Facelift Risks and Complications

Reviewed by Scott R. Miller, MD, FACS

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.

Learn more about facelift surgery

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.

Start your search for the right local surgeon now.