Recovering from facelift surgery? These 20 tips are “just what the doctor ordered.”
And that, of course, is tip number one: If anything your own surgeon has told you specifically contradicts any of the tips here, his or her advice is always what you should follow.
Why? Because while these tips are all sound and proven, they lack at least one thing that prevents them from being a “prescription” for your facelift healing. They lack understanding of who you are, what your surgery was like, and what type of facelift you had (yes, there are several different facelift surgery styles).
So if your surgeon hasn’t provided you with a detailed written list of recovery do’s and don’ts, or if you simply want to ensure you’re doing all you can to recover as fast and as well as possible, these twenty top tips are for you.
[See also: Full Facelift Recovery Timeline]
1. Follow your doctor’s postoperative instructions
Tip number one is to follow your own surgeon’s instructions. And that has to be tip number one because you and your surgeon know better than anyone else what exactly your facelift was like, and what “type” of patient you are or were.
Certain complications could necessitate slight changes in your recovery protocol, whether it’s too ice a bit more frequently for the first 4-8 hours, or if it’s to refrain from certain medications, but, broadly speaking, tips 2-20 should serve you well if you apply them in context to your surgeon’s postoperative instructions for you.
2. Keep your head elevated
After facelift surgery, you’ll want to keep your head elevated throughout the day and the evening, even as you sleep. This allows fluid that would otherwise build up in the lower face to drain out through the lymphatic system, as it should and as it needs to for proper healing and recovery.
- Daytime head elevation: During the day, you’ll want to keep your head up but this doesn’t mean that you can’t sit, nor that you have to stand all day. In fact, sitting is encouraged, and you should not stand all day. What you should do specifically is pay attention to where your head is throughout the day, and you should keep it elevated: No reaching down to grab or pick something up, and no lying down with your head on the same plane as your back and the rest of your body; it should be supported by two pillows, a special cushion for facelift recovery, or an elevated bed such as those found in recovery suits and hospitals.
- Nighttime head elevation: Throughout the night, you’ll want to sleep with your head slightly elevated. “Slightly elevated” is defined as being at an angle or elevation a bit above (higher than) your heart. Healthy blood flow is crucial for recovery and so you don’t want to be sitting upright all day or all night, or have your head elevated so much that it prevents adequate blood flow during sleep (keeping in mind you just experienced a physically traumatic surgery), nor do you want your head to be inadequately elevated, as that would contribute to a buildup of fluids that should be draining.
“Head of bed elevation at all times, ice packs to the face, and pressure off of incisions are advised.”Extended Superficial Musculoaponeurotic System Technique, by Drs. Ira L. Savetsky and James M. Stuzin, MDs.
- You can sit throughout the day, and are encouraged to do so.
- You can rest during the day and evening, and should do so with your head higher than your heart.
- You should not rest all day (i.e., remain lying down) as light activity and physical motion is key to healing and recovery, as well as blood and fluid flow throughout the face, both of which we want during recovery.
- Don’t bend over to pick things up, and don’t try to “avoid bending over” by awkwardly bending only your knees and lowering yourself to the ground, as that causes strain in your face.
3. Get plenty of rest (but don’t rest all day)
You and your body have just gone through a pretty grueling and invasive surgical procedure. Though they are done daily on patients around the world, the procedure is an intense and traumatic experience for the body. You need rest and should ensure you have the time and a comfortable, relaxing space arranged in advance to get that rest.
Rest after a facelift can be done by sitting on a couch, or by lying down in bed or on the couch with your head elevated.
Although rest is an important part of facelift recovery, you shouldn’t rest all day. That is, you shouldn’t remain imobile all day. Your day should consist of resting as well as light activity, which gradually increases in difficulty as you recover. In the early days after your facelift, ease into more and more of your usual routine activities but avoid a) bending over, b) overexerting yourself.
4. Don’t drink alcohol
Consuming alcohol is definitely not advised before and after facelift surgery. Alcohol thins the blood and can increase the possibility of uncontrolled bleeding.
Most patients should have no problem maintaining the alcohol-free stint they began before their surgery (two weeks is advised at a minimum), but if you fear you’ll be unable to abstain from alcohol, let your surgeon know beforehand.
They won’t allow alcohol consumption despite how convincing the arguments might be that a single drink is okay, but it is important for your surgeon to be aware of a patient’s tobacco and alcohol use habits before surgery is ever done.
