A facelift is a form of cosmetic surgery that changes a person's appearance by aiming to reduce lines, wrinkles and other visible signs of ageing. While your face might be less lined and possibly appear more youthful after the operation, a facelift doesn't stop the ageing process.
What is a facelift?
A facelift is a surgical procedure to lift and tighten the face and neck tissues and reduce sagging skin on a person's face. The operation might also involve:
- tightening of facial muscles
- removing or redistributing fat from the neck, jowls and face
- taking fat from other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, and putting it in areas like the cheeks.
A facelift is also known as a meloplasty or rhytidectomy.
A facelift is often combined with other procedures like a brow lift, eyelid surgery or a nose reconstruction.
If you are thinking about a facelift
You might consider a facelift if you have sagging in the mid-face, deep creases under your lower eyelids or along the nose, jowls or a double chin.
You should be physically healthy not have any medical conditions that might make it harder to heal after surgery. You also need to have stopped smoking.
But it’s important to have realistic expectations. A facelift usually lasts 5 to 12 years, then might need to be repeated. It can make you look younger temporarily, but it can't stop the ageing process. It won't remove deep frown lines on your forehead or wrinkles around your mouth, and it won't raise sagging eyebrows.
A facelift is not the solution for everyone, and there are alternatives. Ageing is a natural process and you don't need to have an unlined face to get work, be respected or to attract a partner.
You should be aware that the medical profession and the government are concerned about facelifts. The Medical Board of Australia has issued guidelines to doctors to ensure that:
- Anyone having any major cosmetic surgery (involving cutting beneath the skin), including a facelift, needs to see the surgeon before scheduling any surgery, and needs to wait through a compulsory cooling off period before the surgery can take place.
- The treating doctor is satisfied that the person thinking about having cosmetic surgery is in good psychological health. If the doctor is unsure about this, and it may affect the person's suitability for a facelift, they need to refer them for an independent psychological assessment.
Medicare doesn't cover the cost of cosmetic surgery and generally private health insurance doesn't either. If the facelift is done as part of a procedure to correct deformities or treat traumatic injuries, some of the cost might be covered. Discuss the costs with your surgeon.
A facelift might boost your self-esteem. However, behavioural therapy (including cognitive behavioural therapy) is a better way to treat psychological conditions such as depression and body dysmorphic disorder.
Healthdirect has more information about cosmetic surgery in general.
Choosing a surgeon
If you are considering a facelift, it is important to choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with, and who will speak to you honestly about the benefits and risks of any surgery.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has a register of medical practitioners. You can check this register to ensure your surgeon is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). You can also check if the surgeon has had any serious disciplinary action taken against them.
Some people consider having cosmetic surgery overseas, but there can be many problems with this.
Questions to ask before surgery
There are many things to weigh up before agreeing to any operation. Questions you might ask the surgeon include:
- What are the risks of this operation for a person in my state of health?
- How many facelifts have you performed?
- How often is a second procedure required?
- Is this the best option for me?
- Can you show me before and after photographs of other patients?
- How long is my recovery likely to take?
- What is the cost?
You can also use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.
How to prepare for a facelift
Your surgeon will need a full medical history and will discuss your expectations. Take notice of any pre-surgery instructions.
You might be asked to:
- stop taking certain medicines, including those containing aspirin, around 2 weeks before surgery
- quit smoking
What happens during a facelift procedure?
Full or traditional facelift: The surgeon is likely to make an incision that follows your hairline from the temples, around the ears and down to the lower scalp. If needed, a small incision may also be made under your chin to give access to the neck.
The surgeon will then raise the skin away from the face and reposition the underlying muscle and tissue. They might remove or redistribute facial and neck fat.
Sometimes fat collected by liposuction from elsewhere in the body, such as the abdomen, may be used to plump up the cheeks or other parts of the face.
The surgeon redrapes the skin over the face and neck and trims any excess skin. They sew, clip or tape the incisions up and apply a dressing. Sometimes a small thin drainage tube is placed under the skin to remove excess blood or fluid.
Mini or limited incision facelift: This operation is a minor variation of the full facelift, with shorter cuts around the hairline. Additional cuts may be made in the lower eyelids or under the upper lip.
Neck lift: This operation focuses on removing fat and sagging skin in the neck area. The incisions will probably be done around the ears and under the chin.
What to expect after a facelift
You might be in hospital for a short stay — read about what to pack — or you might have a day procedure. The day after surgery, the doctor is likely to remove any drainage tubes and put fresh dressing on the wounds. You will need to return to have the stitches taken out, usually after a week.
You are likely to have pain, bruising and swelling around the site of the operation. Your doctor may prescribe pain relief medication. Sleep with your head elevated to reduce the swelling.
Contact your doctor if you have:
- heavy bleeding from the wounds
- increased redness around the incisions
- a temperature higher than 38°C
- excessive swelling
- pain not controlled by prescribed pain relief medication
Risks with facelifts
Like any surgery, a facelift procedure comes with risks. You should discuss the risks in detail with your surgeon. You should also discuss the risks of anaesthetic with your anaesthetist.
While most operations go smoothly, the risks of facelift surgery include:
- heavy bleeding
- infection that might require antibiotic treatment
- blood clots and deep vein thrombosis
- numbness or changes of sensation
- abnormal, unsightly scarring
- persistent pain
- prolonged swelling
- skin discolouration
- hair loss around the scars (usually temporary but it may be permanent)
- need for a skin graft
- numbness around the scars (this should be temporary)
- deformed ear lobe
- an unbalanced looking face
- damage to the facial nerve, which can make the face look lopsided (in about 1 in 100 patients)
You might also need a revision of the operation to correct complications.
The cost of a facelift varies from patient to patient and includes:
- surgeon's fees
- anaesthetist's fees
- clinic or hospital fees
Your surgeon and anaesthetist must provide you with information in writing about the cost of a facelift. This should include:
- the total cost
- details of deposits and required payment dates
- payments for follow-up care.
- possible further costs for additional revision surgery or treatment
If you are considering a facelift, you should first discuss it with your doctor. More information is also available on the Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery website, and in our guide to cosmetic surgery.
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Last reviewed: December 2019