Stem Cell Facelift vs Fat Transfer

fat transfer
 Every year, it seems a new buzz word appears on the cosmetic surgery scene.  For 2011, the buzz is all about “Stem Cell Facelifts.”  But are cosmetic stem cell procedures a true scientific breakthrough or simply a new name for an old technique?

What is a stem cell facelift?

A stem cell facelift refers to a procedure in which a plastic surgeon harvests fat from an area of the patient’s body, often in the lower abdominal or buttocks area, processes it and then reinjects it into the face to restore volume and eliminate wrinkles.  But there is much debate in the cosmetic surgery industry as to the particular nomenclature of the procedure because it does not utilize a traditional “lift” and there is currently insufficient evidence that it utilizes stem cells.

Stem cells occur naturally and in abundance in human fat and many doctors believe that they hold the key to not only facial rejuvenation but also to a full-spectrum of medical uses such as heart muscle and knee cartilage regeneration.  But other physicians say that true stem cell procedures, where a patient’s adult cells are removed, processed in a lab producing stem cells, and then reinjected into the body is a potentially promising technology but that the studies proving that the stem cells are actually actively working and producing a more youthful appearance are lacking.

Is a stem cell facelift just another term for fat grafting?

For more than a decade, fat grafting has been used as both an independent procedure and in conjunction with a traditional facelift to restore lost volume while also removing excess skin.  Fat grafting uses the same technique as a stem cell facelift but does not promise to activate stem cells prior to injection through the use of devices, growth injections or lasers.  As to whether stem cells are actually activated and therefore elevate the procedure from simple fat grafting to a true stem cell facelift is unclear.  The Food and Drug Adminstration has not approved the use of any stem cell activating agents or devices, and large-scale studies have not been conducted to prove either effectiveness or safety.

What are the advantages of a stem cell facelift?

Patients seeking a younger looking face have often had to choose between two extremes.  On the minimally invasive side, synthetic fillers made of hyaluronic acid such as Juvederm, Restylane, Perlane, Radiesse and others are effective but temporary, with most breaking down and wearing off in about 12 months.  A traditional face lift offers longer lasting results but comes with a long recovery time and several small scars.

A stem cell facelift, even if it is indeed a new name for fat grafting, offers several advantages.  Because the fat is from the patient’s own body, there is nearly no risk of reaction or rejection of the tissue.  The procedure itself takes from one to two hours leaving no visible scar with results often lasting five years or more.  Some patients see such an improvement in skin tone and texture that they have reported no further need for Botox.

How much does a stem cell facelift cost?

Current estimates put stem cell facelift procedures between $4,000 and $8,000 but when used in conjunction with other procedures such as traditional facelifts or neck lifts, costs can go up to $20,000 or more.

What are the risks associated with a stem cell facelift?

Because stem cell facelifts do not have FDA approval, the full risks are unknown.  But like any cosmetic procedure, there is a risk of bruising, swelling, redness at the injection site, lumps and general dissatisfaction with the end result.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) published a news release on its web site that quotes Dr. Fodor, a Los Angeles plastic surgeon and ASAPS spokesperson as saying, “The potential medical benefits of stem cell research are enormous, and go far beyond the cosmetic applications.  As with everything that seems exciting and new, further research and documentation of results is key.  We won’t be sure of the implications until we have followed the results over time, have been able to duplicate them in many patients, and have followed all procedures leading to FDA approval.”


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About Victoria Strander

Writes about the latest beauty procedures. Her articles are available for syndication. Use Contact Page for inquiries.


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