Aesthetic tastes have shifted since the 80s and 90s, and many people now favor healthy curves over ultra-lean silhouettes. As such, gluteal fat transfer procedures, more commonly known as Brazilian butt lifts, have become very popular. This procedure enhances the size and shape of the buttocks using a patient’s own fat as a filler. Fat is removed from surrounding areas with liposuction and some of this is injected fat back into the buttocks to add volume.

When performed by a highly experienced, qualified plastic surgeon, a Brazilian butt lift can achieve beautiful results that look and feel natural and that can potentially last a lifetime. Tens of thousands of patients undergo the procedure each year with board certified plastic surgeons; the vast majority of these patients love their results.

However, if you have been considering Brazilian butt lift surgery, recent headlines may have given you pause as to whether or not the procedure is safe. Several reports of serious complications after the procedure have surfaced in the last few months, and studies show that gluteal fat injections carry a higher mortality rate than any other cosmetic surgery procedure, about 1 in 3,000.

All very sobering information, and as a board certified plastic surgeon who is committed to my patients’ safety, I think it is very important to understand the risks associated with any procedure before moving forward. In light of the recent news, I would like to offer my perspective on the safety of fat transfer procedures, particularly Brazilian butt lifts.

Proper surgical technique is critical to ensure patient safety with gluteal fat grafting.

The most serious risk associated with Brazilian butt lift surgery is fat embolism in the heart or lungs, which can occur when fat is injected too deeply in the space below the muscles. This can push fat into the muscle tissue beneath the subcutaneous fat layer and cause fat particles to enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart or lungs, potentially resulting in fatal fat embolism.

The nation’s prominent plastic surgery societies have even formed a Task Force for Safety in Gluteal Fat Grafting, which in August 2018 issued a statement warning of the dangers associated with gluteal fat transfer when the procedure is performed incorrectly and urging all plastic surgeons who perform Brazilian butt lifts to “immediately re-evaluate his or her technique” to minimize risk of fat embolism, nerve damage, and other serious complications.

Fat transfer is a challenging procedure that should only be performed by a qualified plastic surgeon with specialized training.

As indicated above, a plastic surgeon’s level of training, experience and skill can literally mean the difference between life and death. In almost all reported cases of death after Brazilian butt lift surgery, the surgeon was not properly trained or qualified to be performing fat injections.

What is more, large-volume fat grafting is not a standard part of many plastic surgeons’ residency programs—much less part of the training of doctors who are not board certified plastic surgeons. Plastic surgeons must undergo additional rigorous training in the specific principles and techniques of fat grafting during a fellowship or other specialty program—and complete numerous procedures alongside knowledgeable surgeons to become sufficiently experienced to perform fat grafting safely on their own.

Therefore, to ensure your safety, it is critical that you choose a plastic surgeon who is board certified in plastic surgery and who has specific training and years of experience in gluteal fat grafting to perform Brazilian butt lift surgery. In the hands of a qualified, board certified plastic surgeon, the risk of serious complications is very low.

Red flags to watch for

Asking a surgeon directly about their training, experience, and credentials is essential to assess whether they are sufficiently qualified to perform Brazilian butt lift or other fat grafting procedures safely and successfully. Things that indicate you should walk away include:

  • They are not board certified in plastic surgery. Only plastic surgeons who are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery are guaranteed to have completed at least 3 years of plastic surgery residency training after medical school, and have passed rigorous testing proving their skill and knowledge in all aspects of plastic surgery.
  • They operate in their office or other non-accredited facility. Fat grafting is a complex surgical procedure that requires a fully qualified anesthesiologist and support team, specialized equipment, and fully functional, accredited operating room to perform safely. Doctors who perform fat injections in a standard medical office, hotel room, or other space as a way to offer cheap plastic surgery are putting your life at risk and should be avoided at all costs.
  • They only have a handful of patient before and after pictures. You always want your plastic surgeon to have plenty of experience in the procedure you are having, but as we pointed out, this is critical with fat grafting. Narrow your prospective surgeon pool only to those with proof they have performed the procedure dozens, if not hundreds, of times, with mostly superb results, even if this means traveling out of town for your procedure. Note that most surgeons don’t post all photos online due to permission requirements; you can expect to see a selection on the practice’s website, and numerous additional options during your in-person consultation.

Have questions about plastic surgery safety? Talk to a board certified plastic surgeon

In qualified hands, plastic surgery, including fat transfer, is a safe, effective way to update your shape. The key is doing your homework and not compromising when it comes to surgeon experience and operating facility accreditation.

At La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Centre, patient safety is our highest priority—we’ve been trusted by the San Diego community for over 30 years. If you have questions about your options and want an honest, thorough discussion on the safety of any procedure, we will be happy to help.

As a board certified plastic surgeon specializing in body contouring, I’d love to meet with you in person and discuss how we can safely provide results you’ll love. Please call our office at 858-452-1982 to plan a time for your free Brazilian Butt Lift consultation.

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