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Face Lift Report

By James Barber M.D.
Cosmetic Surgery Expert
Updated: September 10, 2008
What are the possible complications of a facelift?

While thousands of facelifts are performed each year with no complications at all, it is a surgery and does come with an inherent risk. None of the possible problems listed here are very likely, but it is important that you understand even the most unlikely outcomes.

Hematoma - A risk with nearly any operation, a hematoma occurs when excessive bleeding causes a collection of blood under the skin. Small hematomas are absorbed by the skin over time, while larger ones may require suction.

Permanent Numbness - Rarely, the patient's sensation in the earlobes and skin directly in front of the ear may not return.

Skin Loss - Occasionally, poor circulation and tension will lead to blistering, redness, and only in the most severe cases, small areas of skin loss. This normally occurs only behind the ears and may require touch-up work to be performed. Smokers are at the greatest risk for this complication.

Sagging - If your skin does not have a normal amount of elasticity, which will be examined during your consultation, it may stretch or sag sooner than you desire. Usually, a follow-up tuck procedure can be performed to fix this.

Nerve Injury - It is very, very rare for either the main, or one of the peripheral facial nerves to be affected during surgery. If this happens it might produce difficulty in moving the forehead or lips. In most cases, these functions are restored in a month or two; however, permanent damage is still a remote possibility. The most common instance of this, though still very rare, is when the sensory nerve that supplies the earlobe is damaged.
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Asymmetry - You should be sure to analyze your face for asymmetry before your procedure. Nearly all of asymmetry people notice after surgery was previously there, but never examined closely enough. It is very rare, although possible, that asymmetries will occur or be enhanced as a result of your facelift.

Chronic Pain - Patients usually experience only a minor discomfort for a few days after surgery, and usually regain full facial sensation in a three to five month period. Very rarely, patients will complain about pain at the site of the incisions accompanied by superficial redness. This source of the pain is unknown, but it generally follows exercise. Most cases of this have subsided within a year and are treated with massage and ice therapy.

Swelling - The parotid gland, located just in front of the ear, it affected during the procedure and may swell or provide some discomfort for a few weeks after surgery. If this occurs the problem will resolve itself without treatment.

Scarring - As with any operation, minimal scarring is to be expected. In the first six to twelve months, the scars will fade from firm and pink to soft and colorless. It is possible that some scars may remain darker with a raised "ropey" appearance. These may take up to two years to fade.

Hair Loss - It is possible that some hair along the incision lines may be lost.

Fluids - In some cases, fluid may collect under the skin and require drainage by a doctor.

Other Injuries - In the rarest cases, it is possible for damage to occur to blood vessels, nerves, or muscles. This is extremely infrequent.

So there it is, everything you ever wanted to know about a facelift, and probably a few things you didn't. Remember that while it is nice to know what to expect, everyone is different and you won't know your personal options until you consult a doctor.
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