Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Facelifts: What You Need to Know


Non-surgical Techniques
Non-surgical facelifts, like Thermage, claim to give similar results with less cost and risk.
Non-surgical facelifts, like Thermage, claim to give similar results with less cost and risk.
Photo courtesy Thermage

Some procedures can give results similar to those of facelifts, but without the cost and risks. Learn about these in the next section.

­ New techniques promise to rejuvenate and tighten the skin without surgery. These procedures cost far less than a traditional facelift, and come without many of the risks.

Thermage (or ThermaCool), approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002, uses a radio frequency device to tighten the skin. It is best suited for younger candidates (in their 30s, 40s, or 50s) with slight wrinkles. The patient's skin is numbed with a cream, and then the heat of the radio frequency energy activates the skin's natural collagen, making the skin contract and tighten. The procedure costs around $2,000 and the results can last from six months to two years [ref].

Patients before and after getting Thermage treatment
Patients before and after getting Thermage treatment
Photo courtesy Thermage

ThreadLift, FeatherLift, and similar techniques use a special thread to boost drooping skin. The skin in the target area is first numbed with an anesthetic. Then the doctor inserts a needle and surgical thread (or a non-absorbable suture) into the skin. Just like sewing a piece of fabric together, when the thread is pulled tight, the muscle and tissue tighten with it. The procedure takes only about 30 minutes to perform and leaves no scars. The thread remains in the body. All the patient needs to do is to apply ice after the procedure to prevent swelling. The procedure costs around $400 per thread, and generally between two and eight threads are used [ref].

Botulinum toxin, or Botox, has become increasingly common in facial rejuvenation. Botox is injected under the surface of the skin and paralyzes the underlying muscles. It can be used to remove fine wrinkles, and is often used to enhance the look of other procedures such as skin resurfacing and filler injections. For more information on Botox, see How Botox Works.

Dermal filling agents can also be used to hide scars, remove fine lines, and reduce wrinkles. These materials are injected under the skin and can last for up to several months. In the United States, collagen purified from the tissues of cows is most the common dermal implant used to resurface the face. Other agents include human-derived collagen and synthetic materials. These products may be associated with less allergic reactions than cow tissue and may last just as long. In some cases, the patient's own fat and subcutaneous tissue can be removed during one type of procedure and used to resurface other areas. For example, small amounts of tissue removed during an abdominoplasty ("tummy tuck") can be used to add volume to the lips or fill in sunken areas below the eyes during a facelift procedure.

Lasers are used extensively is many medical procedures -- facelifts are no exception. There are many types and applications of lasers in dermatologic and plastic surgery procedures. Intense pulsed laser treatments, with or without radio frequency energy, is an excellent way to deal with varicose veins, redness, or sun-damaged areas. The results depend partly on the healing response of the patient, and thus can be very individual. Multiple treatments are often needed to achieve the desired results.

For lots more information on facelifts and related topics, check out the links on the next page.