The Functional Anatomy of the Superficial Fat Compartments of the Face: A Detailed Imaging Study

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018 Jun;141(6):1351-1359. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000004364.


Background: The superficial (subcutaneous) facial fat compartments contribute to the signs of facial aging, but a comprehensive anatomical description of their location and their functional behavior during the application of soft-tissue fillers remains elusive.

Methods: The authors investigated 30 fresh frozen cephalic specimens from 13 male and 17 female Caucasian body donors (age, 78.3 ± 14.2 years; body mass index, 23.1 ± 5.3 kg/m(2)). Upright-position, contrast-enhanced computed tomographic scanning, and additional magnetic resonance imaging were performed. Three-dimensional reconstruction-based measures were conducted to evaluate the position of the applied contrast agent in each compartment separately. Successive anatomical dissections were performed to confirm the imaging findings.

Results: Positive correlations were detected between the amounts of injected material and the inferior displacement for the superficial nasolabial (rp = 0.92, p = 0.003), middle cheek (rp = 0.70, p = 0.05), and jowl (rp = 0.92, p = 0.03) compartments but not for the medial cheek (rp = 0.20, p = 0.75), lateral cheek (rp = 0.15, p = 0.75), or the superior (rp = -0.32, p = 0.41) or inferior superficial temporal compartment (rp = -0.52, p = 0.29).

Conclusion: This study confirms the presence of distinct subcutaneous fat compartments and provides evidence for an individual behavior when soft-tissue fillers are applied: inferior displacement of the superficial nasolabial, middle cheek, and jowl compartments, in contrast to an increase in volume without displacement (i.e., an increase in projection) of the medial cheek, lateral cheek, and both superficial temporal compartments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadaver
  • Coloring Agents / administration & dosage
  • Face / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Subcutaneous Fat / anatomy & histology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Coloring Agents