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Buccal Fat Removal: Permanent Consequences of a Temporary Trend

Published February 14, 2023
Published February 14, 2023
Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

Trends in cosmetic procedures are nothing new, but recently buccal fat removal has been blowing up online. The procedure is essentially surgical cheek contouring, where the youthful plumpness of a face is removed to create a hollower look that emphasizes the cheekbones. There are a growing number of online accusations against celebrities receiving the procedure, but only model Chrissy Teigen has openly admitted to her buccal fat removal experience via her Instagram stories in 2021. Given the daily increase in social media posts and articles about the procedure, BeautyMatter decided to take a closer look.

The Surgical Process

The operation removes excess fat from the buccal fat pads that are situated deep in the cheeks under the buccinator muscle, resulting in a more chiseled or defined appearance. Potential risks include bleeding, scarring, numbness, loss of sensation, and damage to muscles that help the face to smile. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons states that some studies suggest the removal of the buccal fat pads can cause the face to appear hollower and more sunken-in over time. This is because  the fat pads help support the cheek structure to maintain a full, youthful appearance. The treatment can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 dollars depending on the provider. According to Dr. Hardik Doshi, a double-board-certified facial plastic surgeon based in New York, the procedure is typically done under local anesthesia and recovery time can vary, but patients can expect to experience swelling and bruising for 7 to10 days with full results seen around the three- to six-month period.

A Social Media Fueled Rise to Fame

With TikTok and Instagram algorithms constantly pushing content of new “it” girl aesthetics, Facetuned faces, “snatched” selfies, plump pouts, and an unstoppable cycle of beauty standards, it's no surprise that seeing something constantly can infiltrate our subconscious and cause our brains to believe this is something we don’t only want, but need. Dr Doshi believes another reason for the popularity of buccal fat removal is that it is a minimally invasive surgery and only takes about an hour, which makes it a quick and easy solution that doesn’t require  significant time off from work. According to Dr Doshi, the age demographic of the patients requesting buccal fat removal is generally between 18 and 40. He adds it is important “to ensure that the patient is not undergoing the procedure for the wrong reasons and that they have a clear understanding of what results they can expect. Otherwise, the consequences for individuals might be devastating both physically and mentally” because buccal fat removal is a permanent procedure although its popularity as an aesthetic procedure may be temporary. Furthermore, its effects may only be desirable for a certain age demographic.

Cosmetic surgeries and enhancements have become increasingly normalized in recent years through shows like The Kardashians and Love Island. Meanwhile, Spate has revealed that as of the week of January 15, videos with hashtags #buccalfatremoval and #buccalfatpadremoval have received 178.1 million total views on TikTok, which is a +41.3% month-over-month increase. During December 2022, searches for buccal fat removal shot up to 100 according to Google trends; 100 means something is at the peak of its popularity. The term “buccal fat removal” has once again risen in popularity and reached 68% in the latter half of January 2023.

Public Pushback

Beauty standards have always been in flux depending on the time and place, which calls into question what happens when beauty standards become cosmetic procedures that then stop trending and are no longer the desired look. Viral content creator Sarah Palmyra shared a video with her 900.4 thousand TikTok followers where she predicted those who have buccal fat removal now will be getting fillers in ten years to reverse its effects. Could this prediction ring true in a decade’s time? Another influencer, Rachel Ocool, went as far as creating a tutorial on TikTok for emphasizing round cheeks―rather than eliminating them. Ocool has garnered over one million likes and over eight million views on the video where she states that she is emphasizing the fat on her face “out of spite,” and that she believes round cheeks are “cute.”

It’s important to remember the largest proportion (25%) of US TikTok users are between the ages of 10 and 19. With increasing access to the internet, adolescents are faced with pressures and opinions at a rate inexperienced by previous younger generations. The Mental Health Foundation found that 31% of British teenagers felt ashamed in relation to their body image and that 40% said images on social media had caused them to worry about body image. Radar Healthcare recently conducted a “Global Health Inequalities Report” to highlight what countries have the highest and lowest cosmetic procedure age limits. It’s worrisome that Spain, Poland, the United States, Sweden, Austria, Iceland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Germany have no minimum age at all.

 “As a facial plastic surgeon, I think the popularity of buccal fat removal is reflective of the current beauty standards, which place a strong emphasis on facial symmetry and a defined jawline. The current beauty standards are heavily influenced by media and technology, and it can be difficult for individuals to naturally achieve or maintain these standards,” Dr. Doshi notes. Despite buccal fat removal’s current popularity, he warns it’s not for everyone and that “the best candidates for buccal fat removal are those who have excess fat in their cheeks,” and that this procedure “is not the one-stop solution and may still need other procedures (i.e., lifting and tightening treatments) depending on the outcome they are seeking to achieve.”

"People believe that in order to fit in, they must keep up with trends and constant evolution.”
By Dr. Hardik Doshi, Facial Plastic Surgeon

Aesthetic Microtrends

Buccal fat removal isn’t the only procedure on the rise. People are chasing a visibly enhanced aesthetic through cosmetic treatments, with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) reporting that 900,000 Botox injections are carried out in the UK each year. Advanced Dermatology has found the average American woman has spent $1,120 on cosmetic procedures per year and 44% of women are considering cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance.

The term microtrend, commonly used in the fashion industry, refers to a phenomenon that is fairly pervasive within a given sphere of influence and lasts for a few years. However, microtrends have infiltrated the facial plastic surgery industry, and the trends can easily be tracked by looking at the Instagram pages of popular influencers and celebrities. The late 2010s saw the rise of facial filler, and since then, celebrities like Courtney Cox and Khloe Kardashian have opened up about getting their filler dissolved. Molly-Mae Hague, a former Love Island contestant with 6.9 million Instagram followers, made headlines in 2021 when she revealed on her YouTube channel she was having her lip and face fillers, which she had started receiving at age seventeen, dissolved. That age might seem premature for such cosmetic procedures to some, but Dr Doshi describes it as a current microtrend, with individuals “having surgery performed at an earlier age as a sort of ‘prejuvenation’ for those who want to maintain their youthfulness and not wait until they see significant ‘sag’ in their face with age.”

The Future of Facial Procedures

Trends rise and fall. One second, you're in fashion, the next, you're a flop. Overconsumption of social media has only sped up the demanding trend cycle. The difference between a makeup or fashion trend in comparison to cosmetic surgery is that the closest it leaves to a permanent mark is an embarrassing Instagram photo. Dr Doshi believes there has become “a sense of urgency to achieve the perfect facial appearance, which can lead one to seek drastic surgery without doing the due diligence on the procedure,” all  to keep up with increasingly unattainable and fast-paced standards of beauty. “As a result, people believe that in order to fit in, they must keep up with trends and constant evolution,” he notes. If the face filler trend is anything to go by, in a few years audiences might all want chubby cheeks rather than chiseled cheekbones. Will the majority of consumers simply contour with bronzer or permanently remove their facial fat? Only time will tell.


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