I thought buccal fat removal was going to be one of those niche celebrity gossip topics, but it actually moved over to my “main feed” and randoms from college who don’t seem particularly surgically-inclined are talking about getting it. Buccal fat removal is essentially minor facial plastic surgery to get that hollow-cheeked look that celebs like Bella Hadid and Zoe Kravitz are sporting. Not that either of them have copped to it like Chrissy Teigan has, but I think that’s the look people are going for. Just looking at the effects of the surgery, it looks like the kind of thing that might not age well as many people’s faces become thinner as they age. Turns out, experts are saying the same, though the patients are still too young now for the long-term effects to be apparent.
Lately, social media has been buzzing with photos of a handful of celebrities with seemingly slimmer faces and more chiseled jawlines. Many people have assumed (without confirmation) that these changes are the result of buccal fat removal—a procedure in which fat in the cheeks and jaw area is removed to give the face a more contoured appearance—which is likely why you’ve been seeing the term all over your timeline.
If this has only made your more curious about what buccal fat is, why someone would want it removed, and why the heck everyone is talking about it, we reached out to a few experts to clear things up.
What is buccal fat anyway?
In short, buccal fat (pronounced “buckle”) is just the fat that lies between your cheekbone and jawbone. “Everyone has a buccal fat pad in their cheek hollow area,” says Michael Horn, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon at Lake Shore Plastic Surgery in Chicago. “The size varies from person to person, and one cheek’s pad may be larger than the other.”
Dr. Horn explains that even though skin with a full and plump appearance has become trendy because of its association with youth, some people—like Chrissy Teigen, who admitted to having the procedure done back in 2021—may opt to have their buccal fat removed if they find that if the area is too full.
“There’s been a significant increase in the interest around buccal fat removal in younger patients who are looking to change the contour and slim the lower part of their face,” says board-certified facial plastic surgeon Heather Lee, MD.
Basically, the purpose of removing buccal fat is to slim the cheeks. “Picture pursing your lips together and biting down with both cheeks on the thick skin inside the mouth to give yourself a facsimile of what buccal fat removal will do,” says Dr. Horn.
What happens during a buccal fat removal procedure?
The first thing you need to know is that the entire procedure takes less than an hour, according to Dr. Horn, and you should expect to be sedated or put under general anesthesia. “The procedure involves an incision inside the mouth on the inner area of the cheek,” Dr. Horn explains. “Once the fat is removed from each side, a surgeon closes the incisions with sutures.”
Dr. Lee adds that the procedure has to be done very carefully in order to avoid injuring nerves that control movement of the face, as well as your salivary duct. “The goal is to create a slimmer lower face and to accentuate the cheek bones and jawline,” she explains. “By removing fullness in the cheek area, the contours of the face are highlighted and the roundness of the face is lessened.”
What is the recovery time like?
After your removal procedure, your surgeon should give you an oral rinse to prevent infection, though you might also be prescribed antibiotics to further minimize your risk. Additionally, you’ll likely experience bruising, swelling, and discomfort in your cheeks for up to two weeks after surgery.
“A liquid diet is recommended for a few days post-op, and patients progress to soft foods as the soreness alleviates,” Dr. Horn says. “Ice packs can be used to relieve this.” Because of the swelling, it’s possible that it may take up to three weeks for you to actually see results.
Are there any risks associated with buccal fat removal?
As stated before by Dr. Lee, this surgery could temporarily or permanently injure some of the nerves that control your face and salivary duct if performed incorrectly. As with any surgery, you should also do your research to ensure that your surgeon doesn’t remove too much fat and make your face look too gaunt.
“Since it goes not regrow, there is a risk of removing too much fat and creating excessive hollowing,” Dr. Lee says. “Although that may be what some younger patients are looking for, this can have major implications as they age.”
The surgery and recovery doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds pretty similar to getting your wisdom teeth removed. But the potential long-term implications are scary. In general, face-altering surgeries seem way more risky to me than body procedures. A botched or unexpected result with a face surgery will have so much more of an impact than a bad boob job or lipo, etc. I just think about what happened to Linda Evangelista and that was mostly her body. That was bad, but bad results on your face seem much worse and harder to live with. I get the result they’re trying to achieve — a slimmer and more sculpted face — and I’ve certainly wanted that myself in the past. My face has slimmed on its own as I’ve gotten older, but it’s still full and I’ve grown to like that because it makes me look 5-8 years younger than I am. It doesn’t grow back and I don’t think it’s reversible, so removing that fat now means it might not be there when people want/need it later. I would hate to start wrinkling or looking gaunt as I age for some irreversible trend that might not even stay popular.