Facelift Surgery: Choosing the Right Procedure for You

By: Dr. J. Timothy Katzen


Understanding the Facelift (Rhytidectomy) Procedure

A facelift, medically known as a rhytidectomy, is a type of cosmetic surgery procedure used to give a more youthful facial appearance. A facelift involves the removal of excess facial skin, with or without the tightening of underlying tissues, and the redraping of the skin on the patient's face and neck. Facelifts are effective in counteracting the signs of aging on the face, such as sagging, deep creases, and folds, and can also reduce the appearance of loose skin or "jowls" on the neck.

There are various types of facelift procedures, each targeting different areas of the face and varying in invasiveness. A plastic surgeon's specific technique depends on the patient's facial structure, the extent of the correction desired, and the surgeon's methods and preferences.

Let's explore the steps involved in a facelift.

  • Anesthesia and Incision: The process begins with anaesthesia, followed by strategic incisions.
  • Incision: The first step involves making precise incisions. The location and length of these incisions depend on the specific procedure and the area being treated. For a facelift, incisions are typically made around the hairline, extending down around the ears.
  • Separating Skin from Underlying Tissues: The surgeon carefully separates the skin from the underlying tissues once the incision is made. This allows the surgeon to access the deeper layers that need adjustment, such as the SMAS layer in a facelift.
  • Adjusting Underlying Structures: This is where the manipulation of deeper tissues occurs. The SMAS layer may be tightened, plicated, or repositioned in a facelift. This step is crucial for achieving long-lasting and natural-looking results. The manipulation is done to correct sagging and reposition the tissues for a youthful contour.
  • Removing Excess Skin: After adjusting the underlying structures, the surgeon assesses the skin for any excess. In cases where the skin has lost its elasticity, simply tightening the underlying structures might leave excess skin, which can be trimmed away.
  • Redraping the Skin: The next step involves carefully redraping the skin over the newly adjusted structures without any undue tension. This is crucial for minimizing scarring and achieving a smooth, natural appearance.
  • Suturing: Once the skin is redraped, the incisions are closed with sutures. The suturing technique is important for minimizing visible scars and ensuring proper healing.
  • Monitoring and Managing Postoperative Swelling and Bruising: After the surgery, managing swelling and bruising is a part of the process. Surgeons may use drains, compression garments, or specific postoperative care protocols to aid in healing and reduce complications.

Types of Facelifts and Their Ideal Candidates

Traditional or Full Facelift:

  • Targets: Comprehensive aging signs in the mid-face, jowls, and neck.
  • Procedure: Involves extensive incisions for significant skin removal and muscle tightening.
  • Results: Dramatic improvement in sagging and deep wrinkles.
  • Recovery: Longer due to the procedure's invasiveness.
  • Best for: Advanced signs of aging.


  • Targets: Mid-region of the face, including cheeks and under the eyes.
  • Procedure: Smaller incisions, often at the temples and inside the mouth.
  • Results: Enhances cheek area, reducing sagging.
  • Recovery: Generally quicker than a traditional facelift.
  • Best for: Sagging or flat cheeks, without significant jowls or neck sagging.

Mini Facelift:

  • Targets: Lower third of the face, focusing on early signs of aging.
  • Procedure: Less extensive with shorter incisions around the ears.
  • Results: Subtle lifting, ideal for early aging signs.
  • Recovery: Faster than a traditional facelift.
  • Best for: Mild aging signs.

Lower Facelift:

  • Targets: Bottom third of the face, focusing on jowls and jawline.
  • Procedure: Focused incisions for the lower face.
  • Results: Improved jawline definition and reduced jowls.
  • Recovery: Generally less than a full facelift.
  • Best for: Aging signs around the mouth, jaw, and neck.

Neck Lift (Submentoplasty):

  • Targets: Neck area.
  • Procedure: Incisions under the chin or behind the ears.
  • Results: Improved neck and jawline contour.
  • Recovery: Usually quicker than a full facelift.
  • Best for: Concerns isolated to the neck area.

Thread Lift:

  • Targets: Mild to moderate sagging in the face, jawline, and neck.
  • Procedure: Minimally invasive, using medical-grade threads to lift and reposition the skin.
  • Results: Subtler lift and contouring, with some collagen stimulation.
  • Recovery: Very minimal, with most returning to normal activities quickly.
  • Best for: Those seeking less invasive options, with mild to moderate aging signs or those who wish to delay more invasive procedures.

Comparison Overview:

  • Invasiveness: Traditional facelifts are the most invasive, followed by specific lifts like mid-facelifts and neck lifts, with thread lifts being the least invasive.
  • Recovery Time: Longer for traditional facelifts, shorter for mini and specific lifts, and minimal for thread lifts.
  • Results: Most dramatic and long-lasting with traditional facelifts, targeted improvements with specific lifts, and subtler, less enduring results with thread lifts.
  • Ideal Candidates: Vary based on aging extent and concerns; traditional facelifts for advanced aging, specific lifts for focused concerns, and thread lifts for mild to moderate aging or as a preventive measure.

Each type of facelift or lift procedure serves different needs and expectations. The best choice depends on individual aging patterns, desired outcomes, and tolerance for downtime and invasiveness. Consultation with a qualified professional is essential to make an informed decision.

