Would you spend £7k to regrow your face with your thigh fat?
Would you spend £7k to regrow your face with your thigh fat? Anti-ageing expert ALICE HART-DAVIS, 56, braves a terrifying new stem-cell treatment that promises to turn back the clock for ever
When my eyes blinked open in the quiet of the operating theatre at the Cadogan Clinic in Chelsea, I felt supremely relaxed. It took a while, as the clouds of anaesthetic began to clear and the strange stiffness in my face became more apparent, to remember where I was and what I’d been doing.
Oh yes. You volunteered to be a guinea pig for a cutting-edge facial regeneration procedure.
You’ve just had fat sucked out of your thighs, mined for its stem cells, then injected back into your face by a world-class plastic surgeon, and the procedure has been live-streamed to a conference audience of surgeons around the world. Oh goodness. After 20 years of reporting on beauty and ‘tweakments’, I am used to putting myself out there.
I have tried most non-surgical procedures. I’ve written a book about tweakments and now spend my time talking about them on social media and at conferences.
But this was a new level of exposure and of cosmetic work. Anything that involves a general anaesthetic is hardly a tweakment, even if no scalpels were involved.
ALICE HART-DAVIS, 56, has her fat sucked out of your thighs, mined for its stem cells, then injected back into your face by a world-class plastic surgeon in Chelsea, London. The above shows the work she had done
Why had I done this? Well, if there was one procedure I’d been mad keen to try for a few years, it was a stem-cell-assisted fat transfer process known as SVF Facial Rejuvenation, a new technique that appears to regrow an ageing face from the inside out.
It sounds like science fiction. But actually it’s a part of a fast-developing specialty called regenerative medicine, where surgeons use your body’s own natural resources — fat, stem cells, blood, platelet-rich plasma and so on — to repair everything from heart defects to orthopaedic problems and thinning hair. Now cosmetic medicine is getting in on the act.
Stem cells, the body’s healing resources, are capable of becoming any tissue into which they are injected. This is what makes them so exciting for medical research.
We tend to think of them as being found in bone marrow and umbilical cords — which they are. But they are also found lying dormant, waiting for action, in fat cells. Suck out some fat from the body, then extract from the fat a kind of concentrated stem-cell soup known as a ‘Stromal Vascular Fraction’ (SVF), and you are left with a miraculous SVF smoothie to do with as you wish.
Not many surgeons in the UK do stem-cell work but the more I spoke to, the more fascinated I became by its potential.
I even went for a consultation with one of the technique’s leading proponents, but lacked the £10,000 needed to have the procedure.
Then last year I interviewed Mr Tunc Tiryaki, a plastic surgeon from Istanbul with a passion for regenerative medicine, who had joined the roster of elite surgeons at Cadogan Clinic, a private hospital in London which has been pioneering this specialty.
What the UK non-surgical tweakment market is worth
For him, regenerative medicine is the future. ‘With facial ageing, until now we were just patching up the problem,’ he says. ‘Now we are fixing it by addressing every aspect of ageing.’
The problem with the ageing face, he explains, is that everything is shrinking on the inside. We lose bone mass from our skulls as well as fat from the face. That’s why the skin becomes slack. It’s like an old dress that hangs loose when you have lost weight.
Having a facelift just tightens the slack skin over the shrunken frame. Using injectable filler lifts the tissues from within, but the gel-based fillers just hold water for a number of months, then are gradually dispersed.
But if you mix a stem-cell-rich SVF with fat and inject that, you can create long-lasting results.
Seeing before-and-after pictures of his work left me intrigued. The faces all looked good — greatly improved, yet natural. Hmm. I shut my notebook and went home thinking I’d found the next procedure for my tweakments wishlist.
Alice is pictured before she had a stem-cell-assisted fat transfer process known as SVF Facial Rejuvenation, a new technique that appears to regrow an ageing face from the inside out
So six months later, when the Cadogan Clinic told me it was organising the first London conference for Regenerative Medicine, to be led by Mr Tiryaki, and he needed a model for the stem-cell-assisted fat transfer procedure, I was round for a consultation before you could say Stromal Vascular Fraction.
