Self-esteem, or more importantly, the lack of self-esteem is an expected occurrence in a society that pays a high premium on the physical attributes of the body and face. The premium that is placed on good looks is not debatable, it has been a well -documented fact for almost a century. The proof is found in the amount of money that is spent every year on cosmetics, weight loss schemes, hair care products, scar and wrinkle creams and the myriad of other commodities used to maintain an attractive, healthy body and a youthful face and neck.
The premium society exacts on us can affordably be paid with a healthy exercise program, a reasonable diet, a good skincare program including a sunblock, staying away from nicotine and in some cases, appropriately timed and well thought out plastic surgery.
The science behind the latest lotions and potions to attack facial wrinkles is a multi-billion-dollar industry. These products, all of which work if actually used on the face and not allowed to languish on the bathroom counter. They are a good investment realizing the limitations of what can be achieved in an aging face only using products applied to the skin. Improved texture-yes, fewer discolorations-yes, fewer fine wrinkles-yes, improved coloring-somewhat, improved stretch marks- not likely and tighter, lifted face and neck skin-never.
Once the effects of gravity are in full effect, it is the rare person who can reverse the sagging without a surgical procedure. The timing of that procedure will determine how much surgery is necessary; the earlier in the aging process, the less surgery.
As a general rule, when the lower eyelid dark crescents reveal themselves, the nasolabial folds deepen, marionette lines form between the corner of the mouth and the chin-jaw area and the once tight jawline is interrupted by “bubbles” of fat that represent cheek fat and skin sliding down toward the neck, then anti-gravity, lifting surgical procedures are necessary.
Facelifts, especially among baby boomers, have long been thought to be prohibitively expensive and thus available only to the few. Thus, plastic surgery is summarily dismissed as family and personal issues take precedence. Self-sacrifice becomes a way of life and self-esteem suffers, becoming very difficult to retrieve even with a successful diet and a perfect skincare regiment. The entire mass of skin and fat tissue from the lower lids to the jawline must be lifted, separately, which is the basis of the mid-face portion of the modern facelift.
What is a modern facelift? Modern is a deceptively simple word with many meanings. A modern facelift is new, fresh and up-to-date as well as novel and innovative. To create a modern facelift sounds complicated but is deceptively simple for the plastic surgeon with an open mind and open ears. Two of my mentors, Dr. John Kirklin and Dr. Ralph Millard, coming from different backgrounds and directions (cardiac surgery and plastic surgery), both taught that if you listen carefully, the patient will tell you what’s wrong and what they want from you as a doctor.
The modern facelift evolved from listening to patients with a completely open mind and blessed with a full toolbox of plastic surgery principles from which to choose and a creative disposition finding no limits to what is possible.
A background in chemistry and anatomy has helped base the modern facelift securely in the realm of medical science; just as Dr. Kirklin would have demanded and Dr. Millard has written in Principalization of Plastic Surgery.
The first patient requests for something new in facelift surgery was the most challenging and time consuming but had not been addressed in the plastic surgery literature in recent history. Not a single person wanted to undergo general anesthesia to have a facelift, regardless of who administered the anesthesia. Was it perceived danger, expense or the fact that general anesthesia requires a large volume of strong drugs that make people sick? From the patient’s viewpoint, it was all the above. From the plastic surgeon’s viewpoint, it is the wild fluctuations in blood pressure these strong drugs cause as well as bruising, swelling, hematomas and a longer recovery that occur with all general anesthetic protocols.
My unique use of three different and pharmacologically distinct local anesthetics was devised and in use today. The combination of local anesthetics burn less when injected, work quicker to make the face and neck numb and last longer reducing postoperative pain- all desirable traits. Each of the local anesthetics is augmented by epinephrine which helps to keep blood loss to a minimum.
Oral sedation was chosen for the smoothness of onset, the slower metabolism of the drugs and the minimal effect on blood pressure greatly reducing the risk of hematoma. The oral sedation can be adjusted as necessary during the procedure per the tolerances of the individual patient and the amount of sedation desired.
Patients requested for the modern operation to offer an equivalent result to other facelifts done under general anesthesia with incisions as short as possible. Initially, the short incisions sounded like a deal breaker but upon further consideration there are certain maneuvers concerned with the order and type of suturing that can shorten the incisions behind the ear. It was discovered that certain incisions in front of the ear served no purpose in making the results better and were dropped. While not exactly a “short scar” facelift, the modern facelift is definitely a “shorter scar” version of our previous facelifts.
