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Rhytidectomy is the technical name for a facelift, surgery that can make the face look more youthful by removing excess fat, tightening underlying muscles, and tightening the skin of your face and neck. You can have a facelift by itself, or in conjunction with other procedures such as a forehead lift, eyelid surgery, or nose reshaping.

No surgery can restore the health and energy of youth. Nor can it stop the aging process. But a facelift can reduce its effects.

As with other forms of cosmetic plastic surgery, you need to have a clear idea of why you want the surgery and a realistic idea of what you hope to look like after it.

And you need to discuss these honestly with your surgeon. Improving your appearance can't solve all the problems you must face, but it may increase your self-confidence as you deal with them.

Before Facelift Surgery

During your first consultation, your doctor will ask you about:

  • Your expectations
  • Your general health
  • Any specific conditions that might interfere with surgery

The doctor will also examine your facial structure, including skin texture, color and elasticity and the underlying bone, discuss how your face can be changed, explain the details of the procedure, and develop a plan for surgery and healing with you. You may not take aspirin or any non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medicine (such as Advil or Motrin; Tylenol is acceptable) for about two weeks before and after the surgery.

You must stop smoking for several weeks before and after the surgery because smoking can interfere with healing.

What to Expect

Though it can take several hours, a facelift is often an outpatient procedure. More complicated cases can take longer and/or require a short hospital stay.

Depending on the surgical plan, you'll be given local or general anesthesia. Types of anesthesia you may receive include:

  • Local anesthesia—means you'll be sedated and the area around the surgery will be numbed. You're awake during the surgery, but relaxed and feeling no pain.
  • General anesthesia—means you'll be asleep during the operation.

What Happens During Surgery

The surgery begins with incisions within the temple area, in front of and behind the ear, and on the scalp within the hairline. After the incisions, the facial skin is separated from the fat and muscle below.

The surgeon will then suction or trim away excess fat from around the neck and chin, tighten the underlying muscle and membrane, pull the skin back, and remove excess skin. The surgeon may also make a small incision under the chin to work on the neck.

At the end of the operation, the surgeon may temporarily put a small, thin drainage tube under the skin behind each ear to drain blood that collects there. Finally, the surgeon closes the incisions with small stitches and puts dressings on the area to protect it.


All surgery includes some risk and uncertainty. Serious complications or side effects of this surgery are rare, but they include:

  • Possibility of hematoma (blood collecting under the skin that must be surgically removed)
  • Injury to the nerves that control facial muscles (usually temporary)
  • Infection
  • Bad reactions to the anesthesia

Immediately Following Surgery

The dressings usually remain intact for 48-72 hours. When the dressings are changed for the first time, the drains will be removed. The stitches are removed about a week after surgery. You should rest in bed for the first day or two after surgery. Your face will look pale, bruised, and swollen and your skin will be both tender and numb. All this is normal and will disappear in time.

After a Few Weeks

You'll avoid strenuous activity (including heavy housework and sex) for at least two weeks, and alcohol, steam baths and saunas for several months. You should be able to return to work two to three weeks after surgery, though it could be several weeks before you feel completely up to speed.

For the first three weeks after surgery you should not use a pillow when lying down; using a pillow can damage the tightened skin. Men may find they have to shave behind the ears and neck, because beard-growing skin has been repositioned there. You'll have some scars from the surgery, but they're usually hidden in the natural creases of your face and ears or by your hair and they will fade in time and should be scarcely visible.

Healing is Slow - But Results Are Great

Many people feel depressed for a while after plastic surgery, especially in the early days when their faces are bruised and swollen. This is quite normal and will pass. Healing is slow and gradual and sometimes the final results of the surgery aren't apparent for many months or more. The aging process will continue; no surgery can stop that. But remember why you chose to have the surgery. If you've met your goals, then your surgery is a success.