Was I a good candidate? Yes. What would he do to help my face, which, at 56, is beginning to show its age despite all the tweakments I’ve tried?
First, he would tackle the depletion in the bony arches — across the brow, across the cheeks and around the jaw — by injecting fat mixed with SVF right down on the bone, to rebuild them to more youthful dimensions.
Next, he would use the mixture to deal with lost volume in the soft tissues, rebuilding the fat pads in my cheeks that have withered with age and softening the hollows in the temples.
Finally, he would use a microneedling roller to sink a dose of SVF mixed with hyaluronic acid into the surface of the skin, to regenerate and recondition the outer layers.
Wow. So he’s basically stimulating regrowth of the bone and fat within the face?
‘Not quite, but I can compensate for volume loss on the bone, and by scratching the bone with the tip of the needle I am creating a controlled wound on the bone that the body should heal, which will slow down the ageing process.’
And how much of my own fat would he need to do all this? Probably 30cc (about two tablespoons) for the padding part, and 120cc (about eight tablespoons) from which to extract and concentrate the stem cells into the magic SVF. There was plenty for that in the saddlebags on my thighs.
I went home to think it over, as protocol demands, though in truth I had already decided.
‘Aren’t you a bit worried about doing something like this?’ asked a friend. ‘Not one bit!’ I replied. Though that wasn’t entirely true. With any procedure, there is always the possibility that something will go wrong, however great the practitioner, however well-appointed the facilities, particularly when anaesthetic is involved. But I felt I was in good hands.
Alice is pictured on the operating table
There is a hard-to-define element of like and trust in choosing a practitioner for any work. If they are slick, dismissive or arrogant, I’m off. But Mr Tiryaki, softly spoken, utterly serious, and with an impressive track record, inspires confidence.
Over the next few weeks he answered my questions patiently and allowed me to interview him again. On the day, even with the pressure of the conference schedule, he was cracking jokes as he marked up my face with Sharpies for the watching surgeons.
After that, I knew nothing for two hours. I had clambered on to the operating table, nodding at the seven people already in the room and wondering how the photographer and his assistant, who were both donning scrubs, plus the live-link video team and two surgeons, were going to fit in, too.
Two surgeons? Yes. While they had me anaesthetised on the table, Professor Ali Ghanem, another leading light in regenerative medicine, was going to microneedle my neck and décolletage with a device called a SkinPen with 3mm needles, and treat my neck to a dose of skin-rejuvenating platelet-rich fibrin, which he would create from a sample of my own blood.
Later, awake again, I wasn’t in a hurry to see what my face looked like. But when I eventually shuffled to the bathroom with my eyes half-closed, it didn’t look too bad.
There were new defined contours on my eyebrow arches, cheeks, jaw and chin. And on my nose — Mr Tiryaki had wanted to correct the drooping he saw at the tip of it. I wasn’t so keen but caved in, reckoning he knew best.
And, oh heck, I could feel from the familiar ache around my mouth that my lips had been injected, which I hadn’t expected. But I wasn’t too swollen or even very bruised, and my needled décolletage looked only lightly stung.
My husband fetched me home in the car along with antibiotics (because of the liposuction), compression socks (because of the anaesthetic), painkillers (which I didn’t need) and instructions to wear compression shorts until the bruising receded and use only a very plain moisturiser on my face from the next day.
He was relieved I had emerged in one piece. He didn’t like me having a general anaesthetic and wishes I wouldn’t have procedures at the novel end of the spectrum.
I retired to bed and slept carefully on my back, with two pillows. There was no worry that I would curl over, as my thighs protested if I so much as rolled towards them.
The next day, armed with a magnifying mirror and a bright light, I made a careful examination of my face, tracking the injection marks to see what had gone on while I was out for the count.
