If you’ve noticed a sudden hollowing of the cheeks of the rich and famous, you’re not imagining things. Buccal fat removal, a procedure that involves removing cotton ball-sized fat pads inside the lower cheeks to slim the face, is all over social media right now.
So far, only Chrissy Teigen has professed to have had the procedure, but multiple A-listers, including model Bella Hadid and actress Zoe Kravitz, are rumoured to have done it too.
Chrissy Teigen is one of the few celebrities who have admitted to having had her buccal fat removed.Credit:Aresna Villanueva
Melbourne specialist plastic surgeon Dr Chris Moss believes the surgery is trending because it treats a cosmetic issue that can’t be resolved by anything else.
“There is no natural solution for reducing buccal fat – diet and exercise don’t work,” he says.
Sydney cosmetic doctor Dr Naomi McCullum thinks the recent buccal fat obsession on social media is largely due to the need for digital creators to churn out fresh content.
“The fascinating thing is the current interest online may lead to the procedure becoming even more popular,” she says.
Buccal fat removal surgery has been around since the early 1980s but has only been performed as a standalone procedure more recently. (Moss has been performing it himself since 1999.) The surgery itself is pretty straightforward. The technique Moss uses involves making small incisions about 1-centimetre long, between the cheek and gums, towards the back of the mouth on either side.
Moss applies pressure under the cheekbones, which causes the fat pad to protrude through the incisions. Once the required amount of fat is removed (Moss says determining this is the most critical factor for success), the incisions are closed.
Buccal fat removal is done as a day procedure in a hospital, often in conjunction with other procedures. Recovery is reasonably straightforward, but there is generally a period of social downtime lasting up to two weeks.
Moss prescribes a soft diet low in spices and citrus for the first few days to help reduce swelling and assist in healing, plus a mouthwash for seven days post-op to protect the incisions and prevent infection. The cost varies depending on multiple factors including location and doctor, but typically starts at $2500.
Supermodel Bella Hadid is rumoured to have undergone buccal fat removal surgeyry.Credit: AP
Like all cosmetic procedures, there are risks and rewards. In appropriate candidates, and in the hands of an experienced surgeon, buccal fat removal can have the desired results – slimmer, more contoured cheeks. However, in addition to the usual risks of elective surgery, there are particular hazards associated with buccal fat removal.
“Buccal fat pads naturally shrink over time, so if too much is removed or you lose weight post-surgery, your face may look overly gaunt and your cheekbones too hollow,” says Moss. In inexperienced hands, you could also experience damage to the salivary ducts, bleeding, asymmetry, and – very rarely – damage to the facial nerve, which can lead to permanent facial muscle weakness, drooping and more.
Something else you’ll need to consider: buccal fat removal is not a good idea for everyone.
“Facial fat is regarded as precious and should only be removed with careful consideration. Removing buccal fat pads may look ‘good’ now, but your face can become hollow and prematurely aged over time,” Moss says.
McCullum agrees: “From a personal perspective, I love a sculpted cheek and jawline, but too much hollowing doesn’t do it for me. My own buccal fat has started to naturally disappear, and I will probably replace it with dermal filler.”
So, what makes a good candidate? For one, they’ll have a face with fullness specifically caused by the buccal fat pads.
“Candidates must also be in good health and at a stable weight,” says Moss. Buccal fat removal isn’t recommended for those with narrow faces or lax skin as it may cause sunken cheeks and emphasise jowls. A consultation with a qualified plastic surgeon is vital – removing buccal fat in an inappropriate candidate can contribute to a gaunt appearance. “In general, wanting to change your face to suit social media fads is problematic,” says Moss. “There should always be careful consideration of the longer-term consequences.”
Both doctors say that while non-surgical alternatives to buccal fat removal can slim the face effectively, they don’t exactly mimic the results. “Jawline slimming uses Botox to temporarily reduce the masseter muscles for a narrower lower face, but it doesn’t create the same look because it’s targeting a different area. Fat-dissolving injections, which are permanent, are also an option, but again, it’s not quite the same,” says Dr McCullum.
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