Fat Transfer in Cosmetic Surgery

Michael Elam, MD

Article by
Orange County Facial Plastic Surgeon

Although the popularity of fat transplantation is a relatively recent development in plastic surgery, the concept of fat transfer is not new. As early as 1893, free fat auto grafts were used to fill a soft tissue defect. The use of autogenous abdominal fat to correct deficits in the malar area and chin was reported in 1909. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, attempts were made to correct other conditions, including hemi-facial atrophy and breast defects, but modern fat grafting did not develop until the early 1980’s with the popularity of liposuction.

Dr. Elam was one of the first surgeons in the United States to perform liposuction surgery. Dr. Elam is the past president of the American Society of Liposuction Surgery and has trained multitudes of surgeons in the technique. Dr. Elam published one of the first medical textbooks on liposuction co-authored with Dr. Illouz who first reported the transfer of liposuction aspirate fat in 1984. Dr. Elam has been using liposuction aspirate for fat transfer since the start of liposuction and it has many advantages for usage in Cosmetic Surgery today.

Fat transfer, also known as fat injection, is a cosmetic procedure in which fat is removed from one area of the body (usually the waist, abdomen, or legs) and then re-injected into very specific areas of the face in order to restore the volume that gives the youthful glow that all of us lose with age or with athletic activity. Some patients have a naturally gaunt or thin face, with little definition, and fat transfer can greatly improve the contours and balance of the face in these patients. While this youthful, healthy glow can also be restored with injectable fillers, the advantages of using fat are that it is your own tissue, which eliminates the chance of an allergic reaction, and that it lasts for many years, if not permanently, as opposed to fillers which typically last one year or less.

Fat transfer is also done in conjunction with facelift and brow lift procedures in individuals who require added volume to enhance their procedures and provide a more youthful appearance. As with any procedure in cosmetic surgery “natural” is always best. With fat transfer this is also true you can always add more in the future if you like further enhancement. Dr. Elam prefers a nice natural look that makes you appear the same as you looked in your more youthful photographs.