The Four Stages of Recovery After a Facelift

A facelift is a restorative procedure that will return you to a more vibrant, youthful appearance. While a facelift counteracts the effects of gravity and time, it is a cosmetic surgical procedure, and as with all surgical procedures, a facelift requires a period of healing and recovery.

What can I expect on the day of my facelift surgery?

Facelift surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Prior to your surgery, you will receive sedatives or general anesthesia, and the procedure usually takes from 2-5 hours. A person undergoing a facelift normally goes home on the same day after surgery. You will be given specific instructions on how to care for the surgical site, medications to take, and when to follow up with your medical provider. In general, there are four stages of recovery after a facelift.

Stage 1 (Post Op Days 1 - 6)

Following facelift surgery, expect to wake up with a large wrapping around your head to minimize swelling and bruising, and small drains may be present for a brief period-of-time to draw off any type of fluid drainage. You will be quite groggy and unsteady, and for the first 24 hours following your surgery, it is important to have a caregiver with you.A caregiver will have to drive you home following your facelift surgery.

The first day following your surgery is the day when you may need the most pain medication. Usually, on the second day following your surgery, you will have a follow up visit with your cosmetic surgeon who will check your incisions and evaluate your swelling. Your surgical dressings will also be changed, and drains removed. While you should take it easy during the first seven days of recovery, in general, you will feel good enough to get up and move around your house in one to two days post-surgery.

Any swelling and/or bruising will peak three to four days following your surgery. It is recommended that you sleep on two pillows for the first two weeks following your surgery to help alleviate swelling. Do not underestimate the importance of keeping your head elevated. As previously mentioned, your medical provider will prescribe pain medication to help manage any discomfort you may feel after your facelift. Taken as prescribed, you can control any pain and soreness you may feel.

Usually by day 4, pain medication is no longer needed, and swelling should start to go down. At this time, it is important to get your body and circulation moving (such as doing light housework), as it will help your recovery process. Additionally, it is important to follow the incision-care instructions given to you by your provider to ensure a successful recovery. Note, it is not uncommon to see more swelling on one side of your face than the other. However, if you develop unusual swelling or a fever, contact your physician immediately.

Stage 2 (Post-Op Days 7-14)

During the second week post-surgery, you will likely still have swelling and bruising around the affected areas. Some patients report strange sensations, such as tingling, numbness, or tightness. These sensations are commons occurrences following a facelift and are not cause for concern. Although swelling and bruising will begin to fade, you can expect it to take another week or two for the bruising and swelling to completely dissipate. By the end of the second week, most people feel like themselves and are ready to return to work, although you should still avoid heavy and/or strenuous physical activity.

Stage 3 (Post-Op Days 15-30)

In weeks 3 and 4 post-operative, the removal of your sutures will take place. The procedure you had, and your healing process, will determine exactly when your sutures are removed. While your sutures were still in, your incision sites may appear bunchy and puckered, but once the sutures are removed, they will begin to smooth out. At weeks 3 and 4, you may still have some residual swelling (this is normal and will dissipate), but for the most part it is at this point patients often begin to see real improvement in their face.

You will look and feel much better three weeks after your facelift. However, you should still avoid strenuous exercise or risk of injury. As your incisions heal, the incision sites may appear slightly pink, but this will fade with time. During this time, it is important to stay out of direct sunlight and wear sunscreen to protect your skin. Apply makeup to hide the incisions or simply let your hair cover them.

Stage 4 (Day 30 & Beyond Post-Op)

After one-month post-operative, it will be hard for anyone to tell you have had any cosmetic surgery and you should be back to normal activities with your new look. Note, it can take up to one year for very minor swelling, tightness, and numbness to subside, but those will only noticeable to you. Remember, the final outcome of your facelift will become evident over the next 12 months. Typically, it takes this amount of time for your facelift to fully heal and for you to see the subtle shifts as your facelift rejuvenates your appearance. Bear in mind, people who do their research, take the necessary precautions, and follow their medical provider's instructions have the easiest outcomes and best results. Additionally, keep in mind, the above timeframes are general timeframes, everyone will have a unique-to-them experience.

Tips for a Speedy Facelift Recovery

  • Follow all care instructions provided by your surgeon and attend all post-op appointments.
  • Wear any wraps/bandages or compression garments provided by your surgeon.
  • A cold compress can be used to counteract swelling in the first week. Stay away from warm/hot compresses until cleared by your surgeon.
  • Do not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (like ibuprofen or aspirin) until cleared by your surgeon.
  • Sleep with your head elevated.
  • Use Arnica pills and anti-bruising cream if cleared by your surgeon.
  • Get lots of sleep and rest. You've just had major surgery; allow your body a chance to recover.
  • Plan not to work at all, even from home, for two weeks.
  • Eat light and healthy foods that are easy to chew.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Refrain from scratching your face (even if it itches). Most itches can be treated with oral antihistamines like Benadryl or Allegra.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise until you are fully healed.
  • Use scar creams on incisions once cleared by your surgeon.
  • Protect the surgical area and incisions with sunscreen. Reapply every few hours if outdoors.

While a facelift does not change your fundamental appearance or stop the aging process, it will give you a refreshed, more youthful appearance. The effects of a facelift generally last for five to ten years. You will continue to age after your facelift, but you will still look five to ten years younger than you would have if you never had the facelift.

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Dr. Pradeep Sinha is a plastic surgeon in Atlanta that specializes in rhinoplasty, facelift, necklift, and facial rejuvenation.

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