Sarah Lewis, PharmD

What is a facelift?

A facelift is the surgical correction and improvement of the signs of aging on the face and neck. Your face and neck are often the first places where signs of aging appear. Most people seek a facelift for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons. Your doctor may also recommend this procedure as part of a medically necessary facial reconstruction.

A facelift is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive cosmetic or treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your choices before having a facelift. 

Types of facelift

There are many facelift techniques. The basic types of facelift include:

  • Traditional facelift incisions start at your temple, run down in front and around your ear, and end in your lower scalp. This is usually one continuous cut. Your surgeon can redistribute fat, reposition deep tissues, lift muscles, and trim excess skin. He or she may also make an additional incision under your chin.

  • Limited incision facelift involves smaller cuts than a traditional facelift. The incisions may be located at your temple, around your ear, within the lower eyelids, and under your upper lip.

  • Neck lift incisions usually start in front of your ear lobe and continue behind your ear to end in your lower scalp. Neck lifts correct signs of aging in your lower face, chin and neck.

Other procedures that may be performed

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Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to a facelift. These include:

  • Brow lift, also called a forehead lift, to tighten sagging skin in the forehead area

  • Eyelid surgery to improve the look of your upper eyelids, lower eyelids, or both

  • Facial implants to augment areas of your face such as your chin, cheekbones or jaw

  • Facial liposuction to remove fatty deposits in the face

  • Resurfacing to improve the texture and tone of your skin

  • Rhinoplasty to repair or reshape your nose

  • Soft tissue augmentation to recontour your facial structure

  • Wrinkle reduction with injections to smooth fine wrinkles

Why is a facelift performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a facelift if you want to improve the look of your face for cosmetic reasons. Your doctor may also recommend it as part of a medically necessary facial reconstruction. 

Your doctor may only consider a facelift for if other options with less risk of complications are not appropriate for you or have not produced desirable results. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a facelift. 

Your doctor may recommend a cosmetic or aesthetic facelift if: 

  • You are dissatisfied with or bothered by the signs of aging that are seen in your face.

  • You are physically healthy. 

  • You have realistic expectations of improvement, not perfection.

  • You do not smoke.

Your doctor may recommend a medical facelift if you have: 

  • Facial asymmetry or skin laxity due to nerve paralysis or a known skin condition

  • Genetic facial deformity

  • Traumatic injury

Who performs a facelift?

Plastic surgeons and facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons, and cosmetic surgeons perform facelifts. Plastic surgeons specialize in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons initially train as plastic surgeons or otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors and surgeons) before further specialization in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. A cosmetic surgeon focuses on aesthetic surgery—most procedures are elective and not medical necessary. A cosmetic surgeon performs some of the same surgeries as a plastic surgeon, including facelift, but the surgeons’ education and training are different.

How is a facelift performed?

Your facelift will be performed in a hospital or outpatient setting using one of the following approaches:

  • Minimally invasive facelifts have many names and involve various techniques. They range from the limited incision facelift that is similar to a traditional facelift, to nonsurgical techniques, or “thread” facelifts. Thread lifts involve the placement of fine surgical thread in the layer of fat and tissue under your skin, which are then pulled taut to give the appearance of tighter skin. Minimally invasive surgery generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less trauma to tissues. Your surgeon will make small incisions instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Minimally invasive facelifts also offer a more subtle change in appearance than open surgery facelifts.

  • Open surgery facelifts involve making a large incision that starts at your temple, runs down in front of the ear, continu