Facelift Surgery - Costs, Risks & Recovery

Reviewed by Scott R. Miller, MD, FACS

When investigating facelift surgery and its cost, keep in mind the old saying, "You get what you pay for!" Facelift surgery requires advanced surgical skill to be performed well. Surgeons with the most expertise cost more, but for this kind of complex, highly visible cosmetic surgery, it's advisable to use a very experienced surgeon.

Facelift cost comprises three fees: the anesthesia fee, the facility fee, and the surgeon's fee. The surgeon's fee is the majority of the cost, and the most difficult to predict without first knowing the extent of the procedure and the qualifications of the plastic surgeon.

The average cost of facelift cosmetic surgery ranges from $6,000 to $15,000. The cost for anesthesia ranges from $1,000 to $1,300. The facility fee (or hospital fee) ranges from $500 to $2,000. The remaining cost is the surgeon's fee.

Extent of Procedure Affects Facelift Cost

Cost also varies with the extent of the procedure. If the skin is dry and stiff from a lifetime of excessive sun exposure, the facelift procedure is more difficult and time consuming than for more elastic skin. Each facelift is unique, so it is impossible to simply answer the question, "How much will the facelift cost?" Cost can be more accurately predicted after the surgeon has performed an examination and developed a surgical plan.

Many patients elect to have other procedures performed at the same time as a facelift, such as eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty), forehead lift (brow lift), nose surgery (rhinoplasty), chin surgery, facial implants and skin treatments. Some patients spend more than $25,000 for a facelift, when combined with additional plastic surgery procedures and other treatments. If all the procedures are performed at the same time, the fees will be lower than if they were performed individually: the combined procedures incur only one facility fee and only one anesthesia fee, and require less total surgical time. It's important to keep in mind that facelift recovery time will be longer if multiple procedures are performed.

Risks

Facelifts, like all surgeries, do confer certain risks. Facelift risks vary based on the type of facelift you choose, your surgeon's skill set, your overall health and how well you adhere to your pre- and postoperative instructions.

Many surgeons require pre-screening tests to make sure you are a good candidate for facelift surgery. Certain underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, bleeding disorders, high blood pressure, heart or lung disease and/or depression may increase your risk of facelift complications.

Lifestyle factors, too, may increase your risk for certain facelift complications. For example, smoking can impede the healing process, resulting in unfavorable scarring, poor wound healing and/or skin necrosis (skin death). Drinking alcohol can also increase your risk of bleeding. Make sure you are upfront with your surgeon about your smoking and alcohol use. If you do smoke, more tools are available than ever before to help you quit. Ask your surgeon for advice and see our page on smoking and surgery. The good news is that facelift complications are rare and tend to be minor.

In general, facelift risks may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Poor wound healing or skin death (necrosis) in front of or behind the ears
  • Thick scars
  • Anesthesia complications
  • Facial nerve injury
  • Asymmetry
  • Skin loss
  • Skin contour irregularities
  • Skin discoloration
  • Prolonged swelling
  • Numbness
  • Fat necrosis (death of fatty tissue)
  • Fluid accumulation under the skin (seroma)
  • Pooling of blood beneath the skin (hematoma) that may clot
  • Deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the leg that travels to the lungs)
  • Hair loss at the incision sites
  • Cosmetic dissatisfaction with results
  • Depression or other emotional changes
  • Heart and lung complications
  • The need for minor or major revision surgery
  • Death

Minimize Your Facelift Risks

Some facelift risks can be minimized by closely adhering to your postoperative instructions. For example, walking as soon as you are able after your facelift will improve circulation and reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Taking your antibiotics as directed can help reduce your risk of developing a post-facelift infection. Keeping your suture lines dry and clean can also promote uncomplicated healing.

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Certain over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can increase your risk of bleeding and should be avoided before and after your surgery. Make sure you are clear about what you can and can't take for pain after your facelift.

Knowing what to look out for — and catching potential problems early — can also help minimize the severity of any facelift-related complications. Signs of a post-facelift infection include excessive pain, redness and an elevated temperature. If these symptoms occur, call your surgeon's office immediately.