All patients requested less swelling with less downtime and a quicker return to work and normal activities. Everyone wants this and all plastic surgeons try to accommodate this request with very little success unless they adulterate or simplify the facelift procedure to be less invasive compromising the result. We realized almost immediately that the swelling was much less about the operation as performed but was mostly a product of general anesthesia, regardless of the agents used to put the patient asleep or anesthesia provider-nurse or doctor. Changing from general to local anesthesia reduced our postoperative swelling, all other factors being equal, by at least 75%.
Even with improvements in swelling and down time with local anesthesia, more was needed as this was one of the more important requests. It was almost as important as cost. It was clear that the more so-called dead space that existed during the dissection of the face, the more hematomas, both large and small, and resultant swelling and bruising occurred. After the multi-vector, tightening of the SMAS, we began to use what is called progressive- tension- suturing which allows for maximal skin tightening with minimal dead space, minimal bruising and minimal tension on the skin closure helping reduce unwanted scarring and downtime.
This suturing technique may sound too good to be true but it is well known, but not for facelift surgery. The technique also allowed us to decrease the size of drains and the length of time they are necessary. Our drains are hand-made from 21-gauge butterfly needles and are removed in less than twenty-four hours as the dead space to be drained is minimal. These “micro-drains” require only hemovac tubes as the suction and drainage receptacle usually draining no more than a teaspoon of blood per side.
It is common for patients to inquire about the facelift and its effect on the mouth and perioral area. The answer is that the facelift, by itself, does not help rejuvenate the mouth. This was about the time fat grafting and Dr. Sidney Coleman burst on the plastic surgery scene. Using his new fat processing techniques, we were able to use a person’s own abdominal fat (or any fat for that matter) and inject the fat into the wrinkles and areas around the lips to rejuvenate, thinner, aging lips –permanently.
Although not a specific patient request, adding contour to the effacement (flattening) caused by tightening and elevation of the cheeks was a constant struggle. Fat injections in the cheek area answered a lot of plastic surgeon’s prayers. We now could offer rejuvenation in a permanent fashion to the cheeks, lips, peri-oral area, nasolabial folds and marionette lines with fat injections. Unlike many other modalities, fat injections can be revised easily and are considered permanent. Most patients request more fat rather than less.
The lower eyelids and their contribution to the mid-face aging process was all that was left to tackle even though it rarely was a request except by the most discerning of patients. The lowering of the thin eyelid skin from the effects of gravity onto the upper cheek with its intendant dark crescent circles and tear trough deformity could not be left unaddressed. This required lower eyelid blepharoplasty, cheek-lid blending, fat manipulation and sometimes fat grafting in the tear trough. This is most effective when done simultaneously with the modern facelift.
Today, our recommended surgical procedures, when indicated, for facial rejuvenation all fall under the rubric The Modern Facelift:
Short scar facelift incisions with multivector SMAS plication, intraoperative open neck liposuction with jawline refinement, progressive tension suturing, micro-drains, fat injections to the cheeks, peri-oral, nasolabial folds, marionette lines, tear troughs and lower blepharoplasty with fat manipulation, septal closure, cheek-lid blending and temporary lower lid suture tightening. Anesthesia is multi-agent local anesthesia with oral sedation augmented with IM Toradol and clonidine to blunt the systemic effects of epinephrine. The price is under $10,000 all inclusive.
Realizing our increased life expectancy, more people question how long the modern facelift will last. This is what Dr. Millard called a crystal ball question. He had a crystal ball on his desk that he referred to the patients accentuating the complexity of predicting the unknown. He would then explain that the answer depended on you, the patient, more than the surgery performed. He also would explain that aging is a continuous, life long process and any further surgical procedure may depend on the patient’s tolerance for imperfection rather than an identifiable time frame.
When pressed he would usually say five years which seemed to please most people as a reasonable number. I tend to offer three years since my tolerance for imperfection is less than most and we have developed a number of inexpensive “tuck-up” procedures that address the aging issues that tend to re-occur more quickly than other aspects of normal aging regardless of the type and extent of the plastic surgery performed.
All requests by patients for further surgical refinements are encouraged will be considered so that the modern facelift remains “modern.” The last provision of the modern facelift is to continue listening to patients and follow their lead to avoid, at all costs, the “rut of routine.”