The Howard Lift: A Modern Facelift

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.

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Dr. Paul Howard is board certified in plastic surgery and is one of the top facelift surgeons of the South. Dr. Howard also offers mini face lift, neck lift, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, brow lift, cheek augmentation, ear pinning surgery, and fat grafting to the face. Schedule your facelift consultation with Dr. Howard today 205-871-3361.

Once the effects of gravity are in full effect, it is the rare person who can reverse the facial sagging without a surgical procedure. The timing of that face lift surgery, or mini facelift,  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 facelift 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 facial plastic surgery and its effect on the mouth and peri-oral 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 surgery (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.”

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Count Dracula and the “Vampire Facelift™”

Vampire Stem Cell Face Lift

Count Vlad’s Castle in Romania. Dr. Paul S. Howard visited Romania several years ago to operate on orphaned children born with facial deformities.

Author Anne Rice benefited from the allure of the Vampire in pop culture where there has always been a certain interest in all things Romania.  From Count Vlad “the Impaler,” to the gypsy culture and even gymnast Nadia Comaneci have all fueled interest in the darkest of the former Eastern Bloc Soviet satellite countries.  Our fascination with Romanian people may stem from their unique Eastern European history.  The Romanian is proud of his Dacian ancestry making their culture and language more like that in Rome than their geographic neighbors which are Slavic countries such as Hungary, Serbia, Moldavia, and Bulgaria.

The myth that is Dracula has a basis in fact steeped in the history of Romania and the Dark Ages of Europe.  Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, member of the House of Draculesti, known by the patronymic name Dracula was born in Transylvania in 1431.  The translation of the name Dracula comes from his father Vlad Dracula, meaning “dragon” or “devil.”  Vlad III was known in his adult life as the son of the devil.  It was only after his death in 1476 that he became known as tepes or “the spike,” alluding to his famous battles with the Islamic Turks and his father’s battles with the Boyer Family for the thrown of Wallachia.  Both the Boyers and the Turks were “spiked” or impaled as punishment and as a deterrent.  Thus, Vlad “The Impaler” was born.  It was left to the Irish author, Bram Stoker, to rekindle the Dracula legend as well as embellish it to include the Vampire myth in his 1899 gothic horror novel, Dracula.

The recent fascination with the Vampire myth was stoked by any number of books including those by Ann Rice and the TV series Vampire Chronicles.  It comes as no surprise that medical marketing would jump into the Vampire craze even though the institution of Vampire tales is beginning to wear thin even in pop culture.  We now have a non-surgeon entering the pop-culture marketplace with the so called “Vampire Facelift.”  The connection with vampires is interesting in that vampires are a Gothic myth with no factual basis much like the vampire Facelift™ is more of a New Age myth with no basis in fact.  The connection to Vampire culture is through the use of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) as an adjunct to the use of temporary foreign fillers (Juvederm™, Restylane™) to effect some sort of facial rejuvenation akin to the well-worn “Liquid Lift™.  Fillers plus PRP equals the Vampire Facelift™.

Platelet Rich Plasma is obtained by drawing blood from the patient’s arm (not the neck as in vampire-lore), and by processing the blood one obtains platelet poor plasma (PPP) and platelet rich plasma.  The most well-known use of PPP is “fibrin glue,” a soft tissue sealant used in many kinds of surgery.  PRP has a bewildering array of uses, but all of the known benefits come from the activation and stimulation of growth factors and cytokines.  These are necessary for cellular activity which benefits blood supply, healing and specifically the “take” of fat grafts mediated through the activation of stem cells.

Recently it has come to light that activated stem cells and PRP have a beneficial effect on aging skin causing increased collagen synthesis, may be helpful to increase elasticity and is believed to improve skin texture as well.

Platelet rich plasma, coming from blood, has many important functions, but none of these functions create volume nor “lift” tissues in any way.  Additionally, PRP is very easy to obtain from blood.  The actual skill involved is drawing the blood which is easily processed to PRP, is easy to activate with calcium and thrombin, and actually is a source of protein when swallowed (vampire’s diet).

Utilization of PRP is a useful adjunct for facial rejuvenation, but in and of itself has not shown to have much of a rejuvenating effect.  The addition of temporary fillers does not improve what is already known about the temporary volumizing effect of hyaluronic acid based fillers.  The two together serve to prove the uselessness of trademark laws as applied to medical science.

Dr. Paul Howard is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

The Stem Cell Facelift – Fact or Fabrication

The Stem Cell Facelift - Fact or Fabrication Gargoyle of St. Severin in Paris, France – Photo taken by Dr. Paul Howard

If one were to internet search “stem cell facelift” or “non-surgical facelift” you get hundreds of search results describing outrageous claims of facial rejuvenation that exceed the results of “surgical facelifting.”  There will always be people following the holy grail of “non-surgical” procedures of all types.  These same people probably believe in gremlins, gargoyles, and the tooth fairy, all myths that get some play over the internet.  All good myths (and lies) seem credible because they were based initially on facts.  For instance, let’s look at the so-called “liquid lift” touted as some version of the “non-surgical facelift.”  Plastic surgeons have known and is replete in our literature that one aspect of facial aging is due to a loss of soft tissue (mainly fat) volume, no one who studies the aging process believes that simply addressing facial volume issues will in effect result in “lifting” of facial structures, i.e. the “liquid facelift.”  The proposition will always find an audience with those individuals who, for varied reasons, are frightened of surgery.  The proposition of volume lifting gets momentum as its practitioners recommend using one of today’s off the shelf fillers at $200-300 per milliliter.  It could take 30cc of filler to achieve the fullness necessary to claim the face is lifted.  This is a perfect example of utilizing a true discovery to develop a non-surgical marketing slogan such as the “liquid lift.”  If such a procedure actually worked, we could all take our marbles and go home as the answer to facial rejuvenation would be upon us.  As much as this would benefit the non-surgeon, it happens to be untrue, but still worth a try if you cannot do a proper facelift or obtain autologous fat as a facial filler rather than having a basically painless and simple surgical facelift.

The Stem Cell Face Lift is another of these stylized marketing slogans based on actual scientific discovery (stem cell biology) adulterated as some sort of magic bullet that “lifts” faces.  I think that the gargoyles protecting Notre Dame in Paris makes more sense than a stem cell “lifting” anything.  This is not to say stem cells don’t exist or that their discovery isn’t useful when applied to the biology fat grafting and actual facial skin rejuvenation.  An understanding of stem cell biology and how to isolate them from adipose tissue will probably become routine for all Plastic Surgeon’s in the near future.  Hopefully, as more and more is published on the subject of stem cells there will be fewer practitioners with a financial incentive to propagate the fantasy which is the “stem cell facelift.”  The final straw may be the fact that many of the non-surgeons are parlaying some knowledge of stem cell biology into a $20,000 procedure!

In the final analysis common sense dictates that stem cells are real and are a really important adjunct to my facial rejuvenation procedures, but by themselves cannot “lift” anything, particularly an aged face.