Using your own fat for plumper cheeks, lips and more

Dermal fillers are as popular as ever.

Many women — and some men — are taking advantage of this non-surgical, no down-time way to improve on the effects of gravity.

Most of the time, these cosmetic procedures go off without a hitch… but occasionally one of the top listed risks is an allergic reaction at the injection site that can affect the whole body.

But did you know that your own fat has the best source of growth factors and stem cells for tissue healing — and is a great dermal filler? And I’d be surprised to find anyone was allergic to their own fat!

Related: What are your choices for sagging skin?

I recently attended the San Diego Academy of Regenerative Therapies (SDART) annual conference. According to the world physician experts who presented there, fat is far better than dermal filler for all cosmetic applications and is the best healer of joints when combined with your own platelet-rich plasma (PRP).

Let me share some great things about fat transfer

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Fat harvesting in the office

Autologous fat transfer is a two-part procedure. Fat is harvested from body areas such as your abdomen, hips, thighs, or back by a “mini” liposuction technique. It is said by surgeons that everyone has a pocket of fat somewhere on their body. Then, your fat is processed and re-injected where you need it.  Here are some cool details if you are wondering.

Sounds painful, however, all that is needed is local anesthesia using the tumescent infiltration technique. To begin the tumescent anesthesia technique, an entry point area is created where it is first numbed by injecting buffered lidocaine with epinephrine through a tiny needle, so pain is very minimal. Once numbed, the entry port is created using a 16- or 18-gauge needle so a blunt tip infiltrator cannula can be introduced, and large amounts of the tumescent anesthesia fluid are gently distributed all throughout the area of fat to be harvested. This also helps soften and prepare the fat to be harvested after a 20-minute wait time for the anesthesia to take effect.

Now the fat area is completely numbed, and the blunt tip harvester cannula can fit through that same entry port into your soft fat. Only then does the doctor go to work moving this specialized cannula back and forth under constant suction in a small fan-like pattern, slowly collecting liquified fat.

While you wait, your collected fat must be cleansed from the oils and also the liquid anesthesia that is mixed in the initial sample. This occurs by placing the syringe upright while the separation occurs by simple gravity effect. The tumescent anesthesia fluid is drained off from below, and the oils (with no cells or growth factors) are pushed off the top. All that’s left is “structural fat.”


This structural fat is further liquified into micro-fat using a small device. The structural fat that is first harvested and cleansed could be re-injected into larger body areas such as breasts and buttocks, although leading-edge doctors will process it to micro-fat to prevent breast microcalcification and cysts.

Fat transfer breast enhancement reshapes and gives a modest size increase to breasts. This is especially great if you want to avoid breast augmentation using synthetic implants. Most patients gain from a half to a full cup size increase, although some surgeons are now teaching that full mounds can be created. The amount of fat needed to harvest is 200-400 ml.

Fat is similarly harvested and then grafted in even layers to enhance buttock size and reshape. This provides a more natural-appearing buttock profile compared to silicone implants, and can even achieve the desired size increase without the extended recovery period.

Micro-fat is also great for larger face areas needing lift and correction of age-related volume loss such as temples, cheek hollows, jaw, lower face, and even lips. After injection, it immediately produces subtle, natural enhancement.

Healing time from fat transfer to the face is approximately two weeks. However, you have almost no social downtime (i.e. could be seen in public comfortably the next day). Fat transfer to buttocks can take several months. For this, a compression garment is used for a few weeks following the procedure to facilitate healing and optimal results.


The micro-fat is further liquified and processed into nano-fat using a similar device, to be injected to smaller, more delicate areas that need filling and regeneration (remember this fat contains stem cells and growth factors, the perfect substance to generate health to any tissue where it is placed). These areas include under eyes (tear trough), nasolabial folds, lip lines (a.k.a. “smoker’s lines”), lip contouring, or the even the back of your hands. All this is done using a blunt tip cannula.

Nano-fat is even better when mixed with your own blood’s platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Therefore, after nano-fat is introduced into these areas using the blunt tip cannula, PRP fluid is also introduced through the same cannula by switching off the syringe. Remember that it provides long-lasting volume compared to synthetic fillers that only last 1-2 years.

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Fat transfer better than dermal filler

In addition to reducing unwanted body spot fat areas, fat transfer can enhance the sagging areas of your face better than any dermal filler can. That’s because, for example, just 20 ml of fat will make several cosmetic improvements in one procedure, whereas such amounts of filler would be unthinkable.

Fat produces more natural-appearing changes and lasts many years longer than filler. That’s because after it has been processed down to micro or nano fat, it is much softer and therefore easy to move around and smooth out. Compare that with dermal filler that is deposited in lumps and only partially smooths out (over weeks). Fat is always placed using blunt tip cannulas and minimal if any bruising occurs.

Finally, while there is some initial volume loss after fat transfer because your body will absorb some of the grafted fat, any fat that remains past six months is a permanent enhancement.

In my next article, I’d like to share some of the impressive science about the healing and regenerative properties of our own fat, and autologous fat transfer.

To healing and feeling good,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.