Buccal Fat 101: What You Need To Know

Chrissy Teigen is one of the many celebrities to have had buccal fat surgery, which strips fat from the face to give the appearance of sharper cheekbones. It’s become one of the most requested cosmetic surgeries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial – which is why we went to four plastic surgeons to find out more…
By Tor West /

What exactly is buccal fat?

We all have buccal fat. The term refers to a pad of flesh found in between your cheekbones and your jawline – and it contributes to the shape of your face, explains plastic surgeon Georgios Orfaniotis. “Buccal fat is different to other types of fat found in the body as it doesn’t change with weight loss, or weight gain. Its purpose is to help us to breastfeed when we’re babies and attach to the nipple more easily. It’s a functional fat,” says Georgios. Some people, however, are born with more of it than others. “People who have a rounder facial appearance with less definition in the cheek area have more buccal fat,” he tells us. Dr Dean Rhobaye, founder of Sloane Clinic, adds that fullness in the cheeks is a typical sign of high levels of buccal fat: “If you’ve ever been called baby faced or have round cheeks, this is buccal fat.”

Why has it been in the headlines recently?

Popularity in buccal fat surgery is rising – it’s now one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries in London, along with rhinoplasty and liposuction. Dr Ashwin Soni, founder and owner of The Soni Clinic, adds that buccal fat removal has become a trending topic as many aspire to “that ‘suck-on-a-straw’ look,” he tells SL. “The current aesthetic trend is to enhance angularity and accentuate the definition of both the cheekbones and jawline, and to lose the roundedness of the face,” Ashwin continues. “Chrissy Teigen has spoken openly about having the surgery, although there are many others who have also done it. If buccal surgery is done well, you shouldn’t be able to notice that someone has had it done. If a surgeon removes too much buccal fat, however, that’s when you can tell.”

What does surgery involve?

The procedure is carried out either under local anaesthetic or sedation, Ashwin explains. “A small incision is made inside the cheek – so there are no external scars – before the surgeon dissects through it to get into the space where the buccal fat pad is located. The fat is then expressed out, cauterised and removed. The incision is then closed using dissolvable stitches.” 

“If you are BELOW 40, you have no idea how your face will age with time, and once buccal fat is removed, there’s NO GOING BACK.”

What’s recovery like?

Recovery takes around a week and the stitches will dissolve on their own, Georgios continues. “Whilst recovering from the surgery, you should aim to eat a ‘soft’ diet to avoid excessive chewing, and apply ice packs on your cheeks to take down swelling. Over-the-counter painkillers can also help. Results will show after a minimum of six weeks once the swelling has subsided, with final results showing at the four-month mark.” 

Is it safe?

Buccal fat removal is a relatively safe procedure in experienced hands, but there are risks, says Georgios. “There are risks involved with the surgery, which is why it is so important to research your surgeon before you embark on the procedure. Potential complications include damaging the salivary glands, which can lead to persistent swelling. There’s also a risk of damaging important nerve branches, which can lead to weakness in moving the upper lip, which can be noticeable and irreversible.” Plus, when buccal fat is performed on the wrong patient and the fat has been excessively removed, it can give the effect of a sunken face, which will worsen with age, Georgios continues. “Buccal fat surgery is only beneficial to the right person,” adds Naveen Cavale, consultant plastic surgeon. “If you are below 40, you have no idea how your face will age with time and once buccal fat is removed, there’s no going back. If you take away too much volume, when you are older, you risk ending up with a skeletal appearance, making you look far older than you are,” Naveen warns.

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Are there any non-surgical ways to reduce the appearance of buccal fat?

Dean says if you’re looking to highlight and define the cheekbones and jawline, hyaluronic acid filler may be a good alternative. “Whether you’re a candidate for fillers depends on your facial structure, proportions and shape. Furthermore, while many doctors, nurses or dentists offer filler treatments, most lack sufficient expertise to provide these treatments to a high standard. Therefore, if you are considering having filler treatment, you must find a specialist with extensive knowledge, skill and training.” Ashwin also recommends filler as an alternative. “Filler can give more natural definition to the face, which can reduce the rounded appearance caused by excessive buccal fat. Buccal fat removal itself leads to a subtle change in the right hands, but keep in mind that celebrities will also likely have undergone cheek and jawline sculpting, so buccal fat surgery can’t be an isolated solution.”

“Sculpted cheekbones are very much a trend – WHAT IF THE TREND CHANGES and fuller cheeks come back in?”

What’s the bottom line?

Before you jump on the trend, it’s important to know that many experts are wary of performing buccal fat surgery. “It’s a niche procedure,” says Georgios. “If you genetically have excess fat in your face and want to improve definition, it can help, but fat will never be completely removed. Plus, in the wrong hands, it can be carried out inappropriately, causing facial distortion and premature ageing. The only time I would think about doing the surgery is as part of a wider face lift, by moving buccal fat to its original place, often combined with a conservative fat reduction.” Naveen agrees: “During a face lift, we open up the face so we can see all the muscle, fat and tissue, and see exactly how big the buccal fat pad is before removing anything. But even then, it’s only beneficial to the right patient.” If you’re still thinking about it, book in for a consultation with an experienced practitioner. “It may be that what you’re after can be achieved with injectables, or there might be a completely different surgery that’s more suitable,” says Naveen. “Also keep in mind that volume in the cheeks is a sign of youthfulness. Sculpted cheekbones are very much a trend – what if the trend changes and fuller cheeks come back in vogue?”

For more information, visit Orfaniotis.co.uk, SloaneClinic.co.uk, TheSoniClinic.com & RealClinic.uk.

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