In short, if you can’t refrain from alcohol consumption for at least four weeks, you should not be getting a facelift.
5. Don’t vape or smoke cigarettes
This tip, if you’re a smoker, is more than a tip. None of the other items on this list would produce as poor results as violating this tip to not smoke after surgery.
Smoking any amount of nicotine in any way during the two weeks before and two weeks after your surgery can contribute to necrosis, or skin death. It also constricts blood vessels, effectively making healing a much longer and more difficult process for your body.
If you want large patches of your skin to turn black, lose their blood supply, and need to be surgically removed, smoking would be the way to accomplish that.
If you want to recover as best you can after a facelift, you can not consume nicotine in any form for, at the very least, two weeks before surgery and two weeks after surgery. Most surgeons require their patients to abstain from smoking or any form of nicotine for four weeks prior to surgery and four weeks afterward.
6. Don’t take blood-thinning supplements or medications
Blood thinning vitamins and supplements include a range of medications and even foods that aren’t specifically intended or designed to thin the blood, yet they do so anyway.
For instance, for the best facelift recovery, you’ll specifically want to avoid each of the following before and after your surgery:
- Ginkgo Biloba
Again, surgeons typically advise patients to avoid taking any of the above for two weeks before and two weeks after surgery.
7. Avoid direct sun exposure
Sun exposure after surgery makes incision scars darker and more prominent.
If allowed too much sun (and almost any direct sun exposure in the first 48 hours after a facelift is too much), your scars will heal raised up above the rest of the face, and the scars will be darker than the surrounding tissue. You’ll want to avoid both of those possibilities.
Avoid direct sun exposure for as long as possible after your facelift. Wear a sunhat and apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher once your incisions are healed and you again plan to make your way outside.
Avoiding direct sun exposure for any length of time is specifically advised after a facelift because the sun will affect the way scars heal. Scars will end up darker than the rest of the surrounding skin, making them unsightly and prominent–something your facial plastic surgeon has worked carefully to avoid. They do so by weaving the incisions carefully in a curved (non-linear) pattern, and setting them behind the hairline and in other parts of the face that conceal the scars as well as possible.
While there is no such thing as a scarless facelift, there is such a thing as overly prominent facelift scars, and sun exposure is the primary factor in creating them. (Using staples rather than sutures to close a facelift incision is another factor, but only barbaric and very poorly trained surgeons would contemplate that.)
If you must go out in the sun after a facelift:
- Make your trip outside as brief as possible. (For instance, park as close to a supermarket’s entrance as possible).
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shields your face from the sun
- Go out when it isn’t as sunny, and even then, follow each of the suggestions above as even on cloudy or overcast days, sunburn is still possible.
8. Keep your face and incisions clean
Very gently clean your face once daily and pat it dry with a clean cloth. This cloth will get spots of blood on it throughout your recovery so it’s best to have a few new clothes devoted to this purpose. You will usually be provided an antibiotic ointment to apply once daily.
9. Maintain a healthy diet
A “healthy diet” after facelift surgery usually consists of soft foods that are high in protein, and foods that are high in fiber. This can include soups, fish, eggs, chicken, potatoes, lentils, and fruits and vegetables. Nuts and berries make a good post-facelift snack on about the second day of recovery.
It isn’t usually necessary to invest in an overly-expensive meal plan during your facelift recovery, but it’s also not ideal to eat microwaved foods or fast foods during this time. The better you can make your diet, the smoother your recovery should be. (Naturally, your diet during this time is one of several factors that determine how fast and how well you recover, but it is a big one.
10. Drink adequate amounts of water
Adequate hydration helps flush anesthesia from the body and contributes to rapid wound healing. Too much water, however, isn’t advised after a surgery. SIx to eight glasses of water is plenty.
11. Prep your resting and recovery space beforehand
For the first 24 hours after your surgery, you’re unlikely to want to move any more than you have to. While a facelift is followed by a shorter and smoother recovery period than, say, a tummy tuck or mommy makeover, it is still quite a process.
To help you make this first 24-36 hour period more bearable, it’s best if you establish beforehand where you’ll be spending most of your time after surgery. The bedroom? The couch? The living room?
Each of these spaces can be nicely set up to accommodate your recovery period. Some of the things you’ll want to consider doing to set up your recovery space are:
- Establishing a place for snacks and water.
- Having two or more pillows nearby to elevate your head.
