A face-lift (rhytidectomy) is a cosmetic surgical procedure to create a younger appearance in your face. The procedure can reduce the sagging or folds of skin on the cheeks and jawline and other changes in the shape of your face that occur with age.
During a face-lift, a flap of skin on each side of the face is pulled back, and tissues below the skin are surgically altered to return the contour of the face to a more youthful shape. Before the flap is sutured closed, excess skin is removed.
A neck lift (platysmaplasty) is often done as part of a face-lift to reduce fat deposits and sagging skin on the neck.
A face-lift won't decrease fine creases or wrinkles in your skin or damage from sun exposure. Other cosmetic procedures can address the appearance or quality of the skin itself.
Why it's done
As you get older, the appearance and shape of your face is altered because of normal age-related changes. Your skin becomes less elastic and looser, and fat deposits decrease in some areas of your face and increase in others. Age-related changes in your face that may be reduced with a face-lift include the following:
- Sagging appearance of your cheeks
- Excess skin at your lower jawline (jowls)
- Deepening of the fold of skin from the side of your nose to the corner of your mouth
- Sagging skin and excess fat in the neck (if the procedure includes a neck lift)
A face-lift isn't a treatment for superficial wrinkles, sun damage, creases around the nose and upper lip, or irregularities in skin color.
Before a face-lift:
- Follow medication directions. You'll receive instructions about what medications to stop taking and when to stop. For example, you'll likely be asked to discontinue any blood-thinning medication or supplement at least two weeks before surgery. Talk to your doctor about what medications are safe to take or whether the dosage should be adjusted.
- Wash your face and hair. You'll likely be asked to wash your hair and face with a germicidal soap the morning of the surgery.
- Avoid eating. You'll be asked to avoid eating anything after midnight the night before your face-lift. You will be able to drink water and take medications that have been approved by your surgeon.
- Arrange for help during recovery. If your face-lift is done as an outpatient procedure, make plans for someone to drive you home after surgery and stay with you the first night after surgery.
Sometimes the procedure is done with sedation and local anesthesia, which numbs only part of your body. In other cases, general anesthesia — which renders you unconscious — is recommended.
After the procedure
After a face-lift, you may experience:
- Mild to moderate pain
- Drainage from the incisions
Contact your doctor immediately if you have:
- Severe pain on one side of your face or neck within 24 hours of surgery
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeats
Your incisions will likely be covered with bandages that provide gentle pressure to minimize swelling and bruising. A small tube might be placed under the skin behind one or both of your ears to drain any excess blood or fluid.
In the first few days after surgery:
- Rest with your head elevated
- Take pain medication as recommended by your doctor
- Apply cool packs to the face to ease pain and reduce swelling
Self-care at home during the first three weeks will help your recovery and minimize the risk of complications:
- Follow wound care instructions as directed by your surgeon.
- Do not pick at crusting scabs that develop on your wound.
- Follow instructions on when you can begin using shampoo and soaps and what kinds you can use.
- Wear clothes that fasten in the front (rather than clothes that are pulled over the head).
- Avoid excessive pressure or motion on and around the incisions.
- Avoid using makeup.
- Avoid vigorous or aerobic activity or sports.
- Avoid direct sun exposure to the incision for three weeks and use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher thereafter.
- Avoid coloring, bleaching or perming hair for at least six weeks.
In the weeks after a face-lift, you might style your hair to hide any remaining signs of the incision. You may also choose to delay attending major social events for a couple of months, when you are likely to feel back to normal.
A face-lift can give your face and neck a more youthful appearance. Face-lift results are not permanent. With age, the facial skin may begin to droop again. In general, a face-lift can be expected to last 10 years.