Facelift Recovery Time – What Should You Expect?

Reviewed by Scott R. Miller, MD, FACS

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.