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A facelift is a surgical procedure used to remove wrinkles and sagging of the face caused by age. In 2004, surgeons performed over 157,000 facelifts, a 25 percent increase since 2003, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. During a facelift, the surgeon makes an incision (usually starting at the temple and circling the ear) and then literally lifts skin off the face so that muscles and tissue under the skin can be tightened. Extra skin and some fat may be removed. The remaining skin is then redraped over the face and the incision is sutured. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, and may take several hours. Some patients can go home the same day, but others spend one night in the hospital.
Pain Level/Recovery Time: The face is bandaged after surgery. Dressings and a drainage tube (if used) are removed one to two days later. Stitches are removed within five to 10 days. The procedure usually isn't painful, but your doctor may prescribe a painkiller. Expect swelling and bruising, which can be alleviated by applying ice packs and cold compresses. Patients should keep their head elevated as much as possible. Most people can return to their usual routines two to three weeks after surgery. Numbness of the skin may last for weeks or months. Skin may feel rough and dry for a few months.
$5,968 (national average for surgeon's fees)** Average surgeon's fee for a facelift may vary by region:
For New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT) and Middle Atlantic (NJ, NY, PA): $6,564 For East North Central (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI) and West North Central (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD): $5,490 For South Atlantic (DE, DC, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV): $5,669 For East South Central (AL, KY, MS, TN) and West South Central: (AR, LA, OK, TX): $5,729 For Mountain (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY) and Pacific (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA): $6,326
**Note: These averages for surgeon's fees are provided by the American Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Inc. These figures do not include fees for the facility, anesthesia, medical tests, prescriptions, or other miscellaneous costs related to surgery. In addition, insurance companies do not cover the cost of a facelift.
A facelift can take years off your face. For some people, the procedure helps "turn back the clock" and relieves some anxiety about growing old. But the results aren't permanent. Wrinkles may return and skin may sag again after a few years.
Like all surgical procedures, a facelift includes some risks. These include: Hair loss (alopecia); bleeding under the skin; damage to nerves that supply muscles of the face (usually temporary); infection; and reactions to anesthesia. As with all cosmetic procedures, the results may not meet your expectations. Be sure to consult with your doctor beforehand so you can achieve realistic goals and understand the risks.
Joanne, 56, Miami, Florida
"I got a facelift for my 50th birthday," says Joanne, an administrator for Aetna. "I have a young child and I didn't want to look like a grandma yet. I had jowls -- my mother had them -- and I couldn't wait to get rid of them." She also decided to have eyelid surgery and a chin implant at the same time. "The doctor said the chin implant would make the jowls go away more," she says.
The surgery was performed under general anesthesia in the surgeon's private operating room. It lasted six to eight hours. "There was no pain," Joanne recalls. "They wrap you up like a mummy. You look like someone beat you up for about a week because you're black and blue." Ice helped the swelling go down. "Within two weeks, I felt like I could go out and look fine," Joanne says. She did experience numbness on the sides of her cheeks for a few months, but that has gone away. She paid $8,500 for the facelift, chin implant, and eyelid lift combined. (A facelift alone costs about $5,700 for the surgical fee.)
Joanne has been very happy with the results. "It makes a world of difference," she says. Six years later, however, gravity has taken its toll and some of the sagging has returned. Joanne plans to revisit her doctor for a "mini lift" this summer. "You really have to be careful who you choose as a plastic surgeon," she cautions. "A good surgeon won't give you that stretched, surprise look. You need to ask around. You only have one face, so you can't cut corners with the money. Don't look for a bargain. I think word of mouth is your best bet."
To Learn More: Visit the Public Site section of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery's Web site. Or call their toll-free referral line at 1-888-ASAPS-11.
Check out the Learn section of BeautySurg.com, the "cosmetic surgery supersite."
For physician referrals, call the American Society of Plastic Surgeons referral service at 1-888-4PLASTIC or visit them online. Click on "Learn About Procedures" to find out more.