Best Face Forward: The 4 Stages of Recovery After a Facelift

Recovering from facelift surgery is a relatively fast process compared to some other surgical procedures, but it still requires rest and self-care to produce the fastest and most satisfying results. To better understand the four phases of healing and how to care for your skin after a facelift, let’s start with an overview of the different types of procedures, which may have slightly different recovery times.

What Is a Facelift?

Facelift surgery is a commonly practiced procedure to remove wrinkles and excess skin on the face and neck. It is usually performed by a plastic surgeon, sometimes in combination with other facial procedures.

General anesthesia is typically administered, so patients are asleep during these types of facelift procedures:

  • Traditional facelift
  • Composite facelift
  • Deep plane facelift
  • Mid facelift
  • Minimal access cranial suspension lift (MACS)
  • Mini facelift (short scar facelift)
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Subperiosteal facelift
  • Skin-only facelift

Facelift Recovery Is a Day-by-Day Process

Recovering from one or more facial procedure is a gradual process. Starting from the day of your surgery, there are things you can do to increase your comfort level and speed up the healing process. Healing takes place in four general stages:

Stage One of Facelift Surgery Recovery

Stage one of recovery lasts about one week. Your primary activities this week should be rest, sleep, and following your doctor’s recommendations and prescribed medication schedule.

  • Immediately following the procedure, you may have stitches or staples in your incision. An absorbent pad will cover these, and you may have gauze or an elastic bandage wrapped around your chin, neck, and head. The bandages will usually be removed the day after surgery.
  • There may be a drain tube which allows excess fluids to drain from the incision. Your doctor or nurse will explain how to care for the drain and monitor drainage if appropriate.
  • Patients should expect some pain for 2-4 days following the procedure, which is treated with rest and pain medication.
  • Sleep with your head elevated following the procedure, to reduce swelling and bruising.
  • You might find it difficult to open your mouth and should have a liquid or soft food diet.
  • Some areas of skin may feel numb. As feeling returns to those spots, they may itch or feel a sharp shooting pain. These sensations of nerve healing are normal.
  • There may be some tightness in your neck, making it easier to turn your head from the shoulders during this stage of healing.
  • A mild difficulty with swallowing is common during this phase. You should immediately report any severe pain or difficulty breathing and/or swallowing to your doctor.

Stage Two of Facelift Recovery

Stage two of facelift healing lasts a week or so, up to about three weeks after your surgery. Activities during this time should be rest, gentle exercise, and a gradual return to non-strenuous daily habits.

  • During this phase, your face will likely still be swollen. The swelling will go down gradually over the second week.
  • You may still be experiencing a feeling of tightness, tingling, or numbness, especially around the ear lobes, face, and neck.
  • Visible bruising on the face begins to fade, but darker bruises might appear on the neck and chest, due to the settling of excess blood internally. This is entirely normal.
  • Following your doctor’s recommendations, you can begin showering fully.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise, lifting, or straining.
  • You may want to use a baby toothbrush if it is still difficult to open your mouth wide.
  • You should continue to sleep with your head elevated for the full three weeks following surgery or to the end of this phase.

Stage Three Brings Visible Healing

After about three weeks, the third phase of healing begins. Bruises fade, and you begin to feel normal again. You may return to a non-physical job, but you should still take it easy until you are fully recovered.

  • Most people can return to strenuous activities in about 4-6 weeks.
  • Bruises may turn yellow as they fade; this is a sign of healing.
  • Some tightness and numb areas will remain, sometimes for as long as two months or more, but they will gradually improve.
  • As the swelling goes down, the skin becomes less tight to the touch, resuming a more normal feel.
  • Because of the relaxing of the skin as it heals fully, a few small wrinkles might reappear, giving a more natural final result.

Stage Four Brings Long-Lasting Results

The complete cycle of facelift recovery time is 3-4 months. During this final phase, the effects of anesthesia and surgery are eliminated, and your natural, more youthful appearance becomes fully visible.

  • During these months, some irregularities of the skin may come and go.
  • Small bumps where there were sutures or staples begin to smooth out.
  • Muscles of the face and neck heal fully, relieving the feeling of stiffness.
  • Nerves reconnect or regenerate and numbness fades.
  • The skin of the face and neck becomes more soft and supple.

Taking Care of Yourself During the Healing Process

These helpful tips will help you feel comfortable, clean, and ready to face the day during the healing process:

  • The bandages worn for the first day or so following surgery provide important pressure to the skin. Leave them in place until it is time to remove them.
  • You may usually shower and shampoo after the bandages are removed, but wait until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor how soon you can begin driving again.
  • Keep sutures clean and dry until they disappear—usually in 5-7 days.
  • Staples will be removed during office visits, sometimes gradually.
  • Watch the incision for signs of infection, including growing redness, drainage, skin which is hot to the touch, or a fever of 101 degrees or higher.
  • Cold compresses or ice wrapped in a dry cloth will help reduce swelling and discomfort, especially during the first 24 hours.
  • Keeping your head elevated with two or three pillows during sleep is important to a fast recovery and the final symmetry of your face. Don’t underestimate the importance of this practice.
  • Rest when you feel tired, as fatigue is a sign that the body’s resources are exhausted. Sleep allows the body to recharge and heal at the cellular level.
  • Walking for gradually increasing distances may be the best way to reintroduce exercise to your daily routine.
  • Avoid strenuous, high-impact activities such as bicycling, weight lifting, aerobics, or jogging.

Facial Care After Your Facelift Procedure

You may need to revise some of your facial care habits in the days and weeks after your facelift surgery. Using gentle techniques and the right care products will help you preserve the results during recovery.

  • Shower or bathe with tepid water at first. You might be instructed to use an anti-bacterial shampoo, depending on the location of your incision.
  • Be careful when brushing or combing your hair for at least the first three weeks. Use only a soft brush near your healing areas. Having a friend or loved one brush your hair at first might be helpful.
  • Avoid rubbing, scratching, washing with a cloth, or massaging your face until you have been told it is time to do so. This additional stress on healing tissues can increase scarring.
  • Begin wearing makeup when your doctor says it is okay.
  • For 5-7 days after surgery, avoid wearing contact lenses to prevent putting stress on the skin around the eyes during insertion and removal.
  • Shaving your face should be done with extreme care, especially when areas are still numb. The sensation of pressure is essential to shaving by hand. An electric shaver is a better alternative for the first few months until normal sensation is restored.

The Highest Standard of Care—from Consultation to Complete Healing

When you choose a surgeon for your facelift surgery, you want the highest standard of care and a team that has been recognized for excellence. Texas Center for Breast and Body has been named one of The Best Doctors in America for five straight years.

Our dedication to your patient experience shows every step of the way, as our caring and compassionate team works to enhance your natural attractive appearance and reverse the effects of aging. Contact us today for a consultation to discuss your options.

Schedule a Consultation

Contact us today to schedule your appointment with the renowned plastic surgeon and breast & body specialist Dr. Mark Schusterman. Take your first steps to a more beautiful you.

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