As we age, our faces begin to show the effects of gravity, sun exposure and years of facial muscle movement, such as smiling, chewing and squinting. The underlying tissues that keep our skin looking youthful and plumped up begin to break down, often leaving laugh lines, smile lines, crow’s feet or facial creases over the areas where this muscle movement occurs. Soft-tissue fillers, most commonly injectable collagen, hyaluronic acid, or fat, can help fill in these lines and creases, temporarily restoring a smoother, more youthful-looking appearance. When injected beneath the skin, these fillers plump up creased and sunken areas of the face. They can also add fullness to the lips and cheeks. Injectable fillers may be used alone or in conjunction with a resurfacing procedure, such as a laser treatment, or a recontouring procedure, such as a facelift.
Fillers are primarily used to improve the appearance of the skin’s texture. They can help correct deep facial wrinkles, creases and furrows, “sunken” cheeks, skin depressions and some types of scars. They can also be used to add a fuller, more sensuous look to the lips. Injectables are usually not sufficient for severe surface wrinkles on the face, such as multiple vertical “lipstick lines” that sometimes form around the mouth. Instead, your plastic surgeon may suggest a resurfacing technique, such as chemical peel, dermabrasion or laser treatments. Rather than filling in facial lines, resurfacing methods strip away the outer layers of the skin to produce a smoother appearance. Deep folds in the face or brow caused by overactive muscles or by loose skin may be more effectively treated with cosmetic surgery, such as a facelift or brow lift. Injectables are sometimes used in conjunction with facial surgery procedures; however, injectables alone cannot change facial contour the way surgery can. Keep in mind that a plastic surgeon is a specialist that can offer you the full gamut of the most advanced treatments ranging from cosmetic surgery, refinishing techniques, laser therapy, injectables and the use of other fillers. You and your surgeon may determine that a single procedure or a combination of procedures is the best choice for you.
This web page explains commonly used injectable fillers such as hyaluronic acid, collagen and fat. However, to a lesser extent, a number of other filler materials are also being used for facial rejuvenation purposes. They include agents such as polymers, porcine collagen, or calcium hydroxylapatite. Each of these options has its own set of risks and benefits. If you’re considering any of these alternative filler treatments, tell your doctor.
The most important fact to remember about injectable fillers is that the results are not constant. Injected material is eventually metabolized by the body. You should not expect the same long-lasting results that may be gained from cosmetic surgery. In some individuals, the results may last only a few weeks; in others, the results may be maintained indefinitely. Researchers believe that age, genetic background, skin quality and lifestyle as well as the injected body site may all play a role in the injected material’s “staying power.” However, the precise reason for the variation of results among patients has yet to be identified. If you’ve had short-lived results from fat injections, you shouldn’t necessarily assume that collagen injections will work better for you. And, conversely, if you’ve had disappointing results from collagen, don’t assume that injected fat is the answer. Although it’s true that some individuals’ bodies are more receptive to one substance than the other, others may find that neither substance produces long-lasting results. Sometimes one substance may work better than the other for a specific problem.
When injectables are administered by a qualified plastic surgeon, complications are infrequent and usually minor in nature. Still, individuals vary greatly in their anatomy, their physical reactions and their healing abilities. The outcome of treatment with injectables is never completely predictable.
Hyaluronic Acid: Side effects are typically mild or moderate in nature and last for less than 7 days. Adverse events inclde redness, pain, firmness, swelling, lumps/bumps, bruising, itching, and discoloration.
Collagen: Allergic reaction is the primary risk of collagen. To help determine if you are allergic to the substance, your surgeon will perform an allergy skin test about a month before the procedure. After the test is performed, the test site should be watched carefully for three or four weeks, or as long as your surgeon advises. Any sign of redness, itching, swelling or other occurrences at the test site should be reported to your surgeon. Risks not necessarily related to allergies include infection, abscesses, open sores, skin peeling, scarring and lumpiness, which may persist over the treated area. Reports of these problems are very rare.
Fat: Allergic reaction is not a factor for fat because it’s harvested from a patient’s own body. However, there is still a small risk of infection and other infrequent complications.
Facial rejuvenation is very individualized. That’s why it’s important to discuss your hopes and expectations with a board-certified plastic surgeon who has experience with many different types of surgical and non-surgical facial procedures. In your initial consultation, your plastic surgeon will evaluate your face – the skin, the muscles and the underlying bone – and discuss your goals for the surgery. Your doctor will help you select a treatment option based on your goals and concerns, your anatomy and your lifestyle. Your surgeon will ask you about your medical history, drug allergies, and check for conditions that could cause problems, such as active skin infections or non-healed sores from injuries. Collagen injections are generally off limits for pregnant women, individuals who are allergic to beef or bovine products, patients who suffer from autoimmune diseases, and those who are allergic to lidocaine (the anesthetic agent contained in the syringe with the collagen material). For more specific information about the contraindications and risks of collagen use, ask your doctor for the manufacturer’s brochure for patients. Insurance usually doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures. However, if your injectable treatment is being performed to treat a scar or indentation from an accident or injury, you may be reimbursed for a portion of the cost. Check with your insurance carrier to be sure.