By now, you’ve no doubt come across the term buccal fat.

It’s a sign of the times that we’re barely two weeks into 2023 and “buccal fat removal” is the number one trend. Here we are folks, considering removing an unassuming piece of fat from our face that most of us hadn’t even heard of, let alone considered taking out until recently.
From speculation over which celebs who have gotten it to TikToks talking about the procedure, buccal fat removal is suddenly everywhere.
Women’s bodies have been commodified since the dawn of the modern age, and with commodification comes (unfortunate) opinions over what’s “in” and “out.”
In recent years, that’s moved beyond diet, exercise and beauty, and into the more permanent world of injectables and cosmetic surgery.
Whether people are getting Brazilian butt lifts to look like Kim Kardashian, or a boob job to get Emily Ratajkowski’s cleavage, paying a doctor to add or remove elements to our appearance is not only becoming mainstream, it’s becoming the norm.
Buccal fat removal, however, is different.
Unlike the other procedures, that can be dissolved, altered or taken out of your body entirely, buccal fat removal offers extreme, permanent and (most importantly) irreparable changes to your appearance.
The latest unattainable beauty standard might be gaunt, hollow cheeks à la Bella Hadid, but experts are warning that buccal fat removal should be treated much, much more seriously than your average beauty trend.
“With any surgical procedure there can be potential risks,” Sydney-based registered nurse and skin nutritionist, Madeline Cafas, told ELLE Australia, adding that some of these complications can even be life-long.
On top of that, she warns that basing your appearance off of a trending aesthetic or style may not only lead to regret as you get older, but could seriously hinder the body’s natural ageing process.

What Is Buccal Fat?

Buccal fat is a fat pad that is found in the lower half of the face.

“It’s found in the lower half of the cheeks, typically inline with the corners of your mouth, and generally responsible for the ‘babyface’ appearance in younger people,” she said.

 

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Chrissy Teigen has admitted to receiving buccal fat removal surgery.Unlike most fat areas, buccal fat is determined by genetics and can’t be altered by diet or exercise.

Cosmetically speaking, smaller buccal fat pads is what gives the likes of Kate Moss and Bella Hadid their enviable supermodel appearance, but in regards to functionality the buccal fat pads serve an important role in regard to how our faces move.
Anatomically, the buccal fat provides support for facial muscles across a wide variety of tasks, including smiling, chewing and the all important pouting for an Instagram photo. If you’re a fan of facial exercise such as gua sha or are a regular at Face Gym, then you’re no doubt familiar with this pocket of fat.

What Does Buccal Fat Removal Entail?

If you’re looking to permanently alter your appearance and removal of your buccal fat pads entirely, you’ll either undergo a process called ‘buccal lipectomy’ or ‘buccal lipolysis’.

“Buccal lipectomy is usually done from inside the mouth to avoid leaving scars on your face, but buccal fat can also be done with liposuction or even lipolysis (fat-dissolving injections) to remove the fat cells,” Calfas reveals.

It’s worth noting that this surgery is permanent, so once the buccal fat is gone it will never grow back.

“Buccal fat pads are removed to help sculpt the face and to highlight the cheekbones,” Calfas adds.

“It is often done if the patient has full, rounded cheeks and desires a more sculpted look. The results will depend upon how large your buccal fat pads were to begin with (the bigger and fuller they are, the more noticeable it will be once they are gone) but you will have a definite ‘slim’ and contoured face.”

Why Is Buccal Fat Removal So Popular?

Taking influence from models and celebrities in regards to replicating beauty trends is something we’re all guilty of. Whether that be dyeing your hair to look like your favourite influencer, filling in your eyebrows to look like Cara Delevingne circa 2013 or even purchasing Kylie Jenner’s lip kits to emulate her full pout.

In some ways, buccal fat removal is no different.

Supermodels—with their high cheekbones and hollow cheeks—are supermodels in part because society values their beauty, so when TikTok is talking our ears off about a treatment that can help us achieve this conventionally ‘beautiful’ appearance, it’s natural to be curious. This entire buccal fat discourse began after Lea Michele dropped a new selfie where her buccal fat was seemingly non-existent (although we’re, of course, not suggesting she had the procedure done).

 

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A post shared by Lea Michele (@leamichele)

Lea Michele is amongst the legions of A-listers who are speculated to have their buccal fat removed.

But as with any trending look or procedure, buccal fat removal is probably something that the zeitgeist will soon shift away from. It’s like the rise and fall of the thigh gap or hip dips—regardless of how autonomous our bodies become, we will always grapple with the fact our figures are objectified and, as a consequence, something we’re encouraged to make different.

Why Buccal Fat Removal May Be More Dangerous Than Meets The Eye

Surgery, especially cosmetic surgery, is never a decision to be taken lightly. Make no mistake—buccal fat removal is cosmetic surgery, and therefore comes with risk.
“Perhaps the biggest risk is that the surrounding nerves can be permanently damaged,” Calfas says.
“The buccal nerve is responsible for mouth movement and providing sensation to the cheeks and gums.
“If the buccal nerve is damaged, you may experience a complete loss of feeling and sensation to that cheek area, and/or varying sensations of the cheek and jawbone that can range anywhere from a total loss of sensation to tingling, and even pain.
“Having the procedure done via liposuction or lipolysis also carry their own risks. When not done properly, the operation can leave a lumpy and uneven result. This is where it is super important to find an experienced practitioner.”
On top of this already-extensive list of risks, Calfas notes that you could potentially face post-surgical infection along with the ever-present risks you face when undergoing general anaesthetic.
Calfas notes that while this surgery may be appealing now, in the long run it may also do more harm than good.
“I would be very hard pressed to recommend buccal fat removal for anyone except possibly someone in their mature years who still has quite large buccal fat pads,” she tells us.
“The biggest problem with this trend is that as the face ages, we tend to lose fat. Fat pads shrink and we lose bone and muscle as well. All of this translates to the hollowing of the face naturally, with the end result being people requesting an increase of volume in their faces.
“When you lose fat, bone and muscle from the face, you are still left with the same amount of skin on top. With less structural support from the buccal fat underneath to hold it up, your skin then gives itself to gravity, and that is when heavy jowls and folds in the face start to appear.
“If you remove your buccal fat, you might look great when you are in your thirties, but as you approach your more mature years, you will want that fat back.”
And that’s on gravity and aging.
Sure, 20-something you may be grateful for the drastic results, but with buccal fat you have to think about the long game. Unless you’re willing to continue to go under the knife to maintain your appearance, you may want to rethink the longevity of the operation.

How You Can Achieve A Sculpted Appearance Without Getting Buccal Fat Removal

If you’re still keen to emulate the results of buccal fat removal to see if it’s right for you, there’s several non-invasive ways of achieving the aesthetic. Makeup can be a powerful tool of shaping and contouring your complexion, so we’d recommend starting there to proverbially try the procedure on for size.

Just look at the viral contouring trend Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner‘s makeup artist uses for a chiselled complexion as proof.

If you want a more drastic solution than makeup, injectables can also change your face shape (although come with different risks).

“Have treatments to help enhance your natural cheekbones and midface like the apples of your cheeks, work on targeting and lifting the skin around and under your jowls and jawline and work on your overall skin health. These are all ways to help promote that much-desired ‘heart’ shaped and youthful face,” Calfas recommends.

So, before you book in your consultation, perhaps turn to a little contour to see if this is right for you. Future you may just thank you for it.