What Is Brazilian Butt Lift Surgery, and Why Is It So Risky?

The trendy plastic surgery option may be riskier than you think.

Some people will go to great lengths to reach their ideal face or body. Body dysphoria—appearance disappointment—may lead some people to add a touch here and snip a bit there. An example of one of those surgeries is a Brazilian butt lift, commonly known as a BBL.

Butt surgeries were the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery procedures in 2019, according to a report from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). And there have been plenty of examples on TikTok of people showing off the results of their Brazilian butt lifts.

But what isn't so often shared is that a Brazilian butt lift can lead to serious life-threatening complications. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), a Brazilian butt lift is one of the riskiest cosmetic procedures.

If you're considering a Brazilian butt lift, here's what you should know about how surgeons perform the procedure, potential risks and complications, and costs.

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What Is Brazilian Butt Lift Surgery?

Brazilian butt lift surgery is known as "gluteal augmentation" or "gluteal enhancement" with fat grafting, per one study published in 2022 in Cureus.

The procedure contours, resizes, or reshapes the buttocks, Alexis Parcells, MD, plastic surgeon, owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery in New Jersey, and founder of SUNNIE Wrinkle Reducing Studio, told Health

Brazilian butt lift surgery can also slim out other parts of your body in the process.

What Happens During Brazilian Butt Lift Procedure?

The fat-grafting surgery starts with liposuction. Liposuction removes fat from your stomach, thighs, or back, Stafford Broumand, MD, a plastic surgeon at 740 Park Plastic Surgery in New York, told Health

The surgeon will then "transfer the fat to the rear to create a fuller and curvier shape," explained Dr. Broumand.

To be clear, a Brazilian butt lift isn't the same as getting butt implants. Butt implants are silicone implants surgically placed into the tissue of the buttocks, according to the ASPS. Also, the butt isn't actually "lifted," as the name suggests.

How Much Does a Brazilian Butt Lift Cost?

According to the ASPS, the average cost of gluteal augmentation with grafting is about $4,800. Although, that cost is just an average, and costs can vary widely.

Saul Lahijani, MD, a lead plastic surgeon at the Beverly Hills Institute of Plastic Surgery, told Health that surgery could range from $15,000 to $25,000. What's more, those costs are out-of-pocket, meaning your health insurance does not cover them.

Butt enhancement costs can also go beyond the surgeon's fee, hospital or surgical facility costs, and anesthesia. Other prices, per the ASPS, can include:

  • Prescription medication
  • Post-surgery garments
  • Any special pillows that may be required for your recovery
  • Medical tests

Are Brazilian Butt Lifts Safe?

The risks of Brazilian butt lifts are so high that a task force—including organizations such as the ASPS, the ISAPS, and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery—issued an urgent warning to surgeons in 2018. The warning alerted surgeons about the alarmingly high number of deaths from the procedure.

The task force advised surgeons to warn their patients about the severe risks of Brazilian butt lifts, including the risk of death, and to let people know about alternative options. The warning also called for developing more specific technical safety guidelines for surgeons.

Also, some people travel abroad to get Brazilian butt lifts at lower costs, which can mean less regulation and an even higher risk of complications.

Also, the riskiness of Brazilian butt lift surgery depends on how much fat you have transferred, according to Dr. Broumand. 

"The risk increases as the volumes of fat transferred to the buttocks increases," explained Dr. Broumand. "When too much fat is transferred, there is a myriad of issues that arise."

Risks and Complications of Brazilian Butt Lifts

"Plastic surgery, in general, is safe. And the complication rate and morbidity rate is very low," Dr. Broumand said. "However, with this type of plastic surgery, the morbidity and complication rate is high for an elective cosmetic procedure."

Some evidence suggests that the complication rate is around 7% to 10%, with serious complications occurring in less than 1% of cases, according to an article published in 2020 in Seminars in Plastic Surgery.

According to the ASPS, the 2018 task force found that the death rate was about 1 in 3,000 surgeries, which is more significant than any other cosmetic procedure.

Why is the mortality rate high? 

"It is because of the placement of the fat," responded Dr. Lahijani. "Liposuction has been going on for 35 to 40 years, but the addition of the placement of the fat in the buttock is what makes it high-risk."

Brazilian butt lift risks, according to an article published in 2017 by the ASPS, can include the following:

  • Fat embolism: This may occur if your surgeon mistakenly injects fat directly into the veins in your butt instead of under your skin. In turn, the fat goes into your bloodstream and lungs, explained Dr. Lahijani. From there, it can form a blockage and possibly become fatal. 
  • Blood clots: These clumps of blood may cause life-threatening blockages of blood flow to the heart or lungs
  • Infections: The risk of infection increases with high-volume fat transfers.
  • Numbness or other sensations changes: These may be temporary or permanent, depending on if there is nerve damage.
  • Scarring: The risk of scarring increases with poor wound healing, which is also common with Brazilian butt lifts.
  • Contour irregularities: These include indentations or asymmetry. For example, one buttock may be shaped differently than the other.

According to the task force, the cause of death after Brazilian butt lift surgery was almost always a fat embolism. The warning also noted that fat embolisms occurred with injury to the gluteal veins.

In every person who died, autopsies found fat within the gluteal muscle and not under the skin where it should be. Therefore, the task force concluded that surgeons should never transfer fat directly into the muscle. 

A Quick Review

Around the country, cosmetic surgeons perform Brazilian butt lifts. And although plenty of people have seen success with them, the procedure comes with severe risks. 

If you decide that a Brazilian butt lift is a surgery you want to have, make sure your healthcare provider is a board-certified cosmetic surgeon. Additionally, you may want to check out their success rates in advance.

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