A facelift is an elective cosmetic surgery used to reduce signs of aging, including loose, saggy, or wrinkled skin.

The procedure involves making incisions around your hairline, jaw, and/or ears to pull back and tighten your facial skin. It may be done in conjunction with other cosmetic surgeries.

The procedure is formally known as rhytidectomy.

Aging, gravity, obesity, a poor diet, sun exposure, and other factors can often cause the face to sag or wrinkle. Deep creases can form around the mouth and nose. A facelift can help correct these changes.

It can also be used to correct other skin deformities, including excess skin and fat deposits under the chin or sagging skin from rapid weight loss.

Every surgical procedure carries a slight risk of excessive bleeding, infection, or an allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Bruising, tenderness, and swelling are typical after a facelift and normally subside within two weeks of the procedure.

Rare risks associated with a facelift include:

  • collection of fluid under the skin
  • hematoma (blood under the skin that must be drained)
  • numbness or tingling
  • pain
  • scarring
  • temporary nerve damage
  • an uneven face shape
  • wounds that do not properly heal

Talk to your doctor about these risks and what you can do to decrease the likelihood of any serious side effects. Most patients are happy with the outcome of their facelifts and report no lasting complications.

Your plastic surgeon will give you instructions about how to prepare for your surgery. These may include:

  • arranging for a ride home from the procedure
  • fasting for a period of time (typically 12 hours) before the procedure
  • growing out your hair so that it covers incision scars
  • performing chemical hair treatments (such as dyeing or highlighting) before the procedure; you cannot have these treatments for one month after your surgery
  • quitting smoking; it delays healing
  • avoiding certain medications that can cause excessive bleeding (such as aspirin and warfarin)

Tell your plastic surgeon about any allergies you may have—especially to anesthesia—in your meetings prior to the operation. List all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines and nutritional supplements.

During these meetings, you’ll also decide which type of anesthesia will be used during the procedure. You will either be heavily sedated or asleep (under general anesthesia) during the procedure.

Your doctor will make surgical incisions in front of or behind your ears. These may extend up into your scalp. Your surgeon will “undermine” (loosen) your skin from the underside through these incisions. The skin flap is then lifted back and secured in place.

Excess skin may be trimmed and excess fat may be removed via liposuction. Muscles are also tightened during the procedure to better fit beneath the adjusted skin.

Once your surgeon is happy with the results, he or she will close the incisions with stitches.

When the surgery is complete, a nurse will wrap your face in loose bandages. Your doctor may temporarily place a tube under your skin so that any excess blood or fluids can drain from your face. This will be removed within a few days of your surgery. The bandages and stitches will be removed within a week.

You typically won’t feel pain after the procedure, but if you do, your doctor may prescribe pain medications such as hydrocodone.

Your doctor’s office will give you complete instructions about how to care for yourself after your facelift. This will include resting in bed with several pillows under your head to keep it elevated at a 30-degree angle.

Avoid the following after surgery:

  • strenuous activity
  • exposure to sunlight
  • aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medications that could affect bleeding
  • cigarette smoking, including receiving second-hand smoke
  • unnecessary touching of your face

You can expect a certain amount of bruising and swelling after your procedure. Numbness of the face is typical and can last for several months.

You will have follow-up appointments with your surgeon to check for complications and chart the progress of your healing. Contact your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms after your surgery:

  • a fever above 100 degrees F
  • seepage from your wounds
  • severe pain and discomfort
  • wounds that reopen