|Pictured: Facelift with fat grafting performed by Dr. Kaye of Ocean Clinic Marbella|
During his time as a plastic surgeon, Ocean Clinic’s Medical Director Dr. Kaye has seen many new treatments come and go, however there is one new technique he says is revolutionising the industry.
That technique is fat grating. Fat grafting – also called fat transfer – allows the patient’s own fat to be used in place of dermal fillers. The uses are myriad; restore volume to a hollow face, enlarge thin lips, plump up wrinkled skin, smooth over eye bags - women can even have fat transplanted in their breasts for a natural breast enlargement!
We caught up with Dr. Kaye of Ocean Clinic Marbella to find out why this procedure is so exciting…
Why is fat grafting better than using fillers?
“The main benefit of this technique is that it uses ‘like for like’ – replacing lost fat with fat from another part of the body, rather than using a synthetic substance.
“The fat contains living stem cells, which can form new connections with blood vessels once transplanted. The results are superior because the living stem cells not only fill and plump, they actually have a genuine rejuvenating effect. The results are more natural looking and they’re longer lasting.”
How much longer do the results last?
“Some people think fat transfer is only temporary, but it is not. MRI studies have shown that, with appropriate technique, grafted fat persists long-term as living, vascularized tissue in the recipient site.
“We do have a certain reabsorption in the first three weeks. These are living stem cells and they have to find connections with blood vessels. Some will die, but those that connect live as a living fat cell.
“The percentage of fat transferred that survives varies from about 40% to 60%, however the fat that is there after 6 months should be with patients for the rest of their lives.”
Where do you harvest the fat from and how is it done?
“Fat is most commonly harvested from the stomach, waist, thighs and flanks – most people tend to have it here in abundance! Additionally, fat in these areas tends to persist, even with weight loss. It is hoped that when the fat is transferred to its new site, it will behave the same way.
“The fat is extracted with a liposuction cannula, which might be very fine and needle-like for removal of small amounts of fat, or larger if the patient is combining fat grafting with a liposculpting procedure (or a larger volume of fat is required).
“If this is the case, a ‘trap’ is hooked up to the tubing connected to the cannula. The fat can be removed from this sterile trap and used. It is important to note that fat cannot be harvested when Ultrasonic and Smart Lipo (laser-assisted) liposuction techniques have been used because the destructive energy destroys the cells.”
How is the fat then grafted into place elsewhere?
“The fat is prepared for reintroduction to the body and transferred to a small syringe that allows for meticulous and more accurate injection. A special cannula for injecting fat is attached to the syringe and the tip inserted into the recipient site.
“Tiny droplets of fat are injected – it is a high precision procedure. If large deposits are introduced they become hardened and calcified. Additionally, highly skilled technique ensures more cells will gain a blood supply and become permanent tissue. No scar should be left on the injection site.”
How long is the recovery process from fat grafting?
“The recovery is around 7 to 14 days, typically with swelling and some bruising, particularly if the eye area is being treating. The donor site will also be bruised for up to 21 days and will be left with a very small scar.
“Facial swelling can create a somewhat distorted look, but it usually subsides within two weeks, so it is generally advisable to take this length of time off work. Thankfully, actual discomfort from fat grafting is minimal.”
Are there any side effects from fat grafting?
“As with any surgery, there are potential risks and/or side effects. These can include: infection, bleeding, fat resorption, fat calcification and fat necrosis. Risk can be mitigated by choosing a highly qualified plastic surgeon who has extensive experience in fat transfer.”
How does fat grafting compare on cost with synthetic fillers?
“Fillers are expensive; if you need 5-6mls for the face, it will cost around €2,000, every eight months. However, if you have fat, you can have 20/30mls, or however much you need, and the price is the same. For fat transfer in the face it costs around €1,200.”
What applications does fat grafting have?
“Popular areas for fat transplantation include cheeks, lips, temples, eyes, nasolabial folds (marionette lines), breasts, buttocks and the back of the hands.
“We can use it on areas that were very hard to treat before, like under the eyes and it can also be used in reconstructive surgery. For example, as a means to treat liposuction deformities, stimulate the repair of chronic, non-healing wounds or address facial fat atrophy following overly aggressive 'non-invasive' procedures such as laser wrinkle treatments.
“I actually combine fat grafting with all of my facelift procedures because it offers both a pleasing and permanent improvement in facial soft tissue volume, as well as an improvement in the quality and vitality of facial skin.”