Tissue leftover from facelift can help plump lips

Women getting cosmetic surgery to lift up sagging cheeks and jowls may be able to use some of the tissue removed during the procedure to plump up their lips, a small U.S. study suggests.

Five years after getting a facelift followed by lip augmentation using leftover tissue, patients still had significantly fuller lips than they did prior to the procedure, though the results weren't as pronounced as they were at three months or one year, the study found.

"This technique offers patients undergoing a facelift a way to use their own tissue which would otherwise normally be discarded to plump the lips with minimal risk for complications," said lead study author Dr. Matthew Richardson, a private practice plastic surgeon at Texas Facial Aesthetics in Frisco, Texas.

It isn't for everyone.

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"Patients who have previously had a facelift are usually not candidates for this procedure because the tissue that is used for the lip augmentation is often removed at the time of the first facelift operation," Richardson added by email.

Still, appearance tweaks like this are gaining in popularity.

Last year there were 15.9 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures done in the U.S. alone, a 2 percent increase from the previous year and more than double the number from 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

For the current study, researchers focused on a procedure that plumps up the lips with tissue taken from what's known as the superficial musculoaponeurotic system (SMAS), a layer of tissues under the skin of the face.

To assess the long-term safety and effectiveness of this cosmetic procedure, researchers followed 60 people for about five years, examining photos to see how plump lips stayed over time and tracking complications.

Two of the patients had complications that required additional treatment, one to relieve swelling and the other for nodule removal, researchers report in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

Both the upper and lower lips were fuller at three months, one year and five years compared to before the patients got facelifts and lip augmentation, based on an analysis of photos from a subset of 26 participants.

One limitation of the study is that researchers lacked a full set of images for more than half of the participants because some people were missing at least one picture and others were excluded because they'd gotten additional cosmetic lip procedures during the study, the authors note.

It also may be unaffordable for some patients.

Absent a traumatic injury requiring facial reconstruction, this type of procedure wouldn't typically be covered by insurance, requiring patients to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $8,000 entirely out of pocket, said Dr. Andrew Jacono, director of The New York Center for Facial Plastic and Laser Surgery.

Even so, the study should reassure patients who choose this procedure that it can be done safely and have lasting effects, Jacono, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.

"While we knew that SMAS lip augmentation delivered consistent outcomes, the study speaks to the longevity of the results," Jacono said. "This is the first time the procedure has been proven to last for at least five years with little to no complications."