Fat transfer is a procedure where fat is harvested from one part of the body and re-implanted elsewhere in the body. Fat transfer also goes by other names, including fat grafting, fat injections, lipomodelling, liposculpture, or lipofilling. The procedure’s goal is to improve or augment the recipient area to restore a youthful, natural appearance.
The fat used for fat transfer gets removed from an area of the body with unwanted or unnecessary fat, usually your abdomen and buttocks. Whereas common areas of fat grafting include:
- The face. Fat transfers to the face can be performed to correct or improve sunken cheeks, deepened nasolabial folds and marionette lines, hollowed lower eyelids, and facial scarring. The overall goal is
- Breasts. In the breasts, breast augmentation fat transfer helps correct breast asymmetry, increases breast size, repair scars resulting from breast reconstruction or lumpectomy, and treats breast implant capsular contracture.
- Buttocks. Fat transfer can also be used to augment your buttocks’ size and shape in a procedure known as a Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL).
- Hips. The goal of fat transfer to hips is to achieve a more feminine contour and an hourglass figure.
- Hands and feet. Fat grafts can help correct volume loss in the hands and feet, creating a more youthful appearance and providing padding for bony feet.
Fat Transfer Procedure
A fat transfer procedure should take place in an accredited surgery center, usually on an outpatient basis. Checking for facility accreditation is crucial as it guarantees the treatment center is inspected regularly for patient safety and best practices.
As for anesthesia, your surgeon or an anesthesiologist may administer either local anesthesia or general anesthesia. The choice of anesthesia used will depend on the volume of fat extracted from the donor area.
Note: Only a board-certified anesthesiologist or a CRNA should administer general anesthesia. A CRNA is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
How is fat grafting performed?
Fat transfer involves three stages:
1. Removing the fat from the donor area with liposuction
After receiving the appropriate anesthesia, the necessary fat is harvested through small incisions using liposuction techniques. The surgeon then closes these cuts by stitching them.
2. Preparing the fat
Next, the harvested fat is processed by decantation and centrifugation to separate it from blood, other fluids, and dead cells. Another method of purifying the fat is gently rinsing it in a sterile saline solution.
3. Injection of the purified fat
In this final stage, your surgeon evenly reinjects the processed fat into the recipient areas in small amounts. Injecting the fat in minute droplets ensures it will be well surrounded by healthy tissue, ensuring each droplet receives sufficient oxygen and nutrient supply needed to survive.
The entire procedure takes about an hour, depending on the size of the area receiving treatment. If large, you may require repeated treatments usually carried out over two or more sessions.
How Much Fat Volume Do You Need for Fat Transfer?
The fat injected is measured in cc’s. The volume needed will depend on your individual case specifics as well as the area requiring treatment. For example, fat transfer to the face involves 10 to 100 cc total, while fat transfer to the breast requires 25cc-400cc for each breast.
Your body may reabsorb some of the fat injected, usually between 20 and 50%, according to the International Society of Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). For this reason, your plastic surgeon may likely overfill the area getting treated.
Alternatively, a wait-and-watch approach is adopted to assess the amount of post-grafting fat loss and whether further treatment sessions are required.
How Much Does Fat Transfer Cost?
The Cost of fat transfer depends on various factors, including:
- The type of procedure
- The size of the recipient site
- The type of anesthesia used
- The geographic office location
- Surgeon’s fee, which depends on his/her experience
- Hospital or surgical facility costs
- Prescriptions for medication
According to 2019 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of buttock augmentation with fat grafting is $4,277, whereas the average cost of breast augmentation surgery is $3,947.
However, this does not include operating room facilities, anesthesia, or other related expenses. You should, therefore, consult your plastic surgeon to determine the exact cost of your procedure.
What Are the Side Effects of Fat Transfer?
It’s common to experience swelling and bruising in both the donor and the treated area for a few weeks. Other possible side effects of fat grafting include temporary numbness, possible scabbing, scarring that will fade but not completely disappear, and pain.
Fat Transfer Risks and Safety
Although a fat transfer or fat grafting procedure is generally safe, no surgery is risk-free. Therefore, your surgeon will or his/her surgical team will, explain in detail the risks associated with the particular fat transfer procedure you’re considering.
You will then have to decide whether the potential benefits outweigh the possible complications. If yes, you’ll have to sign a consent form to show you fully understand the potential risks of the procedure.
Some of the common fat transfer risks include:
- Overcorrection, resulting from the injection of excessive fat into the treated area
- Undercorrection hence the need for additional treatments to reach the desired outcome
- Hematoma, i.e., a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel
- Seroma, i.e., fluid buildup under the surface of the skin
- Allergic reaction to the anesthetic
- Fat necrosis, i.e., death of fat tissue
- Persistent pain
- Unfavorable scarring
- Cardiac and pulmonary complications
How Long Do Fat Transfers Last?
According to ISAPS, once a percentage of the injected fat is reabsorbed (usually 20% to 50%), the results of your fat transfer surgery can be considered permanent. However, a single procedure may not be enough to achieve an optimal outcome, so several check-ups are necessary to assess progress and the final results.
When another surgery is needed, it’s either because a portion of the fat does not survive or the desired volume cannot be achieved in one operation. To help make your results long-lasting, follow all your plastic surgeon’s directions carefully, and maintain your weight, and keep a healthy lifestyle.
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- Ricardo, R., Fat grafting history and applications(December 2015). plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/fat-grafting-history-and-applications
- Fat Transfer (body)(n.d). isaps.org/procedures/body/fat-transfer-body
- Surgical fat transfer(May 2020). nhs.uk/conditions/cosmetic-procedures/surgical-fat-transfer
- Fat Transfers for Scars. asds.net/skin-experts/skin-treatments/fat-transfers-for-scars