It took only one photo, posted by American actress Lea Michele, to propel a relatively mundane cosmetic surgery procedure several decades old to the rank of beauty obsession of the moment on social media.
Buccal fat removal, which several celebrities may have benefitted from, promises to sculpt the face in the swipe of a scalpel... or almost. However, this is not necessarily a harmless undertaking.
On Dec 12, 2022, actress and singer Lea Michele posted a simple snapshot on her Instagram account, accompanied by an offbeat message. Nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. Except that the 30-year-old star seems to have a slimmer face, with hollower, more chiseled cheeks, and more prominent cheekbones.
This physical change did not escape the attention of the star's followers. And while their comments are mostly complimentary, a handful of followers questioned the changes to the shape of her face.
"Miss your cute cheeks. Why did you do that to your face?," can be read among the hundreds of comments, for example.
Then gradually, the term "buccal fat removal" started to be mentioned, instantly shining the spotlight on a decades-old cosmetic surgery procedure.
A sculpted face
The buccal fat in question is actually two oral fat pads, sometimes called Bichat's fat pads, and everyone has them. They are located under the muscles in the cheeks and extend up towards the temples.
Their volume, which varies from one individual to another, can give a round shape to the face, with less marked cheekbones. As such, their removal – or rather, their reduction – can slim the face and sculpt it, enhancing the cheekbones, redrawing the contour of the face, and obtaining the angular facial structure that seems to be particularly sought after on social networks.
This reduction is impossible to achieve without some form of intervention, even with dieting, since this fat is not – or hardly – affected by weight fluctuations.
The surgical procedure, which is quite quick and not especially onerous, is nothing new at all, but it is now the latest craze among many social network users.
The trend is being driven by the increasing use of this procedure among celebrities – according to rumours, in any case, since only Chrissy Teigen has openly admitted having resorted to it in the past.
But this hasn't stopped internet users from speculating on which other stars might have had it done, including Michele, Bella Hadid, Sophie Turner, Margot Robbie and Zoe Kravitz.
Not without risk
When asked by The New York Times, Dr Alan Matarasso of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) said that buccal fat removal is a minor procedure, lasting less than half an hour, and performed under local anesthetic, with potentially no more than a week's pain and swelling.
"I can do it on a 20-year-old person at 8 in the morning, and they can be sitting at their desk at 9.15 with basically no discomfort and feeling like it was less involved than going to the dentist," he told the US newspaper.
But the apparent simplicity of this procedure doesn't necessarily make it harmless, as revealed by Dr Gary Linkov, a famous plastic surgeon based in New York, in a video posted on YouTube at the end of December.
The health professional, who details the principle of this procedure, explains why he simply stopped performing it, emphasising the fact that it is permanent.
There is therefore no going back, as can be the case for some medical or cosmetic surgery procedures. And that's not all, since the surgeon also explains that with age, the face can appear even more hollowed out, even emaciated.
All these reasons lead him to give a frank warning to people interested in undergoing this procedure.
Contouring to the rescue
Although the risks associated with buccal fat removal are very limited, according to many health professionals, they are nonetheless real. Bruising, bleeding and infection are the most common risks, but some surgeons also report numbness of the face.
To avoid having to turn to this procedure, many TikTokers have mobilised to divulge their makeup tips for getting the same chiseled cheeks effect.
And these are quick, temporary and inexpensive techniques, which avoid such risks and don't involve spending tens of thousands of dollars. – AFP Relaxnews