What is face-lift?

Jump To

Face-lift surgery: Overview

A face-lift is surgery to firm and tighten the skin of the face and neck. It can make you look younger. It may remove many wrinkles, but it does not change the texture of your skin.

You will get medicine before surgery to make you sleep or feel relaxed. The doctor will make a cut along your jawline or in the temple area, near your ear. This cut is called an incision. The doctor will then tighten the skin and the tissue under it. Any excess skin will be removed. The doctor may make another incision under your chin to reposition the skin on your neck.

Sometimes more or fewer incisions are needed. How many you need will depend on your age, the number of wrinkles you have, and other factors. The incisions will be closed and will leave thin scars that will fade with time.

The surgery takes about 3 to 5 hours. After surgery, you may have a drain near the incisions to remove excess fluid. The drain will be taken out in 1 or 2 days. You will probably be able to go home 1 to 2 hours after surgery. But you may have to stay overnight in the hospital or surgery center.

How can you care for yourself after a face-lift?


  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Keep your head raised for several days after surgery. Sleep with your head up by using 2 or 3 pillows.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk.
  • You will probably need to take 1 to 2 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do, how you feel, and whether you want to return to work before you have completely healed.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for about 3 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Follow your doctor's directions about showering. You may be able to shower 1 or 2 days after surgery.
  • Use a baby toothbrush to brush your teeth if you have trouble opening your mouth.
  • Be very careful shaving after a face-lift because you will not be able to feel the blade on your skin. It may help to switch to an electric razor for a few months, until feeling returns to the skin on your face and neck.


  • Eat soft foods for the first few days after surgery. Try soup, juice, pudding, yogurt, applesauce, scrambled eggs, and mashed potatoes.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. Your doctor will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off. Or follow your doctor's instructions for removing the tape.
  • When your doctor tells you that it is okay, you may wash the incisions with warm water and gently dry the area. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • Do not put lotions or ointments on your incisions unless your doctor tells you to do so.

How well does a face-lift work?

Having a face-lift can make your face look younger and healthier. Your face will continue to age, but a face-lift does indeed "take years off" your face. For some people, this may increase self-confidence and reduce anxiety over growing older.

A face-lift can reduce signs of aging to a great extent. But it can't reverse sun damage to the skin or remove all facial wrinkles around the eyes, below the nose, and around the lips. For best results, you may want to have a face-lift and then treat any skin damage.

The effectiveness and safety of your face-lift surgery depends heavily on the skill of your surgeon.

How do you prepare for a face-lift?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can delay recovery. Stop smoking for at least a month before surgery. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What are the risks of a face-lift?

Problems that may be caused by having a face-lift include:

  • Reactions to the anesthesia.
  • Bleeding under the skin.
  • Infection.
  • Damage to the nerves that supply the muscles of the face. This can cause paralysis or spasm in the face, but the effects are usually temporary.
  • Numbness (in areas of your face) that may last 6 months to a year.
  • Hair loss (alopecia).
  • Tissue loss.
  • Scarring.
  • Blood clots in large veins traveling up to the heart and lungs (pulmonary embolism). This is not common.

As with all cosmetic procedures, there is also the risk that the results will not be what you expected. But an experienced plastic surgeon can usually give you a very clear idea of what to expect after surgery.

What can you expect as you recover from a face-lift?

Your face will be bandaged after the surgery. The dressings are usually removed 1 to 2 days later. If a drainage tube has been placed (usually behind the ear), it will also be removed 1 to 2 days after the surgery. If your doctor closed your incisions with staples or removable stitches, they will be taken out in 5 to 10 days.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to relieve pain after the surgery. Expect your face to be swollen and bruised. Your doctor may instruct you to keep your head elevated and still as much as possible.

Most people can return to their normal activities 2 to 3 weeks after a face-lift.

At first your face will feel stiff and will probably look and feel strange to you. This is normal, but it's important to be prepared for it.

Numbness of the skin may last for months after the surgery. Your skin may feel rough and dry for a few months. If you shave, you may have to shave in new places because the skin has been rearranged. Laser hair removal or electrolysis can be used for beard hairs that have shifted to a new position.

After a face-lift: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You are bleeding from the incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

After a face-lift: Overview

A face-lift is surgery to firm and tighten the skin of the face and neck to make you look younger. It may remove many wrinkles, but it does not change the texture of your skin.

If your doctor closed your incisions with removable stitches or staples, they will be taken out in 5 to 10 days. A bandage will cover the incision. You may have gauze wrapped around your head and neck. You also may have an elastic bandage around your chin and the top of your head. The bandage probably will be removed on the day after surgery.

You may have a drain in place to remove excess blood and fluid from your face and neck. If so, follow your doctor's instructions on how to care for the drain and how to write down how much fluid comes out.

Your face likely will be bruised and swollen. The swelling may get worse before it gets better, but it will probably go away in 1 to 2 weeks. After a few days you may get some bruises on your neck and chest. This is caused by gravity, which pulls the excess blood and bruising downward.

You will feel some pain for 2 to 4 days after surgery. You may have some trouble opening your mouth for several days. The skin around the incisions probably will be numb. You may have some itching or shooting pain as the feeling returns. It may take several months for the numbness to go away.

Most people recover in 4 to 6 weeks. But it probably will take 6 months or more to see the final result from the surgery.

Why is a face-lift done?

Face-lifts are done to make an older face look younger by getting rid of wrinkles, lifting sagging muscles, and tightening the skin.

What happens on the day of your face-lift?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 3 to 5 hours.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.