Facial feminization surgery
Facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of reconstructive surgical procedures that alter typically male facial features to bring them closer in shape and size to typical female facial features. FFS can include various bony and soft tissue procedures such as brow lift, rhinoplasty, cheek implantation, and lip augmentation.
Faces contain secondary sex characteristics that make male and female faces readily distinguishable, including the shape of the forehead, nose, lips, cheeks, chin, and jawline; the features in the upper third of the face seem to be the most important, but subtle changes in the lips can have a strong effect.
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For many transgender women, FFS is medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria. It can be just as important or even more important than genital forms of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in reducing gender dysphoria and helping trans women integrate socially as women; data on these sorts of outcomes are limited by small study size and confounding variables like other feminization procedures.
FFS candidates should wait until the bones of their skull have stopped growing before undergoing FFS. The way to determine if the bones of the skull have stopped growing is to take successive radiographs of the mandible and wrist bones to make sure that bone growth has stopped.
Upper third of face
Some studies have shown that the shape of the forehead is one of the key differences between males and females. Hairline correction, forehead recontouring, eye socket recontouring, and brow lift are procedures are often performed at the same time, and with the rhinoplasty in mind.
- Hairline correction
In males the hairline is often higher than in females and usually has receded corners above the temples that give it an “M” shape. The hairline can be moved forward and given a more rounded shape either with a procedure called a “scalp advance” wherein the scalp is lifted and repositioned or with hair transplantation.
- Forehead recontouring
Males tend to have a horizontal ridge of bone running across the forehead just above eyebrow level called the brow ridge (or “brow bossing”), which includes the “supraorbital rims” (the lower edge, on which the eyebrows sit). Males also tend to have indented temples and a flatter forehead than females.
The brow ridge is usually solid bone and can simply be ground down. The section of bossing between the eyebrows (the glabella) sits over a hollow area called the frontal sinus. Because the frontal sinus is hollow it can be more difficult to remove bossing there. If the bone over the frontal sinus is thick enough the bossing can be removed by simply grinding down the bone. However, in some people the wall of bone is too thin and it is not possible to grind the bossing away completely without breaking through the wall into the frontal sinus.
FFS surgeons have taken two main approaches to resolving this problem. The most conservative approach is to grind down the wall of bone as far as possible without breaking through and then build up the area around any remaining bossing with hydroxyapatite bone cement which can smooth out any visible step between remaining bossing and the rest of the forehead. In these cases some additional reduction in the bossing can sometimes be achieved by thinning the soft tissues that sit over it. Alternatively, FFS surgeons can perform a procedure called a forehead reconstruction or cranioplasty where the glabella bone is taken apart, thinned and re-shaped, and reassembled in the new feminine position with small titanium wires or titanium orthopedic plate and screws. While this is The data on which is approach is better is limited and does not provide guidance. The risks of cranioplasty include the skull not healing properly, movement of the bone fragments, and the formation of cysts; these can usually be corrected by another procedure.
- Brow lift
Men tend to have lower eyebrows relative to the position of their brow ridges when compared to women. Men's eyebrows tend to be below their brow ridges while women's eyebrows tend to be above their brow ridges. Accordingly, FFS to raise the eyebrows results in a face with a more womanly appearance.
- Orbit recontouring
In some studies the eye shape has been shown to be the key differentiating feature between males and females. Female eye sockets tend to be smaller, located higher on the face, to have more sharply angled outer edges, and to be closer together at their inner edges (the intercanthal distance). Some FFS alter the orbit shape; data on outcomes is limited.
Males tend to have larger, longer, and wider noses than females, and the tip of the female nose will often visibly point slightly upwards when compared to a male, so the procedure involves removing bone, cartilage and remodelling what remains. In most cases this is performed in an open procedure, but endonasal procedures have been used; in all cases when reducing the nose there is a risk of interfering with nasal valve function. Standard rhinoplasty procedures are generally used. There is limited data on outcomes.
Females often have more forward projection in their cheekbones as well as fuller cheeks overall, with a triangle formed by the cheekbones and the point of the chin. Planning of cheek contouring is done while planning reshaping of the chin. The cheeks are reshaped by cutting away bone and repositioning the facial bones. Augmenting the cheeks with implants or with fat harvested from other parts of the body is common. Risks of implants include infection and the implant moving and becoming asymmetrical; fat can eventually be absorbed.
Subtle changes to the shape and structure of lips can have a strong influence on feminization. The distance between the base of the nose and the top of the upper lip tends to be longer in males than in females and the upper lip is longer; when a female mouth is open and relaxed the upper incisors are often exposed by a few millimeters.
An incision is usually made just under the base of the nose and a section of skin is removed. When the gap is closed it has the effect of lifting the top lip, placing it in a more feminine position and often exposing a little of the upper incisors. The surgeon can also use a lip lift to roll the top lip out a little making it appear fuller.
Females often have fuller lips than males so lip filling is often used in feminization. Injectable fillers are low risk but tend to absorbed after 6 months or so, and many implants have higher complication rates like infection or rejection. Use of fat harvested from the person can result in lumps and doesn't last long. The longest lasting and least risky results appear to arise from use of acellular dermis products.
Chin and jaw contouring
Males tend to have longer and wider chins than females, with a more square base, and to project outward more than female chins. The male jawlines tend to extend outward from the chin at a wider angle than females and to have a sharp corner at the back.
The chin can be reduced in length by either by bone shaving or with a procedure called a “sliding genioplasty” where a section of bone is removed. The jaw can be reshaped through jaw reduction surgery; sometimes this is done through the mouth. The (chewing muscles) can also be reduced to make the jaw appear narrower.
The biggest risk in these procedures is damage to the mental nerve that runs through the chin and jaw; other risks include damage to tooth roots, infection, nonunion, damage to the mentalis muscle that controls the lower lip and is at the edges of the chin.
Adam’s apple reduction
Males tend to have a much more prominent Adam's apple than females following puberty. The Adam's apple can be reduced with a procedure called a chondrolaryngoplasty; the goal of the procedure is to reduce the size without leaving a scar. There are risks of damage to the vocal cords and destabilization of the epiglottis.
Beautification and rejuvenation procedures are often performed at the same time as facial feminisation. For example, it is common for eye bags and sagging eyelids to be corrected with a procedure called “blepharoplasty” and many feminization patients undergo a face and neck lift.
FFS began in 1982 when Darrell Pratt, a plastic surgeon who performed sex reassignment surgeries, approached Douglas Ousterhout with a request from a male-to-female transsexual patient of Pratt's; the patient wanted plastic surgery to make her face appear more feminine, since people still reacted to her as though she were a man. Ousterhout's prior practice had involved reconstructing faces and skulls of people who had suffered birth defects, accidents, or other trauma. Ousterhout was interested in helping but knew that he didn't know what a "female face" was, so he investigated by first reading the physical anthropology from the early 20th century to identify what features were "female", then by deriving measurements defining those features from a series of cephalograms taken in the 1970s, and then by working with a set of several hundred skulls to see if he could reliably differentiate which were females and which were males using those measurements. Ousterhout then began working out what surgical techniques and materials he already used that he could apply in order to transform a male face into a female face; he pioneered most of the procedures involved in FFS and was involved in their subsequent improvements as well.
As of 2006 there were about twelve surgeons globally who specialized in FFS.
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