Face Lift Surgery and Beyond


Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.

June 24 2008

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American cartoonist Tom Wilson, creator of the comic strip character Ziggy, once said, "A smile is a face lift that's in everyone's price range!" But let's face it: sometimes it takes a little more than a smile to lift a face, and that's when people start considering something more substantial, like a surgical face lift.

The word "rhytidectomy", the medical term for face lift surgery, is derived from rhytides, the Greek word for wrinkles. Excessive sun exposure, gravity, smoking, and genetics all contribute to facial aging, which translates into wrinkles on the surface of the face and neck and tissue loss beneath. A rhytidectomy reduces wrinkling, sagging skin, and jowls. Results can range from a dramatically younger-looking you to a refreshed and well-rested you.

It used to be that people waited until at least their mid-fifties or later to have a conventional full face lift, but that's changing. While two-thirds of the face lifts performed in the United States in 2007 were done on patients 55 or older, almost 40,000 were performed on younger patients. The number of face lifts was also up over 2006 by 14% among women and 16% among men, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Face Lift Types
One reason for the rise is that facial rejuvenation options today have expanded. Face lift types are more site specific than they used to be. There's the mini or cheek pad lift (for the mid-face area), S-lift (for the lower third of the face), temporal lift and thread face lift (for the upper third of the face), and several other variations on the same theme. These modified lifts are popular because they slow the natural aging process, delay the need for a more involved procedure, are less invasive, and result in less downtime.

Rod Rohrich, MD, a past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, says there's a new approach to face lifts that was prompted by a better understanding of facial anatomy.

"We have learned that no two faces are the same, so why should we do the same operation on different faces?" the Dallas plastic surgeon says. "The art of facial analysis, or individualizing the faces to the facial aesthetics, is in its embryonic stages. As a plastic surgeon, I love trying to make a patient look the best they can be for what their facial aesthetics are, versus doing the same thing on every patient no matter who they are."

And Dr. Rohrich adds that it's rare that he does just a face lift on a patient. "There's so much more to it," he explains. "I'm doing a skin peel, injecting the lips, adding fat. To restore that youthful appearance to the face, you have to lift and fill."

Aesthetic plastic surgeon Laurie Casas, MD, of Glenview, IL, agrees that the last decade in nonsurgical face lifts has been extremely innovative.

"Up until then, plastic surgeons only had surgical options in our tool box, and they haven't changed that much during my 20 years in practice," she explains. "We didn't have lasers for skin rejuvenation, we didn't know that Retin A is very powerful in controlling the aging process of the skin, we didn't have Botox available to soften the muscles that create lines that make you look older, we didn't have fillers that lasted longer and could actually revolumize, we didn't have stimulators like Sculptra that allow you to create your own collagen, we didn't have fat injections to give you more volume."

All these tools, according to Dr. Casas, mean we have to rethink the aging process. "People used to think, ‘When it's time, I'll have my face lift,'" she continues. "Now, if you really want to look as good as you can at every age, it starts with taking good care of yourself and consulting with a plastic surgeon to help you grow old gracefully."