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Facelifts. We’ve all heard of them and know someone who has had one, but what does this classic plastic surgery actually entail? Let’s look at some quick basics. A facelift, or rhytidectomy, is a procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to address concerns with facial skin laxity.
There are both surgical facelifts and non-surgical facelifts. In the facelift surgery category are SMAS facelift, endoscopic facelift, subperiosteal facelift, deep plane facelift, mid-facelift, and mini facelift, and. Non-surgical facelift alternatives include a liquid facelift with dermal fillers, a vampire facelift with a combination of hyaluronic acid-based fillers and platelet rich plasma, and a thread lift. We’re going to focus on surgical facelifts here, as the recovery from non-surgical facelifts is typically a couple of days (at most).
What to Expect During Facelift Recovery
So, what’s it actually like to create your dream facial aesthetic? All facelift candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this plastic cosmetic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your facelift is and how your body naturally heals, two to four weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be looking your best.
Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, if this is a component of your surgery. Many candidates experience nausea, drowsiness, and some disorientation in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects generally resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off. But still, it is a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery. Some surgeons perform a facelift procedure ‘awake’ — meaning no general anesthesia is used (only local anesthesia).
The Ultimate Facelift Recovery Timeline
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of facelift recovery. We’ll begin with how to utilize your pre-op time to minimize the intensity of your post-op time and then we’ll cover what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, months, and, yes, years. Remember, there will be timing differences between procedures, and we’ll note this as we move along the timeline.
It should also be noted that your surgeon will provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical providers. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
- Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments), and a comfortable neck pillow. Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.
- Depending on how you react to general anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. Even those of us lucky enough to tolerate it well should expect to feel sore, stiff, and swollen. Your throat and mouth will be dry, your face will feel numb and tingly, and you might have a bit of a tension headache. These immediate side effects generally wear off within a few hours.
- Remember that part of your general anesthesia is usually stronger pain medicines that will have you waking up numb but not with sharp pain. As these meds get worked out of your system, you should expect a more intense (but not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.
- So, you hopefully got some sleep lying on your back with your head elevated (fun!). You ideally kept your ice pack and your meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are important for both pain control and keeping inflammation down. This speeds recovery.
- You’re probably feeling sore and tight across your entire face and upper neck. You may feel additional discomfort at your incision sites.
- You’ll be sporting some bruises around your face, jaw, and neck.
- Hopefully your appetite is ok and you can tolerate some soft foods. Some people may find chewing uncomfortable, but cold foods, like ice cream, can numb your mouth which will probably feel great. And even if your appetite is nonexistent-make sure to drink plenty of water!
- Also, it’s not unusual to have some scant bleeding from incision sites. Remember that your body is working hard to heal the surgical wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates significant inflammation that you can lessen with meds and ice packs.
- Remember to always keep your head elevated!
Day 2 to Day 7
- If you had bandages or sutures placed during the procedure, they will usually get removed somewhere between day five and day seven.
- During this first week, don’t plan to go to work or do anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch a TV series, organize your inbox, or learn to knit... whatever works for you.
- Ok, so now you can start planning to get back to some aspects of your life. If you need to travel home from your cosmetic procedure, now is a safe time to get on a plane. A creative makeup routine can have you out the door for some errands or a trip back to the office.
- We’ll note here that those who underwent more invasive facelift procedures may spend their second week in a manner more similar to the first. This really depends on exactly what was performed, how your body heals, and your own preferences when it comes to how you look when you go out.
- Attention eyeglass wearers: It typically takes 14 to 21 days for your doctor to tell you it’s ok to start wearing your glasses for short periods of time (probably not more than 30 minutes at once).
Week 3 to Week 12
- For most candidates, it’s safe to get that blood pressure up again. Your doctor will be more specific, but generally around this time you can resume more strenuous activities and exercise by slowly ramping up the intensity over a few days as tolerated. Keep in mind, exercise at this time will most likely cause your face to swell up again, but this should resolve within a few hours.
- It’s worth repeating that during this entire time swelling will lessen and it is important to protect your head and neck from trauma. That’s really general life advice but maybe save playing catch for a while.
6 months to 1 Year
- Swelling will become considerably less noticeable and there’s not much to do other than be mindful of keeping your face and neck protected from trauma and to continue to take general precautions to minimize swelling.
Tips to Improve Your Facelift Recovery
Now that you know more about the timeline associated with facial plastic surgery like a facelift, we’ve got some tips to help you move along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we noted, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are some universal truths that augment healing.
1. Be Mindful & Be Patient
We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.
2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated
This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your face (and your entire being) will thank you for it.
Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.
3. Elevate & Ice
Cold compresses and keeping your head up (literally and metaphorically) will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your face. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.
4. Moderate Your Activities
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three weeks after your facelift is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the months following a major surgery.
Other activities to avoid or limit: sleeping on your stomach, sun bathing, and wearing glasses for long periods of time.
Facelift Side Effects & Complications
So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a facelift procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every facelift patient should expect one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of noticeable swelling. Facial tightness, achiness, discomfort with chewing, and headaches are all common side effects that will resolve within a week or two and can be mitigated with medications.
While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the facial tissues are a possible complication of rhytidectomy and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, asymmetry, and noticeable scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.