What is the recovery like after face and neck lift?

May 28, 2015

Patients are continually moving toward non-invasive procedures with little to no downtime. But while Botox, filler, and laser treatments are great options, they are not a replacement for a face and neck lift. I think that many people overestimate the recovery time and pain after this type of surgery, so today I’m going to talk about what recovery is like. Keep in mind that my experience and postoperative routine (e.g. dressings, drains, activity restrictions) only apply to my patients. Your experience will be different if you see a different surgeon.

I’m going to talk about face lift and neck lift combined because the two procedures are frequently done together. But this post also applies to individuals having just a face lift or just a neck lift. The surgery can take anywhere from 2.5-4 hours, depending on exactly what is being done. It’s done as an outpatient, so you go home the same day. I have admitted patients overnight if they have a history of postoperative nausea and vomiting, or if they don’t have someone to stay with them the night after surgery, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

After surgery, patients go home with a wrap around the head which goes under the chin. There is a drain on each side which exits the skin inside the hairline behind the ear. I have my patients sleep propped up in a recliner for the first week to help with swelling.
Recovery after neck and face lift
These dressings stay in place for 1-2 days until the patient comes to our office for a postoperative visit. I take off all the dressings and remove the drains at this visit. The patient then wears a compressive chinstrap to help with swelling: this is worn 24/7 for the first three days, then just at night for another three days.

What does recovery actually feel like? Most of my patients report minimal discomfort. This is not a particularly painful surgery compared to something like a hernia repair. Patients do  complain of a feeling of fullness in the ears or pain in the ears for the first few days after surgery. This is caused by swelling, and improves fairly quickly. Most of my patients take prescription pain medication for the first couple of days before transitioning to Motrin or Tylenol. Some take this medication longer, and some don’t need anything stronger than Tylenol even the day after surgery.

In terms of what you look like after surgery, it’s pretty consistent with what you may have seen on television. Patients are usually bruised and swollen for the first week. The bruising may take a couple of weeks to completely resolve, and it will drift down onto the neck as it fades. This is caused by the blood settling due to gravity, and is completely normal.

The incisions from face lift and neck lift run just in front of the ear. These incisions may stay pink for several months, but they ultimately fade well, and they can be covered by makeup starting as early as three weeks after surgery. I also have patients wait a minimum of four weeks after surgery to have the hair cut or colored.

I do keep patients on lifting restrictions for four weeks after surgery. It is okay to get light exercise, such as walking, during this recovery period. But any heavier exercise such as running, weightlifting, or sports such as golf or tennis can prolong the recovery period. As you can see from this post, most of the recovery is a social recovery, meaning you feel okay, but you may not want to be seen in public quite yet. Obviously this assumes there are no postoperative complications, which would prolong recovery.  I hope this post was helpful, and I welcome suggestions for future posts!