Having a facelift just tightens the slack skin over the shrunken frame. Using injectable filler (pictured) lifts the tissues from within, but the gel-based fillers just hold water for a number of months, then are gradually dispersed
It was all very neatly done, though my nose was glowing in protest at having a reshaping blob of fat injected just beneath the tip to jack it up a bit. I had to text Mr Tiryaki to ask what he’d done with my lips. There was no volume in them but there were injection marks at the corners. Just a thin line of plain SVF to strengthen the area, he replied.
There were tiny track-marks all over my face, from the spiky roller used to get the final dose of SVF into the surface of my skin.
The bruising (minimal) and swelling (moderate) crept in over the next 48 hours and receded over the course of three weeks. There was no pain as such but my face was very stiff and achy.
On the second day after treatment, back at work, I had to plead with my colleagues not to make me laugh because it hurt to try to smile. What did they think? They were frank.
‘You look like a caricature of what you’re trying to avoid,’ said Tilly, 21. ‘Those big full cheeks!’
‘You look exactly like you but nothing like you,’ said Ruby, 23.
‘But your skin looks great,’ said Alex, 32, kindly.
By the end of the day, I could barely move my face. Opening my mouth to eat and chew was hard work and my throat was sore from the breathing tube used during the anaesthetic. I’d forgotten how much a general anaesthetic knocks you for six.
My mood plunged. Interesting, I thought, and recorded a video for Instagram, pointing out that after any procedure, whether it’s lip injections or microneedling, you always get a day like this, where the excitement has worn off and you wonder what on earth you’ve done.
My followers were appalled — as was my mother. I’d forgotten she follows me on social media and hadn’t warned her I was doing this. And I didn’t realise until I played back the video that I sounded not just gravelly but on the verge of tears.
I thought I was just being honest. There’s no way to pretend a procedure like this, or the recovery, is a breeze. But I’d also wanted to show I was looking much less mangled and swollen than I’d feared. I hadn’t thought I would be happy to face a camera for a week.
After that, it was more straightforward. The bruises on my face were easily covered with make-up but my cheeks were still so stiff and solid I couldn’t smile — which wouldn’t have mattered, except that I had to present a prize at an aesthetics-industry awards dinner a few days later.
I got through the evening’s photo-opportunities with a sort of pseudo-smirk instead of my normal grin. It helped that most people there knew what I’d had done and only wanted to have a good squint to see how my face was settling down.
By my check-up with Mr Tiryaki ten days later, I felt far more human. My jaw and chin were still swollen, which is normal, and he was pleased with the result.
‘The great thing is,’ he says, ‘the result will go on improving for at least a year. Everyone thinks adding something to the face —such as the fat — will make it look bigger. But because it is moving the tissues outwards and supporting the facial ligaments, it will make it look sharper.’
I can see what he means. Building up my brow bone has moved the whole thing upwards and outwards, rather than — as Botox or a brow lift would do —simply moving my brow skyward. Adding volume to my chin and jaw as well as my cheeks subtly tightened the skin over my face. It’s like reinflating my defining features, from the inside.
My Instagram followers thought the procedure looked like a hell of a big deal and a high price to pay (£7,000) for a relatively small change. Which is fair — but what did they expect? That I would look 25 again? Or morph into Claudia Schiffer?
That wasn’t what I was after. I just wanted to look like myself but fresher, which is very much the result I’ve got.
As to the price, I had a major overhaul with injectable fillers two years ago that cost £4,000, and all that has now dissolved. This change will be with me for good, though of course the ageing clock keeps ticking.
And I love my new, perky nose-tip, though I don’t think I will be doing any more tweakments for a while yet.
This is enough — for now.
- Mr Tunc Tiryaki at The Cadogan Clinic: Consultation £150; SVF facial regeneration, approx £7,000. cadoganclinic.com
- Alice Hart-Davis is founder of thetweakmentsguide.com
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