Risks of Traveling for Surgery

Medical tourism — the trend of combining a medical procedure such as a facelift with a vacation, often in some exotic locale — may help cut plastic surgery costs, but it may also increase your risks. For example, a long return flight increases the risk of developing DVT after your facelift. Additionally, it can be hard to make sense of a foreign doctor's credentials, thus making it harder to confirm that the surgeon has the skills and experience to ensure your safety.

In the United States, plastic surgeons should be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Such certification assures that the surgeon has met rigorous education and training standards and is up-to-date on new technologies.

Choosing a board-certified plastic surgeon with extensive experience performing all the various facelift types and following his or her instructions carefully will help minimize your facelift risks and help ensure a smooth facelift recovery.

How Long Does it Take to Recover?

A facelift is a major surgery that can produce incredible age-defying results. But these results do come at a cost — namely, downtime. Facelift recovery is more involved than recovery from some of the less invasive facial rejuvenation procedures.

Your facelift recovery time will depend on the extent of your facelift. Some minimally invasive facelift techniques may involve shorter recovery periods than those that target the deeper tissues in your face, such as the SMAS lift. If other surgeries are done in conjunction with your facelift, including eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) or nose job (rhinoplasty), your recovery may take longer than if your facelift is done as a standalone cosmetic procedure.

Everyone experiences their facelift recovery differently, but some general principles do apply.

Immediately Following Your Facelift

If general anesthesia is used for your face lift, you may feel groggy and nauseated when you wake up. Your surgeon will most likely apply a large, fluffy dressing on your face after the surgery. This dressing is typically removed within a day and may be replaced with an elastic garment to help reduce or control any swelling. There may be some drains put in place to help get rid of excess fluid and blood. Your surgeon should discuss proper care of drains, dressings and your incision sites with you before and after your facelift. Following these instructions can minimize your risk of facelift complications.

Pain and Swelling After Your Facelift

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Expect some mild to moderate discomfort in the day or two after your facelift surgery. This is usually managed with prescription painkillers. After a few days, approved over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen may be all you require. The need for pain medication varies based on your pain threshold.

There will also be some swelling and bruising, which usually peaks in the first 24 to 48 hours following your facelift surgery. You may appear black and blue immediately after the surgery.

Most bruising fades within two weeks, but you may still have pronounced puffiness. Ask your surgeon if he or she recommends any herbal preparations such as Arnica montana or bromelain to help minimize bruising. Placing cold compresses on your face after your surgery will also help keep swelling and bruising to a minimum. Facial asymmetry is also a possibility during the healing process. This is normal and usually resolves on its own.

Keep Your Head Held High

Avoid excessive turning of your head, and neck flexing, during the first week after your facelift. You should keep your head elevated for about two weeks. This can make sleep challenging. Try sleeping with your head and neck on two pillows, or use a wedge-shaped foam pillow. If you are a restless sleeper, surround yourself with pillows to prevent yourself from rolling over.

Exactly what you can — and can't — do in the days and weeks after your facelift surgery should be discussed with your surgeon before you leave the hospital or surgical center. Follow your surgeon's advice on when you can return to normal and/or strenuous activity.

Do not strain, bend or lift anything immediately after your facelift, as these activities can increase your risk of bleeding. You should be allowed to wash your hair within two days. The use of concealing makeup is usually allowed after one week. Most doctors recommend avoiding strenuous activity for four to six weeks after your facelift.

Smoking and/or exposure to secondhand smoke may increase risk for poor healing, including skin necrosis (skin death), raised, red scars and wound separation. Staying out of the sun can also help assure that your facelift recovery goes smoothly. Sun exposure can lead to prolonged swelling and scar discoloration.

The full cosmetic results of your facelift are usually evident within three weeks. After this time, your new facial contours will be visible and you will feel comfortable going out socially, but it may take several months for the swelling and any numbness to fully resolve. Additionally, your skin may feel dry and rough for a few months after your facelift. It can take up to six months for the incision scars to fully fade. Be patient.

Choosing a qualified, board-certified plastic surgeon to perform your facelift and following his or her instructions on aftercare can minimize your facelift risks and help ensure you have a smooth facelift recovery. Remember, each surgeon performs facelifts a bit differently, and they are the experts on their procedure. Start your search for the right surgeon now.