A facelift or “rhytidectomy,” can help reduce the visual indications of aging in the face and neck.
People with unsightly wrinkles, jowls, and sagging skin often choose this surgery to help them attain a more youthful and natural appearance.
If you’re thinking about getting a facelift, it’s important to understand not only the surgical technique but the recovery timeline and process involved.
Although the final results of a facelift may take six or more months to become fully apparent, the actual recovery period is substantially shorter.
Recovery periods are difficult to predict, since they are influenced by a variety of factors such as age, one’s general state of health, and the specific treatment done (mini facelift, mid-face lift, lower facelift, etc.).
However, knowing what to anticipate and adhering to your surgeon’s post op care recommendations will make a significant difference in the outcome of your facelift.
After you’ve had facelift surgery, the key to the best results is knowing what to do, and when and how to do it. And, equally important, knowing what not to do.
When you can do what after facelift surgery
|Activity||Days after facelift surgery|
|Apply ice||For 72+ hours after surgery; intermittent, indirect.|
|On pain medication||2-4 days|
|Driving||4-5 days after surgery; some suggest 10 days|
|Bending over||7-10 week after surgery|
|Lifting more than 10lbs||21 days (3 weeks) after surgery|
|Sexual intercourse||21 days (3 weeks) after surgery (more)|
|Swimming||4-6 weeks after surgery|
|Strenuous exercise||6 weeks after surgery|
By knowing what to expect at each step of the way, you’ll have removed much of the anxiety surrounding your recovery, allowing you to more fully relax so that you heal completely and get the very best results possible.
Here is an overview of what you can expect during your recovery, from the time you return home from your surgery to months later when you will be gratified to see your final results visible in the mirror.
[See also: 20 Tips for Better, Faster Facelift Recovery]
The First Week
You should have a friend or family member arranged to be with you during the first 24 hours after your surgery, as you’ll be somewhat fatigued and queasy until your anesthesia has completely worn off.
That off-balance feeling may remain with you a bit longer when you begin taking your pain medication.
In the early days after your surgery, the main thing you’ll be dealing with is pain and swelling. The good news is that both should peak at around the three to four-day mark. You may even feel well enough to begin moving around your house as early as one or two days after your facelift.
Since you will be dealing with some degree of pain and discomfort for the first few days, you probably will be making good use of your prescribed pain medication. Take it on schedule and according to instructions. By keeping any soreness and stiffness in the area of your face in check, you’ll be in a better position to perform some light tasks around the house. You should also be moving around some to promote healthy blood circulation.
Take care to carefully follow any instructions provided by your plastic surgeon regarding incision care. You want to make sure that the area is healing properly without infection setting in. It is normal to experience some itchiness around your stitches, which is a good sign that indicates that your body has begun the healing process.
Don’t worry if you notice more bruising and swelling on one side of your face than the other. This is because each area is a separate surgical site.
On the other hand, if you begin noticing a very distorted bulge on the side of your face or neck, or if you develop a high fever, contact your surgeon’s office right away.
To minimize infection and other risks, make sure you follow all surgical incision care instructions during this period. The following are some of the things you should anticipate in the first week after surgery:
Day 1: You may feel shaky and drowsy after surgery. You should have a friend or relative arranged to transport you home and to look after you on your first night back. The first day is generally when you need pain medication the most to help you manage the pain and discomfort of surgery.
Day 2: A follow-up appointment with your surgeon will be scheduled around this time. Your surgical bandages will be removed or changed, and your wounds and edema will be assessed. If everything seems to be in order, the surgeon will re-dress the area, go over postoperative instructions with you again, and send you on your way.
Day 3: Rest is advised during this time, but you should begin to feel better from your surgery. Bruising and swelling normally peak between days 3 and 4, although both will likely last for many weeks after that. If you’re having trouble sleeping, keep taking your prescription.
Day 4-6: Most patients no longer need prescription pain medication at this point. You should notice a decrease in edema. You should also begin to feel more at ease moving about. If you’re feeling well enough, you may be able to do some light activity.
Days 7-14: Some people have edema and bruising around the affected areas. As a result of the swelling and bruising, certain patients may have numbness, tingling, or tightness, although this is a common side effect of a facelift.
The Second Week
Don’t be surprised if there is still some swelling and bruising on one or both sides of your face and neck. You may also notice some bruising and swelling around the area of your eyes at this stage of your recovery. It’s also not completely unheard of to experience unusual sensations like numbness, tingling, tightness or burning. These usually indicate that the area is still inflamed and nerves are being temporarily affected.
By the fourth day after your facelift, you should have noticed some reduction in swelling and bruising, but the real progress becomes evident during the second and third week after the procedure. Although things should be rapidly improving during Week Two, you still have a ways to go before all of your swelling and bruising is completely gone.
Your plastic surgeon may remove some sutures or stitches at this time. Keep getting plenty of rest during this stage of your recovery and avoid vigorous physical activity, although you still need to get out of bed now and then to promote healthy blood circulation.
Many individuals are feeling more like themselves by the end of the second week after surgery, and are ready to return to work and start performing modest exercises.
Weeks Three to Four
By this time, you’ll be pleased to note dramatic improvement in the appearance of your incisions. They were probably somewhat raised above your skin until now, but they should begin settling down and becoming smoother and more like the surrounding skin.
Most patients feel comfortable venturing out in public by this stage of their recovery. Still, you will likely still notice some degree of swelling in certain areas, which will improve over time.
Sutures may be removed at any time between the end of week one to week three, depending on the procedure and how quickly you recuperate.
You may have some residual edema and stiffness in weeks 3 and 4, but you will begin to look and feel much better. Patients often notice significant changes in their face shape at this point. By this time, you should be able to resume exercising and enjoying activities without many, if any, visible evidence of your surgery. The incision sites will be pinkish-red in color, although this will disappear with time.
One Month and Beyond
Although you can resume a fairly normal routine in about two weeks after your facelift, the time that it will take for every bit of your remaining swelling and bruising to resolve may be as long as one year.
For most observers, they’ll find it difficult to notice anything abnormal about your appearance after about three or four weeks after your facelift.
Keep in mind that if you experience any unusual symptoms that have you concerned, feel free to contact your plastic surgeon any time for their recommendations.
Following Day 30
After one month, you should be able to resume regular activities and enjoy your new appearance. Very slight swelling, bruising, stiffness, and numbness may last up to a year, although they are usually only perceptible to you.
Your Facelift Experience
Keep in mind that the timescales shown above are simply approximate. Everyone’s experience will be different, and you should always follow your cosmetic surgeon’s instructions. People who do their homework, take the required precautions, and follow their surgeon’s post-operative care recommendations typically have the quickest recoveries and the greatest results.