Is There A Tissue Grafting Method For Deep Nasolabial Folds?

Q: Dr. Eppley, I have deep nasolabial folds and a mouth whose corners turn down. I have read about a way to improve them by using your own tissue through grafting. I had a facelift already which got rid of my jowls and helped my neck but didn’t do a thing for the area around my mouth. I don’t want to treat them with injectable fillers because that will only be temporary. Are you familiar with this tissue grafting technique?

A: What you are talking about is an old plastic surgery technique, dermal-fat grafts, that has been applied to a cosmetic problem. A dermal-fat graft is a piece or strip of skin that has a thin layer of fat on its underside. The overlying epithelium or skin layer is removed, leaving just the dermal skin layer with the attached fat. Provided that the graft size is not too big, it survives quite well as the blood vessels of the recipient site attach quickly to the vessel ends in the dermis. This allows a quick return of blood flow to the fat thus enabling it to survive.

For use in the face for nasolabial folds,  it must be taken from the lower buttock crease or any other large scar site and must be at least 6 to 7 cms in length for each nasolabial fold. From inside the nose, a tunnel is made under the nasolabial fold curving down to the corner of the mouth. The dermal-fat graft (dermis side up) is then placed through tunnel and fixed to the corner of the mouth through a small incision from inside the corner. It is then lifted and tightened from inside the nose and the excess graft trimmed and closed. The graft simultaneously augments the nasolabial fold and lifts the corner of the mouth. I have done this procedure numerous times and it does have its merits. But the issue is that it requires a harvest site and the buttock crease is almost always the best choice because of the thicker dermis. The discarded skin from a pretrichial browlift can be used as well. There are also other simpler ways to achieve both of these facial objectives. Fat graft injections combined with a corner of the mouth lift is another approach. But for the right patient who does not mind a buttock scar, the dermal-fat graft approach can be used.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana