A Guide to Facelifts: What You Should Know If You Are Considering One

A facelift, or rhytidectomy, is a surgical procedure that aims to reduce signs of ageing on the face and neck. This treatment can help to lift and tighten sagging skin, reduce the appearance of deep wrinkles, and create a more youthful overall look. While traditionally popular among older adults, facelifts are increasingly being considered by a wider range of ages seeking to enhance their facial appearance. This guide will provide you with essential information on facelifts, helping you understand what the procedure involves, the potential risks, and what you can expect if you are considering this cosmetic surgery.

Understanding facelifts

The primary goal of a facelift is to remove excess facial skin, smooth out folds or wrinkles, and tighten underlying tissues. There are several types of facelifts, each addressing different areas of the face and varying in complexity:

  • Traditional full facelift: this comprehensive option targets the face and neck. It involves incisions along the hairline, around the ears, and sometimes under the chin to reposition and tighten deeper layers of the skin and muscles. It is best suited for those with significant sagging and deep wrinkles.
  • Mid-facelift: focused on the middle of the face, this procedure elevates the cheeks, reduces nasolabial folds, and enhances the eye area. Smaller incisions are made in the hairline and possibly in the mouth, making recovery generally quicker than a full facelift.
  • Mini-facelift: often referred to as a “weekend facelift” due to its less invasive nature and shorter recovery time, this procedure targets mild sagging around the cheeks and jawline. It involves small incisions around the ears to tighten skin and smooth out early signs of ageing.
  • Thread lift: this is a minimally invasive alternative where temporary sutures are used to produce a subtle but visible “lift” in the skin. Instead of removing the patient’s loose facial skin surgically, the skin is simply stitched up, which pulls the skin back slightly and tightens the face.

It’s important to note that a facelift does not change your fundamental appearance and cannot stop the ageing process. 

Preparation for surgery

Preparing for a facelift involves several steps to ensure the safety and success of your surgery. Here is what you need to do to get ready:

Choosing a Qualified Surgeon

Start by selecting a qualified and experienced plastic surgeon who is registered with a reputable body such as the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). Ensure they have a proven track record in facelift surgeries. During your initial consultations, discuss your goals, ask about their techniques, review before and after photos of their previous patients, and understand the risks and benefits of the procedure.

Medical Evaluation

Your surgeon will conduct a thorough medical evaluation to check your health status and any pre-existing health conditions or risk factors. This might include blood tests and a physical examination. Be prepared to discuss your medical history, including any medications you are currently taking, allergies, previous surgeries, and any tobacco, alcohol, or substance use.

Medication Adjustment

Depending on your medical evaluation, your surgeon might ask you to stop or adjust certain medications before the surgery. For instance, anti-inflammatory drugs, which can increase bleeding, may need to be avoided. If you smoke, you will be advised to stop smoking at least six weeks before surgery to improve healing and reduce the risk of complications.

Preparation at Home

Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the surgery and stay with you for at least the first night following your operation. Prepare your home for recovery by stocking up on soft foods, ice packs, and extra pillows to keep your head elevated. Set up a comfortable recovery area where you can relax and sleep properly.

Pre-Surgery Instructions

Your surgeon will provide specific instructions to follow on the day before and the day of the surgery. These often include guidelines about fasting (not eating or drinking anything after midnight before the surgery) and what clothing to wear on the day of your procedure.

The procedure itself

The facelift procedure, while varying slightly depending on the specific technique used, typically follows these key steps:

  • Anaesthesia: to ensure comfort and painlessness during the operation, you will be administered either general anaesthesia or intravenous sedation. Your surgeon will recommend the best option for you based on the extent of the surgery and your health.
  • Making the incisions: depending on the type of facelift, the surgeon will make incisions in discreet locations to minimise visible scarring. For a traditional facelift, incisions usually begin at the temples in the hairline, continue around the ear, and end in the lower scalp. Mini-facelifts may involve shorter incisions at the same sites.
  • Repositioning and tightening: the surgeon will then lift and reposition the skin and underlying tissues. Excess fat may be sculpted or redistributed from the face, jowls, and neck. Underlying muscle and connective tissue can also be tightened.
  • Trimming excess skin: after the muscles and tissues have been tightened, the surgeon will redrape the skin over the newly uplifted contours and trim away any excess skin.
  • Closing the incisions: the final step involves suturing the incisions closed. The sutures may be placed within the hairline and behind the ear to minimise visible scarring.
  • Seeing the results: initial swelling and bruising typically obscure the results immediately following surgery. As swelling subsides, the improvements of a facelift become apparent.

Risks and complications 

Although a facelift is generally considered safe when performed by a qualified plastic surgeon, it does carry certain risks and potential complications, as do all surgical procedures. Being aware of these risks can help you make a more informed decision:

  • Scarring: although incisions are usually well concealed within the hairline and natural contours of the face, there is always a risk of visible scarring. The quality of scar healing varies from person to person.
  • Anaesthesia risks: as with any surgery involving anaesthesia, there is a risk of complications such as allergic reactions, respiratory issues, and in rare cases, more severe effects depending on the individual’s response to anaesthesia.
  • Haematoma: this is the most common complication of facelift surgery. A haematoma is a collection of blood under the skin that may need to be drained surgically.
  • Nerve injury: there is a risk of temporary or permanent nerve damage associated with facelift surgeries. This could result in facial weakness or numbness, which usually resolves over weeks or months, but in rare cases could be permanent.
  • Infection: although rare due to the sterile techniques used during the procedure, infections can occur and may require treatment with antibiotics or additional surgery.
  • Poor wound healing: some patients may experience delayed or poor wound healing. This risk is higher among smokers, diabetics, and those with poor nutritional status.
  • Asymmetry: the healing process may result in some asymmetry, which might require additional procedures for correction.
  • Hair loss: temporary or permanent hair loss at the incision sites in the hairline is possible.
  • Skin loss: in very rare cases, the skin flaps may not heal properly, resulting in loss of skin, which would require further surgical intervention.
  • Changes in skin sensation: temporary numbness or changes in skin sensation around the incision areas are common, but these usually diminish over months.

Seeking help 

If you believe your facelift surgery was performed negligently, resulting in harm or dissatisfaction, it’s crucial to consult a solicitor experienced in facelift compensation claims. A specialist solicitor can assess your case, guide you through the legal process, and help determine the best course of action. 


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