Why get a face-lift?
A face-lift is a cosmetic surgery that can help restore a more youthful look. However, it does not change your fundamental appearance or stop the aging process.
As a person ages, his or her skin loses strength and elasticity. This causes a person's face to show more of the aging process, including sagging in the midface, deep creases below the eyelids or fat that has fallen.
Face-lifts are more popular among women, but more men are becoming interested in the procedure. Some people might try other noninvasive procedures first, such as Botox injections, which work by blocking nerve signals to the muscles where it's injected, keeping the muscles from contracting. Ultimately, though, they might end up choosing a face-lift for more permanent results.
What happens when you get a face-lift?
A face-lift takes between three to five hours. Generally to begin the procedure, you will be placed under general anesthesia and go to sleep.
Each plastic surgeon has a different technique, so the exact details of the operation vary. Generally, your surgeon will start cutting at your hairline and come down in front of your ear. The incision will continue under your ear lobe, behind the ear and into the hairline again. Through that incision, your surgeon will dissect your skin off your face. This is done on both sides.
Once the skin is lifted off your face, your surgeon will work underneath to tighten your facial muscles. For example, if you have “jowls,” or sagging cheeks, your surgeon will remove the fat pads from the cheeks that have fallen with age. Some surgeons will take those fat pads out. Others might sew them near the ears under the cheek bones to hide them, which can cause less bleeding than removing them.
At the end of the surgery, your doctor will put your skin back up over your face, remove the excess skin and sew everything back down.
Does it hurt?
You shouldn't have much pain after your surgery. Your face likely will feel numb for a few days. This can make shaving difficult for men.
You'll want to rest your head on a few pillows for a couple of days after surgery to keep swelling down. Your doctor likely will prescribe a pain medication, but you cannot take any medications that would thin your blood.
What are the risk factors?
With any surgery, there's a risk of bleeding. With a face-lift, there's a risk of a pocket of blood forming under the skin that will need to be drained.
Poor wound healing is also a risk. Smoking can increase your chances of not healing properly. It's important to listen to your doctor's instructions about wound healing. Otherwise, you might have noticeable scars near the incision sites.
There's also a risk that your doctor could damage nerves that control facial muscles. This damage is usually temporary, but in rare circumstances, patients aren't able to blink their eyes or wrinkle their foreheads. Also, if your doctor pulls your skin back too tight, your face might not look natural.
Your risk factors can depend on your doctor. It's important to find out from your doctor about their experience and training in performing face-lifts.
What's the recovery time?
You will need to take it easy for about two weeks. Your face likely will be pale, bruised and puffy, but after between four weeks to six weeks, it will look more normal.
You might have small drains under your skin to drain blood and fluid, which might be removed in a few days. You'll have loose bandages on your head to help reduce swelling, which will also be removed within about five days.
Over the next several weeks after your surgery, you will begin to see the true results of your surgery. However, you should talk with your doctor about realistic expectations for a face-lift.
What's the follow up?
Your surgeon will remove some of your stitches within a week of the surgery. After about two weeks, your surgeon might be ready to remove the anchor stitches placed behind your ears.
Overall, your face-lift should last between five and seven years. If you do things that damage your skin, like spend a lot of time in the sun without protection, your face-lift might not last as long.
You might choose to get other cosmetic facial procedures, such as carbon dioxide laser resurfacing, which can get rid of small wrinkles in the face. You might also choose to get a brow lift or eye lid lift if you didn't get those during the face-lift. Any of these procedures can also assist in promoting a youthful appearance.
Sources: Dr. Paul Silverstein, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Oklahoma City; American Society of Plastic Surgeons; the U.S. National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus.