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Buccal Fat Removal 101: find out if this “cheek slimming” surgery is for you

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Throw away your contouring brush—buccal fat removal can help create slimmer, perfectly chiseled cheeks in a surgery that’s probably shorter than your makeup routine. But is this insanely popular plastic surgery safe, and does it live up to all the hype it’s been getting on TikTok and Instagram? Read our guide to buccal fat removal and weigh the facts yourselves.

Table of Contents

What is buccal fat removal?

The buccal fat pads in the lower cheeks help cushion the muscles you use for chewing, and its primary function was to help you suckle or chew your food when you were a baby.

However, some people have larger and more pronounced buccal fat, which leads to a round or wide face shape. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you personally prefer to have a slimmer face, you can have the buccal fat pads removed.

Buccal fat removal (also called cheek reduction surgery) is a kind of plastic surgery that removes the fat pads in your lower cheeks

This procedure has actually been around for decades but done in conjunction with a facelift or other cosmetic treatments. It’s just gotten a lot of buzz as a “stand-alone” procedure, as selfies and Zoom meetings made us all start paying more attention to our face shape.

buccal fat removal before and after

What happens during the procedure?

The surgeon makes a small incision on the side of your cheeks, and then gently applies pressure to “pops” or push out the buccal fat pads.  The fat is then cut off, and the incision closed with dissolvable stitches.

You will be given local anesthesia and will be awake during the whole procedure. Removing the fat pads takes about 10 minutes, but you will be staying in the clinic for a total of 40 minutes to one hour,  including the prep work and some post-operation observation.

It is done in the doctor’s clinic, and you can go home right after the treatment.

Are there any side effects, and how long is the recovery time?

Side effects include swelling and slight bruising, which will subside as you heal. This usually takes a week, but if you tend to bruise easily or severely, it may take longer.

There is mild discomfort, but the doctor can give you some pain relievers. Patients say that it’s only really uncomfortable up to the day after the procedure; afterward, you just feel a mild tightness in the area.

It will take about 3 weeks before you achieve full recovery, and you will need to make adjustments to your diet and routine to avoid “stressing out” the jaw area.

First, you will need to stick to liquids (juice, milk, broth) for about a week. Then, you can eat jello, porridge, and other soft food—gradually introducing food that’s harder to chew until you are ready for a normal diet.

Second, you will have to avoid heavy activity, and have to take extra care to avoid injuring or placing pressure on the cheek area. (For example, you will have to adjust your sleeping position.)

Your doctor will give additional instructions on how to care for the area, including prescribing a mouthwash or other medicines to prevent infection.

What are the risks and possible complications?

Any surgery at all will have possible risks, but rest assured that buccal fat is pretty safe. It will not create any long-term effect on your speech or eating habits, since it won’t affect the muscles that move your jaw.

There are isolated cases of damage to the salivary gland or facial nerves, lockjaw, or seroma (accumulation of fluid in the surgical area). Some people may have a negative reaction to anesthesia or experience excessive bleeding or respiratory/cardiac side effects.

There may also be a risk of facial asymmetry or excessive fat removal, which will need to be corrected with other cosmetic treatments.

To lower your risk, always go to an accredited and reputable plastic surgeon who has performed this procedure before. Be honest about your medical history, including the medicines you are taking and habits like smoking or drinking alcohol (both of which can increase your risk for excessive bleeding or infection).

Will the procedure leave a scar?

No. The incision is very small, and after it heals, no one will ever know that you’ve had surgery on your cheeks.

How much will buccal fat removal cost?

Generally, the cost ranges $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the city, the facility where you get it, and your doctor’s own professional fees.

Am I a good candidate for this treatment?

This treatment can help you if you:

  • Have a round “baby face” or chubby cheeks, and want to make it look more contoured or defined
  • Are considering facial feminization surgery
  • Want a stronger jawline

The ideal candidate is:

  • Is between 20 to 40 years old
  • Not a smoker
  • No contraindications for cosmetic surgery such as heart conditions or high blood pressure
  • In good physical health

Doctors discourage people in their fifties or older from having the surgery because the loss of facial fat is a common effect of aging. Removing any fat will only create hollowed, sunken cheeks and drooping skin, which will make you look even older.

Doctors will also check if your round, chubby cheeks aren’t caused by other factors like a very prominent jawline or well-developed facial muscles because of habitual teeth-grinding. If that’s the case, then fat removal will not give you very dramatic results.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get slimmer cheeks—you may just need to combine buccal fat removal with other cosmetic procedures to get the results you want.

What are the pros and cons of buccal fat surgery?

The obvious benefit of this procedure is that the results are permanent and significant. But that can also be a reason why you need to think very carefully about whether you’re ready to do it.

Your face will change as you grow older. Though you may be very happy with the surgery in your 30s, there’s no way to predict how it will look like when you’re in your 40s, 50s, or 60s. Round cheeks can give a very youthful experience (hence the term “baby face”), and you may regret removing the buccal fat once you start aging.

As for the “cons”, this surgery will require several weeks of rest and recovery. You’ll be on a very restrictive diet in the first two weeks, which can affect your energy levels. You may also need to take a leave from work for at least a week until the bruises disappear and you’ve healed enough to rule out any risk of infection or injury.

However, many people feel that these sacrifices are worth it, because of the big change in their appearance—and ultimately, their confidence and self-esteem.

Talk to your doctor

The best person to talk about buccal fat removal is your doctor. He or she can look at your facial structure, and then make recommendations based on the results you expect. You can also ask for case studies that are similar to yours (same face shape or specific concerns) and ask for before-and-after pictures.

While all cosmetic surgeries have their pros and cons, risks, and benefits, ultimately it is a personal decision. Just get the facts so that you can make an informed choice.

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