For the days and weeks immediately after surgery, patients might choose to take some prescription pain medication, and they might experience some numbness of the skin, which could take weeks or months to go away. Also, patients must follow their doctors' post-surgical advice about elevating the head to keep the swelling down and otherwise taking it easy for awhile.
While the stitches are usually removed after about five days, the bruising and puffiness following surgery typically last from two weeks to a month or more, and can take even the most well-braced patient by surprise, according to Brian Kinney, M.D., who teaches at the University of Southern California.
People "expect to be younger and beautiful, and instead they're puffy and bruised. The waiting period for unveiling the final result can be tension-filled, and some people go through a short-term downer for a couple of weeks or months."
The Risks of Facelifts, Realistically
Beyond the expected discomfort associated with a facelift, there are some surgery-related risks involved, too, which the American Society of Plastic Surgeons characterizes as "infrequent and minor."
Risks include post-surgical infection; adverse reactions to anesthesia; hematoma (meaning blood has collected under the skin that may need to be removed by the surgeon); injury to the facial nerves that control muscle movement; and failure of a wound to heal, which is more likely in patients who smoke. For most patients, the healed incisions leave only minor scars, in the form of fine lines behind the hairline.
A facelift is riskier for people with certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, blood clotting problems or the tendency to form obvious scars. And, some people are better candidates than others for a facelift, based largely on the elasticity of their skin and the strength and definition of their bone structure.
From a doctor's perspective, Dr. Richards' biggest fear is that he can't control how even an otherwise healthy individual will heal. To minimize the chance of complications, Richards insists that patients take certain precautionary steps before surgery—not taking aspirin or other drugs or dietary supplements such as vitamin E that may inhibit clotting, for example, and not smoking for a month before surgery.
Richards' best advice on minimizing risks: Choose the surgeon carefully to make sure he or she is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and is skilled and experienced in a specific procedure.
Great Expectations for Facelifts
With recovery completed, it's realistic to expect to appear 10 years younger after a facelift, and for that to translate into increased self-confidence, says Los Angeles plastic surgeon Kinney.