Written By: Jenny Isenman
As an aging woman, there are a handful of things I hold grudges against: gravity, collagen and adorable teenagers with their perky boobs and years of dewiness left in their skin. That said, I try to arm myself with the right weapons to fight the first two and I avoid high schools.
The pull of gravity and the “now you see me, now you don’t” attitude of collagen have led me to look for the right fillers to lift and plump those areas of my face that have dropped and deflated. Yep, imagine your face as a balloon. Over time the air dissipates no matter how tightly that thing was knotted. You can pull the balloon taught with the amount of air it has left (e.g. Botox, lifts, lasers etc.) which will look better… or, you can fill the balloon with more air (fillers). Both are better than looking like a wrinkled deflated balloon, but if I’m a balloon, I want to be refilled rather than taped with band-aids.
Enter my debate: Which air is better for your balloon? Most people choose the traditional fillers (e.g. Radiesse, Voluma, Scuptra, Restylane). I’ve written about these tools in the arsenal before, but new ways to harvest fat and graft it are making fat transfer an even more attractive alternative in certain cases (and giving it more uses). Last year, 48,059 fat transfers to the face were performed.
What’s New in Fat Transfer?
Fat grafting has been performed for over a century, yet in the past few decades it has hit a stride and continues to evolve and improve. New techniques in fat grafting including a gentle hand-harvesting method of microfat grafting, a streamlined purification process and a precise micro droplet injection process, are making the transfers more seamless and durable than they were in the past. The small size and higher blood supply attained by using these techniques has improved survival and longevity of the cells and provides a smoother result. The highly purified cells include a small amount of high density stem cells. These regenerative type cells not only fill but enhance circulation in the tissues.
How is Fat Transfer Used on the Face?
Fat grafting can be used anywhere on the face to help contour. It can restore volume to the under eye bags, hollowed out cheeks, deep furrows in brow, acne scars and areas around the temples, chin and mouth.
It is now being used to restore symmetry to people with a variety of facial malformations.
A recent study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal looked at using microfat grafting to correct disproportion in the mid- to lower-third of the face. The study found fat contouring to have great results and low morbidity. This means fat grafts could replace more invasive chin implants, oral surgeries and osteotomies.
How is it Fat Transfer Done?
When used for facial contouring, the amount of fat that needs to be harvested is minimal. Under local anesthesia, a small cannula is inserted into an area where you have excess fat and the tissue is extracted. The fat then goes through a purification process and is injected into the desired areas. Often more fat will be injected than is necessary because a small percentage does not survive, so a touchup 6 months later may be necessary.
You can go back to your daily life after the procedure. Bruising, swelling or redness in both the harvested and injection sites should be expected.
How Does Fat Compare to Traditional Fillers?
It’s natural. It looks natural, feels natural and comes from your own body (it doesn’t get more natural than that).
Due to the fact that it’s your fat, you don’t have to worry about allergic reaction or rejection
After the procedure you may also see improved color and skin tone. This may be due to the fact that you are adding living stem cells to that area.
Your face will continue to age and lose volume as it normally would, but the procedure is basically permanent.
Fat transfer is more costly than traditional fillers. However, if you do the math, you may find that fat is more cost effective than dermal fillers in the long run.
Fat grafting is a more time consuming process and should probably not be considered until after using traditional fillers and wanting a more permanent result.
Most importantly, remember you are dealing with something permanent. The results depend on the surgeon’s skills — his/her ability to harvest, purify and inject the cells. Make sure you seek out a board-certified plastic surgeon with highly developed skills and significant experience with fat transfer.