It seems like every day there is a new plastic surgery or cosmetic procedure popular on social media. Between brow lifts, baby Botox, lip fillers, and laser resurfacing, there is no shortage of viral procedures that promise to improve or transform one’s appearance.
For now, it’s all about blush removal. The plastic surgery trend has taken over TikTok and Twitter, with many users speculating that some celebs have removed their buccal fat to achieve a super-chiseled, deflated look.
Some users on TikTok are criticizing the trend for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and urging people to embrace their natural features instead, NBC News reported.
So what exactly is buccal fat removal? What does cheek fat removal look like? We spoke to plastic surgery experts to find out.
What is cheek fat?
Basil Sharaf, chief of training for the Mayo Clinic Center for Aesthetic Medicine and Surgery, tells TODAY.com that cheek fat (pronounced like “buckle”) is the medical term for cheek fat.
The face is made up of layers of skin, muscle, and fat, including the subcutaneous (or hypodermic) fat and fat pads—plump areas that contain fat that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and help give the face shape, as today’s previously reported.
Cheek fat is a naturally occurring pad of fat located under the cheekbone and between the facial muscles, Sharaf says. “If you ask someone to blow their mouth, the place where the cheek tends to bulge is where those buccal fat pads tend to be,” Sharaf adds.
Everyone has buccal fat, but some people are born with more than others—so the amount you have is entirely genetic, Dr. Jason Rustian, clinical professor in the department of plastic surgery at UCLA School of Medicine, David Geffen, tells TODAY. com. Sharaf says that people with more prominent cheek fat may have a face that appears wider, rounder, or fuller. This is sometimes referred to as “the appearance of a cherub,” Rustian adds.
Buccal fat pads are different from fat on the rest of the face or body. “It’s deeper, thicker fat that resides in the space between the skin of your outer cheek and the inner lining of your mouth,” says Rostayan. Because of this, it’s very difficult to change the amount of cheek fat you have naturally, experts point out.
It’s possible for buccal fat to fluctuate a bit with weight loss, but most of the time the volume remains stable even as weight changes, Rostayan says. “I think the genetic predisposition is stronger in that you keep that fat, and it’s hard to fluctuate so dramatically,” Rostayan adds.
Experts note that for all of these reasons, removing or reducing cheek fat usually requires plastic surgery.
What is the process of removing cheek fat?
Experts explain that cheek fat removal is a procedure to remove the fatty pad or part of it from the face. This can reduce the fullness of the lower cheeks, accentuate the cheekbones and facial structure or slim the lower part of the face to give it a more tapered appearance, Sharaf says.
Cheek fat removal isn’t a new procedure — it’s been around for about 40 years, Sharaf says, for both cosmetic and reconstructive applications. Recently, there has been a growing popularity of cheek fat removal to “visually improve the appearance” of the lower face for people who have chubby cheeks and don’t like how this looks, Sharaf adds.
Rustian adds that the most common way to remove buccal fat is through the mouth because it is non-invasive. Experts explain that surgeons make a small incision on the inner lining of the cheek, taking care to avoid the parotid gland (the main salivary gland) and facial nerves, then remove the fat and close the incision.
“It’s a simple, straightforward surgery that can be done under local anesthesia, but we often do it…along with facelifts or other cosmetic facial procedures,” says Rustian. You’ll go home the same day, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The surgeon will decide how much buccal fat pad to remove based on the fullness of the cheeks, Sharaf says, adding that it’s always best to start small and assess the size of the face. “It is always possible to remove more, but the key is to be conservative and not to over-remove fat because it can create excessive shape or deformity,” Sharaf adds.
Overall, buccal fat removal is a relatively low-risk and simple procedure when performed by a well-trained surgeon, Rostayan says.
Refreshment to remove cheek fat
The recovery process usually takes about three weeks, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but it will take several months to see results.
Your provider should share instructions on caring for your incisions, which may include rinsing your mouth to prevent infection. You will also have to change your diet slowly and slowly reintroduce soft foods once you get the go-ahead from your provider.
After surgery, you can expect swelling, bruising, and numbness at the incision site. These will fade over time.
Best candidates for cheek fat removal
Usually, the best candidates for the procedure are determined by the surgeon because “there are many factors that can cause a widening of the lower part of the face, and cheek fat is just one of them,” says Sharaf. “Some patients have very strong jaws. Or bone muscles.”
He adds that it is critical that surgeons perform a comprehensive facial analysis to determine whether cheek fat removal will produce the results a patient is looking for.
Sharaf says the best candidates for buccal fat removal are patients who naturally have fuller cheeks due to cheek fat. “If there isn’t a lot of fullness in the cheek, removing the buccal fat pad may not be a good idea,” he adds.
Cheek fat removal before and after
New York City-based plastic surgeon Dr. John Mesa shared on his Instagram several before-and-after examples of cheek fat removal.
Can cheek fat removal make you look older?
One of the main criticisms of buccal fat surgery on social media is that it may make people look older or speed up the facial aging process.
Fat pads contribute to facial fullness — which is often associated with looking youthful — and as people get older, these pads will naturally atrophy, lose volume, and sag due to gravity, TODAY previously reported.
“A lot of aging is that you see the underlying bony or muscular anatomy…because (your face) is getting more hollow, and it all has to do with fat loss as you age,” says Roostaeian. As mentioned earlier, buccal fat does not usually fluctuate appreciably.
“Certain areas (of the face) become more hollow because they are programmed to lose fat, but cheek fat is completely different,” says Rostayan, adding that people who are genetically predisposed to excess cheek fat can keep a lot of it even as they get older.
Although the size or position of cheek fat may change over time, Sharaf says, there are also many other factors that contribute to facial aging, such as movement of facial muscles and skin.
So no, cheek fat removal isn’t necessarily a glimpse into your future face or hitting the fast-forward button on aging—especially if you’re the right candidate and the procedure is done conservatively, experts say.
But any plastic surgery can go so far. “We may lose some of our cheek fat with age, or it may sag, and I think removing excessive cheek fat can have some long-term effects on the appearance of the face,” Sharaf says.
The risks and rewards of buccal fat removal
“It can be a really powerful and wonderful procedure, but can it be overdone—everything in plastic surgery can be overdone,” says Rostayan.
When the surgery is overdone, it may mean removing too much of the fat pad, Sharaf says, which can alter the face or the fullness of the cheeks in a way that appears too pronounced or creates a hollow appearance.
“While this may look good for the patient and it may look good when they are in their 20s or 30s, it is always important to consider the long-term effects on their facial appearance,” Sharaf says.
“If you’re someone you really didn’t need to be to begin with, you may look overly chiseled and unusual to others,” says Rostayan, adding that even if that’s the look a patient wants, he still stresses the importance of natural-looking results.
It’s possible, says Roostaeian, to fix the removal of excessive buccal fat and bring fullness back into the cheeks using the fat grafting procedure, which involves injecting fat from other parts of the body into the cheeks. But the point is not to overdo it in the first place.
“I think if it’s done on the right patient and in the right hands, the likelihood of these (negative) effects is very low,” Sharaf adds.
Experts note that communication is key, so patients understand the surgery and its long-term ramifications. “It is important to discuss expectations with the patient regarding what they are trying to achieve and whether this procedure alone can achieve what the patient is looking for,” Sharaf says.
On a positive note, the procedure’s popularity on social media may raise awareness and encourage patients to ask their doctor more questions, says Rustien — which is always a good thing.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com
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