- Having some form of entertainment nearby; the remote, your phone charger, etc
- A replacement/throw away covering for these pillows and the couch to catch blood stains
Since ambulation (movement) is advised even in the first 24 hours after surgery, your space doesn’t need to be so set up that you never have to leave, but it’s helpful to have at least the above to hand.
12. Have a friend or family member on call for assistance
At a minimum, a friend or family member will be required to drive you home after your facelift surgery. If they can stay and help you beyond that, all the better. You certainly can recover without a friend or family being with you for 24 hours (though some surgeons require it), however it’s nice to know that if you are experiencing something that makes you feel uncomfortable after your surgery (such as dizziness, lightheadedness, or excessive bleeding) that you have someone on call to assist you.
These are rare but they do happen. If you feel you have an emergency after surgery, call 911, not your friend.
|What’s Happening||Who to Call|
|Chest pain, trouble breathing, or other emergency||911|
|Fever, swelling, redness, worsening pain, redness and warmth at incision sites||Your surgeon|
|Questions about your recovery process||Your surgeon|
|Help arranging pillows, picking up medication, in need of general care/comfort, etc.||Friend or family member|
13. Wear only clothing that you don’t need to pull over your head
While recovering from facelift surgery, the best clothing to wear is clothing that doesn’t need to be pulled on and off over your face and head.
Not only will stretching and pulling something over your face possibly affect the incisions and aggravate your still-sore incisions, but it can cause strain elsewhere as well.
Button-up shirts are usually your best option for upper body clothing.
Loosely fitting clothing, like sweatpants and other loungewear, are most comfortable and usually the easiest to remove during this period.
The shoes you chose should also not require tying, as bending down is best avoided while recovering from a facelift.
14. Apply ice indirectly and intermittently to your face
Ice reduces inflammation. It should be applied to your face every hour or two for 10-15 minutes. Ice should not be applied directly onto your face, but should be shielded by a piece of cloth or fabric that prevents the ice from making direct contact with your skin.
15. Don’t spend all day resting; engage in light activity
Although you should have a comfortable and well set up space for lounging and relaxing after facelift surgery, you should not rest all day. Day by day, you’ll want to get in more and more activity. This should begin as a light walk, which should be your absolute minimum movement for the first day of surgery.
From there, your movement should increase each day as you feel comfortable with what you can safely do.
A nice walk outside (avoiding the sun) and walking around in your own home or apartment are important to recovering.
16. Gradually ease into your normal routine
The entire facelift recovery process usually lasts 7-10 days for most patients. Most of this time is also spent doing things other than laying in bed all day. As soon as you feel up to it, you can gradually and safely increase the amount of activities you are doing daily until you’ve eventually returned to your full and normal daily routine.
Some of the milestones on this recovery process are (for most patients):
- Walking: Day after surgery; three walks of 5 mins each at least.
- Driving: Once off pain medication; usually 4-5 days after surgery.
- Running: At least two weeks after facelift surgery.
- Returning to work: 10 – 14 days after surgery.
- Having sex: Approximately 3 weeks after facelift surgery.
17. Shower in cool to lukewarm water; not hot water
Facelift patients can expect to be taking their first shower at least 48 hours after surgery. For this and other showers during the recovery period, it’s best to shower not in hot water, but in cool to lukewarm water.
This guide provides additional information on Showering After Plastic Surgery.
18. Stay…patient as a patient
Recovering from facial plastic surgery can get frustrating in some cases. It’s not entirely unusual for patients to experience a sense of panic after plastic surgery, due to the financial outlay, physical trauma, and emotional aspects of plastic surgery.
Do your best to remain patient as a patient, and know when to call who for what to help you feel more comfortable and at ease.
This guide provides additional information on Panic After Plastic Surgery and How to Remain Calm(er).
19. Don’t overexert yourself
Over exertion after a facelift is defined as anything that causes you more than the slightest amount of discomfort. In the days after a facelift, you should specifically avoid:
- Sudden movements that could strain your face
- Lifting anything up off the ground
- Lifting anything (at any height) that weighs over 10 pounds
- All difficult or strenuous exercise.
20. Call your surgeon’s office if anything unusual arises
It is our sincere hope that the tips provided here help you to make your recovery process as smooth, swift, and bearable as possible.
Should anything arise that you feel is concerning, or not quite how it is supposed to be, feel free to call your plastic surgeon or their office.
As your provider, they want the very best for you and usually won’t hesitate to go out of their way to help you.