Facelift vs. Neck Lift

A facelift, or rhytidectomy, targets the lower two-thirds of the face, addressing sagging skin, deep wrinkles, and volume loss in the cheeks and jowls. It involves incisions around the hairline and ears, repositioning tissues and removing excess skin for a youthful look. A neck lift, or platysmaplasty, focuses on the neck and under the chin, correcting sagging skin, excess fat, and muscle banding. This procedure typically involves incisions around the ears and under the chin to tighten muscles and remove excess skin. While a facelift offers comprehensive facial rejuvenation, a neck lift specifically improves the neck and jawline. Both can be combined for overall enhancement, depending on individual aging patterns and aesthetic goals.

Can a Facelift and a Neck Lift be Done Together

A facelift and neck lift can be done together. These procedures are often combined to achieve dramatic anti-aging outcomes with less overall downtime1. Combining a facelift and neck lift can provide:

  • A more comprehensive rejuvenation of the face and neck.
  • Addressing various concerns such as sagging skin.
  • Jowls.
  • Neck bands.

Some benefits of combining a facelift and neck lift include:

  • More dramatic and balanced results
  • Reduced recovery time compared to having the procedures done separately
  • Longer-lasting results, with some patients experiencing results that last 8-15 years
  • Reduced risks and costs associated with anesthesia and surgery

What's the Ideal Age for a Facelift?

Determining the best age for a facelift is more about individual circumstances than a specific number. While there's no universal "right age" for a facelift, many people consider this surgery between the ages of 35 and 65, with a sweet spot often around 45 to 50 years. Here are some reasons why this age range might be optimal:

  1. Addressing Early Signs of Aging: Facelifts are most effective when they address the initial signs of aging. Starting earlier can preserve youthful facial features, leading to more enduring and satisfying results.
  2. Better Healing Process: Undergoing a facelift earlier in life, such as in your 40s, can mean a smoother and quicker recovery. Younger skin typically has more collagen and elastin, aiding in faster healing and more effectively concealed scars.
  3. Longer-Lasting Results: Facelifts performed in your 30s or 40s may offer longer-lasting results. This could reduce the need for additional procedures in the future.

The decision to undergo a facelift should be based on personal comfort with the signs of aging you're experiencing. It's crucial to consult with an experienced facial plastic surgeon who can advise on the best approach for your specific needs and desired outcomes.

61 year old female. She was not happy with the appearance of her face or neck. She underwent a face lift, neck lift, brow lift, upper and lower blepharoplasty and earlobe reduction.

Recovery from a Facelift: What to Expect

The recovery process from a facelift can vary, but there are common experiences most patients share:

  1. Initial Recovery: Generally, patients move off pain medication within a few days. Social activities can often be resumed after about a week, but vigorous exercise should be avoided for at least three weeks.
  2. Bruising and Swelling: These are common post-surgery symptoms that usually diminish within 2-3 weeks.
  3. Returning to Work: The timeline for returning to work depends on the extent of the facelift. It's usually around two to three weeks for more invasive procedures, while those undergoing less invasive techniques, like a mini-facelift, might return within 5-7 days.
  4. Strenuous Exercise: It's typically recommended to wait at least three weeks before strenuous physical activities.
  5. Full Healing: The complete healing process takes about 6-8 weeks. During this time, it's important to follow all postoperative care instructions from your surgeon.
  6. Final Results: The final look of the facelift will gradually emerge over a year, with subtle improvements becoming visible as healing progresses.

Remember, following your surgeon's advice is key to a smooth recovery and achieving the best possible results from your facelift.

Botox and Fillers vs. Facelift

Choosing between Botox, fillers, noninvasive procedures, and a facelift depends largely on the specific aging concerns you wish to address and the degree of change you're looking for. Botox and fillers are excellent choices for those seeking to address early signs of aging without surgery. They are particularly effective for smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, restoring facial volume, and enhancing contours with minimal downtime. These treatments are ideal for individuals who are just beginning to notice signs of aging and are not yet ready for the commitment of a surgical procedure. Noninvasive procedures like laser treatments and chemical peels also improve skin texture and tone. They can be a good choice for surface-level skin concerns like minor wrinkles, sun damage, or uneven pigmentation.

In contrast, a facelift is more suitable for addressing more significant signs of aging, such as deep wrinkles, sagging skin, and pronounced loss of facial volume. It's a more comprehensive solution for those seeking long-lasting and dramatic results. Ultimately, the choice between these options should be made in consultation with a skilled plastic surgeon or dermatologist who can assess your specific needs and help you understand the potential outcomes of each treatment.

Next Steps

Whether you're considering a facelift, neck lift, thread lift, or non-invasive procedures like Botox and fillers, the key is to choose the treatment that aligns with your individual aging concerns, desired outcomes, and comfort level. If you're noticing early signs of aging and prefer a less invasive approach, treatments like Botox and fillers can be highly effective. However, for more pronounced signs of aging, such as deep wrinkles and significant sagging, a facelift or neck lift may provide the comprehensive rejuvenation you're seeking. Remember that each procedure, whether surgical or non-surgical, have their unique set of pros and cons, and the optimal choice varies from person to person.

Consult with an experienced plastic surgeon. Dr. Timothy Katzen, who offers both in-person and virtual consultations, can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs and goals. With his expertise, you can explore the best options for your facial rejuvenation journey. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Katzen, you can reach out at 310-859-7770 or email [email protected]. Remember, the right procedure for you is one that not only addresses your physical concerns but also aligns with your lifestyle and expectations.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.