- Facial fat grafting: $2,500 to $7,500
- Breast augmentation: $5,000 to $15,000
- Butt augmentation: $5,000 to $12,000
- Hands: $3,000 to $6,000
In general, you can count on fat grafts costing more than other injectable fillers like collagen, Sculptra, or Restylane, but even that can be difficult to predict. They are, however, consistently more expensive than liposuction alone. This is simply because liposuction is only the first part of a 3-part process.
Many patients find fat transfer procedures to be well worth the cost considering they are long lasting. Many doctors offer financing or payment plans if you wish to spread out the cost of treatment.
I don’t have enough fat. What can I do? Your doctor may recommend that you gain weight. This should be done in a controlled manner so you don’t gain too much. After a certain period of time, your doctor will examine you to ensure you’ve gained enough.
Can someone else donate their fat to me? Unless that person is your identical twin, you won’t be able to use fat from another person. It must be your own. This is because fat from another person would be considered a foreign object, and your body’s immune system would react by attacking it.
Fat transfer vs. implants: which is better? The answer to this question depends on the amount of fat you have available and your specific goals. Generally speaking, fat transfer has a shorter recovery period and you won’t need to worry about having a foreign substance in your body.
However, if you don’t have enough fat to transfer to your breasts or buttocks, you may have no choice but to opt for synthetic implants to get the volume you desire. The implant is generally constructed from silicone.
Can I use fat from my breasts? Most surgeons avoid using the breasts as a donor site because there is often an insufficient amount of fat available to fully achieve the desired results. Some doctors are also concerned about the risk of spreading cancer cells from the breasts to other parts of the body.
Can fat grafting help give me better cleavage? To a certain extent, fat grafts can help improve cleavage. The fat would be placed in the area of the cleavage and upper portion of your breasts. However, you should know that it can only do so much. So if you have a considerable gap between your breasts, this may not be helpful.
Can I save my fat for later? While it is possible to freeze fat for later use, the process may compromise survivability so not many doctors won’t recommend it. Therefore, if you need to have another treatment performed, chances are you’ll need to go through the whole process of removing fat again.