Facelift Recovery: What to Expect After Surgery, Day by Day
While it is vitally important to prepare for your surgery and follow your surgeon’s instructions, many patients are surprised at how easy the facelift recovery process actually is.
If you are planning on having a facelift, you’re probably wondering how long it will take to recover, and what to expect along the way. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict precisely how fast you will heal, as it depends on a number of factors such as your age, the technique used, and the skill of the surgeon.
However, much of the recovery process is in your hands. Your surgeon will provide detailed instructions and guidelines for the postoperative period — but after that it’s up to you.
We spoke to several facial plastic surgeons to learn more about the facelift recovery process. Below is synopsis of what you can expect, including tips from the experts and a facelift recovery timeline.
A Timeline: Facelift Recovery Day by Day
Regardless of the facelift technique employed, most plastic surgeons agree that the healing process remains quite similar; lower face lift recovery isn’t really that different from mid face lift recovery or mini facelift recovery. However, the timeline can vary a bit.
According to Dr. Etai Funk, a board certified facial plastic surgeon in Houston, recovery from a mini facelift takes 7-10 days, a vertical facelift about 14 days, an SMAS facelift around 10-14 days, and a deep plane facelift around two to three weeks.
That being said, here is a rough timeline detailing what you can expect at various stages of the recovery process.
Dr. Funk breaks down the first week of the facelift recovery period as follows:
- Day 1 – For many reasons, the day of surgery is the most important day in terms of recovery. Expect to wake up with a large wrapping around your head, and possibly a drain as well. You will probably feel quite groggy. “The patient needs someone there to help them on the first night so they don’t have to walk around alone, in case they feel dizzy and faint,” says San Francisco-based board certified plastic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan, MD, MPH. It’s also important to note that Day 1 is often the only recovery day during which pain is a real factor, according to Fred G. Fedok, MD FACS, President of The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
- Day 2 – The first surgical wrapping and any drains will be removed, and the surgeon and his or her team will rewrap the area. Also, if you were admitted for overnight observation you will be discharged on Day 2.
- Day 3 – You will need to continue resting but will be able to walk around. You may experience mild to moderate discomfort. Swelling is an important factor in the facelift recovery process, and one of the main effects patients will notice. It is especially pronounced during the first three days, according to Dr. Norman Rowe, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in New York, and will be most noticeable at this point.
- Day 4 – Your surgeon may have you return to the office to remove your surgical wraps and some of the stitches. You will be instructed to wear a compression garment for about 8 to 10 days. Most patients stop using pain medications around this time.
- Day 5 – Swelling will begin to subside a bit and you should be able to move around more easily.
- Day 6 – The remaining removable stitches will be taken out. You will be able to sleep flat at this point. Your neck will still feel tight.
It is normal to continue experiencing swelling and bruising on the face and neck, around the eyes and possibly around the ears during the second week of your facelift recovery. You may feel numbness, tingling, tightness or burning as a result of the swelling and bruising — all of which are normal aftereffects of the procedure. During this period patients should continue to sleep with their head elevated and avoid strenuous activities, according to Michael Rose, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in New Jersey.
Overall you should feel a lot better by the end of the second week. “When the planets are aligned and everything goes as planned, it’s really only the first two weeks that will have people out a lot of their usual social routine,” says Fedok.
Weeks 3 & 4
During the third and fourth week of your facelift recovery, the appearance of your incisions will begin to improve. Some patients will still show visible swelling and feel some tightness. This effect is normal and will continue to improve over time.
According to Rose, by Week 4 patients can usually go to social events and be seen in public without questions, and makeup can be applied without worry. Hair coloring and styling can also be resumed, but you will need to speak to your doctor about exercise.
After Week 4
Though you should be back to your normal everyday routine — and most people will not be able to tell that you have had surgery — after a few weeks, it is important to understand that you may continue to experience residual swelling and changes in skin sensation for up to a year.
Facelift Recovery Tips
The experts we spoke with agree that the following points are crucial to your recovery, and will allow you to achieve optimal results from your facelift surgery.
Choose a Qualified Surgeon
“The biggest piece of advice I can give regarding facelifts is to make sure to seek an experienced face and neck lift surgeon who can provide you with the facelift that will be right for you,” says Funk. “It is essential to be evaluated by a trained professional facial plastic or plastic surgeon who can determine what type of lift is best for your particular case.”
Follow Your Surgeon’s Post-op Instructions
During your preoperative consultation your surgeon will provide you with detailed postoperative instructions. It is very important that you follow them so that your incisions heal properly. Failure to do so can significantly impact your recovery, potentially leading to swelling, discomfort and pain.
Your instructions will likely include the following:
- Follow your surgeon’s instructions regarding the bandages; keep the area around your wounds clean and sterile.
- Avoid eating food that is difficult to chew, because excessive chewing can exacerbate swelling.
- Take any medications prescribed by the surgeon, and avoid any medications or supplements your surgeon has advised you to avoid.
- Avoid strenuous exercise. Vigorous physical activity can increase blood flow to the head, in turn exacerbating swelling.
The Patient Plays an Important Role
In order to achieve the facelift results you desire, you have to be an active participant at every stage. “Patients need to know that the recovery process starts with the pre-surgery process,” says Rose. “Usually if patients maintain a healthy lifestyle and have a realistic expectation, their recovery process will be uneventful. The patient should always keep the lines of communication open with the physician, or the physician’s representative, to ensure that the entire process, from start to finish, goes smoothly.”
The First Few Days Are the Most Challenging
While it is vitally important to prepare for your surgery and follow your surgeon’s instructions for recovery, several of the experts we spoke with said that many patients are surprised at how easy the recovery process is.
“The recovery period isn’t as bad as one would expect,” says Kaplan. “If you have extreme pain, that’s actually the exception and suggests there’s a hematoma (blood under the skin) that would have to be evacuated under local anesthesia or go back to the operating room. Usually, the pain is minimal because the skin is slightly numb. For this reason, we discourage patients from using curling irons during those first 2 weeks because we don’t want them to burn themselves and not realize it because their skin is numb.”
In general, most patients can return to ordinary activities in as little as 2-3 weeks, with no unpleasant side-effects or outward signs of surgery.
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