Unless you’re a plastic surgery aficionado, or you religiously follow Chrissy Teigen‘s Instagram, you may have never heard of buccal fat removal. The procedure — which involves removing fat from the cheeks to create a more contoured face — is less popular than breast augmentation, face lifts and fillers, but it’s still highly requested by patients, including Teigen.
“I did that Dr. Diamond buccal fat removal thing here,” the cookbook author and model said on her Instagram story, pointing out her newly sculpted cheek area. “And since I quit drinking,” she added, “I’m really seeing the results, and I like it.” (On Sept. 26, Teigen revealed she was 70 days sober.)
PEOPLE spoke with New York City-based plastic surgeon Dr. Steven M. Levine, whose subtle improvements grace some of the most famous faces and figures in the world, about the procedure. (He is not Teigen’s surgeon.)
What exactly is buccal fat?
LEVINE: The buccal fat pad is located in the middle of the cheek and serves as a gliding pad between the facial muscles. It is present at birth and contributes to that “baby face” appearance. For many people, its volume persists later in life and adds undesirable fullness to the cheek area.
What does the fat removal procedure entail?
LEVINE: Removal of buccal fat is a straightforward procedure that can be performed in less than 30 minutes under local anesthesia or using sedation.
Is there a lengthy recovery time?
LEVINE: Patients should feel fine the next day, though there will likely be some swelling — and less likely, some bruising.
Are risks involved?
LEVINE: The risks of buccal fat removal are very low when performed by a surgeon who does the procedure frequently and knows the anatomy. That said, risks may include bleeding, infection, and nerve damage — all of which are extremely low.
Who is a good candidate for this procedure?
LEVINE: As with most things in plastic surgery, the outcome of the procedure depends on surgical judgment. That includes choosing the right patient for the procedure and deciding how much of the fat pad to remove. As we age, we lose fat in our faces. For this reason, the surgeon and the patient need to ensure that any young person undergoing buccal fat removal is a good candidate for the treatment and won’t regret not having that fat later in life. Older patients with prominent buccal fat pads can proceed with less concern about their future facial changes.
Is buccal fat removal new?
LEVINE: Buccal fat removal is at least 50 years old.
What is the average cost?
LEVINE: Like all plastic surgery procedures, the cost varies based on geography and surgeon. It can be as little as $3,000 and as much as $10,000.