The idea of transferring fat from the places you don’t want it (thighs, stomach and buttocks) to where you do want it — such as the breasts — is not a new idea. But it is becoming more commonplace, as surgeons are beginning to use this technique (called fat augmentation, fat grafting or lipomodeling) to enhance the breasts.

Is Fat Augmentation Safe?

Fat augmentation used to be mainly a technique used in breast reconstruction. In 2007, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons cautioned against using this technique because it looked as if it might interfere with breast cancer detection. There were also concerns with the transferred fat cells not surviving (making the effect of enhancement only temporary). But in 2011, the ASPS found that fat augmentation for breast enhancement does not interfere with cancer screenings. “There were no major changes in breast density after lipomodeling. Perhaps most importantly, it was no more difficult to perform and interpret follow-up mammograms in breasts that had undergone the procedure,” says the ASPS statement.

How Fat Augmentation Works

Surgeons have figured out ways to perfect the technique, not just for breast reconstruction, but also increasingly for breast augmentation. It’s important to understand that fat augmentation can’t provide the same results as implants: the results are subtler (one cup size is generally the most increase you’ll see). And though many surgeons have had luck with the results lasting (even through weight loss), it’s not a guaranteed permanent solution. Fat augmentation only works if the fat cells injected into your breasts survive and integrate themselves into your body. If the surgeon is taking the fat from the stubborn areas in your body (the place where you lose fat last), that means the cells are more diet-resistant and have a better chance of surviving, even through weight loss.

The process begins with basic liposuction — getting rid of the fat in the places you don’t want it. But the surgeon has to take special care not to disrupt the fat cells, and also has to put the fat through a purification process before it can be injected into the breast tissue. Your surgeon will probably also have you go through a process to get your breast tissue ready to accept the fat (such as using a special suction device for a few weeks before surgery).

When to Consider Fat Augmentation

Fat augmentation is a good solution for women who are looking for a modest increase in breast size, and don’t want the potential risks or side effects that may go along with implants. This technique can help restore some fullness to the breasts after breast-feeding, even out breast size and fill in areas that were altered by a lumpectomy or breast reconstruction. It’s also something to consider getting in addition to implants, especially if you have little of your own breast tissue. In those cases, fat augmentation can really soften the look of your implants.