While fat injections or dermal fillers can serve as an alternative to lower eyelid surgery, not all patients with under eye-bags can benefit from them.
The appearance of under eye-bag or “shadowing” is caused by different or even a combination of factors. Excess skin, herniated deep fat, loss or “shrinkage” of superficial fat (beneath the skin), or a combination of these variables may contribute to this aesthetic issue.
Basically, a “true” or standard lower eyelid surgery uses incision positioned very close to the lash line so the eyelashes can conceal the resulting scar. Referred to as an external incision technique, this allows the surgeon to remove excess skin and fat and possibly reshape the muscle.
However, not everyone with under eye-bags has excess skin. If the extra fat primarily causes this appearance instead, dermal filler injection (e.g., Restylane and Juvederm) can conceal the unsightly bulge.
The main purpose of dermal filler (as an alternative to lower eyelid surgery) is to make the lower lid bulge the same level as the upper cheek. This is a rather straightforward approach and does entail no or very little downtime; hence, it appeals in patients with busy schedule and cannot afford surgery and its ensuing “social recovery.”
But there is one caveat when dermal fillers are used to conceal the under eye-bag caused by excess fat: Touch-ups are generally needed at 6-12 months interval.
Meanwhile, fat injection or fat grafting is a method that provides longer-lasting effects than dermal fillers, with studies suggesting that its results last an average of 12-15 years. The procedure starts off with the collection of superficial fat (beneath the skin) usually in the tummy; only a few teaspoons are needed since the lower eyelid is just a small area.
The collected fat volume is then put in tubes and processed through centrifugation; the idea is to discard the oil, red blood cells, and other biomaterials except the fat cells. Afterwards, the purest form of fat is injected to conceal the bags.
It is important to note that fat injection and dermal fillers are basically volumizers (they add volume) and so they can also address the deep tear trough and the abrupt lid-cheek junction that come with aging.
It is not uncommon to combine volumizers with excision-based lower eyelid surgery to achieve the best results possible. This is particularly true for patients with excess skin, herniated deep fat, and abrupt lid-cheek transition, as suggested by leading Orange County plastic surgery expert Dr. Tarick Smiley.
Due to the laxity of skin and other supportive structures, the deep fat along the lower lid becomes prominent (i.e., it bulges out) with aging. In contrast, the superficial fat “shrinks” and thus gives the appearance of deep tear trough or abrupt transition between the lid and cheek.
To address the aforementioned problems, a small linear incision is made within the lower lid that allows the surgeon to remove the excess skin and reduce the deep fat pad. For additional fine-tuning, fat injection is used to create a smoother lid-cheek junction.