Fat grafting is not usually painful or hard to recover from, but it does take patience and a little planning. As with any significant surgery, it helps to make a good plan for recuperation, time off and getting well.
A very rough timeline for recovery after facial fat grafting is something like this. Of course, like all healing processes, it depends on the individual.
If fat grafting has been performed to the face and you are not telling people about it, you won’t be ready to see people socially or professionally for up to two weeks.
The reason for this is swelling and/or bruising. General recovery is quick – this is day surgery – and there is minimal pain. But while some people get only mild swelling and no visible bruising, which means a rapid recovery, some people bruise – and you must plan for the possibility that you do. Once bruising is present, it can take up to two weeks to resolve, occasionally longer.
In the first week, there is always swelling and sometimes bruising to the grafted areas of the face. Pain is generally minimal. In the second week the bruising settles. Less visible swelling gradually reduces day by day.
There’s usually a great improvement between the seventh and tenth days, but you may still not be ready to go out in public. Most people who have very little time off from work take one week off, including two consecutive weekends. If you can manage more time than this, it’s better.
By the third week you should be fine. Carefully applied makeup can help camouflage any residual signs of swelling or bruising. Once the swelling subsides, you will be able to appreciate the changes, but subtle swelling may persist for weeks.
The next question is, how long will the results last?
Well, you can expect the areas where the fat was transferred to appear softer and fuller, giving you a refreshed and rejuvenated appearance. You may even notice an improvement in the texture of your skin.
The survival of the fat and longevity of the results depends on the skill and technique of the surgeon doing the grafting, plus a little bit of luck. The more of the fat cells that survive, the better the permanent long-term result.
Personally, when performing fat grafting for patients, I concentrate on maximising graft ‘take’ (survival of the cells) by being patient and careful. Grafting tiny parcels of fat gradually increases the number of fat cells that take when compared to rapid or impatient injection of larger amounts with every insertion stroke. As a guide, around 30-50% of the grafted volume typically takes permanently. Some people don’t get this much, and some get more. Touch-up procedures are sometimes necessary if not enough fat takes.
If the surgeon is skilful, a good portion of the injected fat establishes a new blood supply from the body and receives the nourishment it needs to survive. When this happens, the results are permanent.
Should you expect any risks and complications with fat grafting? Personally, I have never seen a serious complication of fat grafting, though they do exist and I deal with these in another blog. In my experience, the most common negative experience associated with facial fat grafting is disappointment, where not as much fat as we would like stays permanently. In cases like these, a second treatment is usually helpful.
To sum up, although it has its frustrations, fat grafting is a good technique in the world of plastic surgery. It’s safe, it doesn’t leave scars and has few complications or risks. The results are certainly worthwhile, when the technique is used properly for the right problem in the right patient.
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