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.

The Misunderstood Facelift

Facelift procedures have been a part of the plastic surgery lexicon since the early 1900’s. At that time, there were no board certifications, Teddy Roosevelt was President, the Great World Wars had yet to begin and antisepsis and anesthesia were in their infancy. Against this backdrop of medical history facelifts, eyelid surgery, and rhinoplasty were performed in doctor’s offices and in front of crowds of people for marketing purposes. Howard Crum, MD wrote of his experiences with live surgery demonstrations in front of “thousands” of rapt on-lookers as well as a number of psychologically disturbed voyeurs hoping to see some blood and maybe a mishap or two. Cosmetic surgery was done in hotel lobbies, at conferences, and in ballrooms to standing-room-only crowds punctuated with a police presence. The surgeons performing these dramatic operations were the “rock-star” doctors of the day carrying reputations about reproach. As the market for these surgeries expanded the number of unscrupulous practitioners increased dramatically. The unskilled and poorly trained surgeons were making a mockery of cosmetic surgery and in fact, became dangerous to the point where one such surgeon tried to make a patient taller by breaking her legs and resetting the normal bones. Unfortunately, the patient lost both of her extremities. Reputable surgeons responding to these rogue doctors tried to limit physician marketing seeing these advertisements as a way to circumvent the tried and true patient referral sources which tended to enrich doctors with good results at the expense of those whose results were not as good. Marketing expertise had taken the place of surgical expertise. Plastic surgical training programs began to spring-up across the country after WWI where the horrific injuries associated with “trench” warfare were shipped to England and the USA for reconstruction. The best surgeons were on the front lines of repairing war injuries and as far back as the 1920’s Sir Harold Gillies of England and New Zealand was of the early proponents of the so-called “cosmetic reconstruction.” That is, reconstructive surgery of the face with the ultimate goal being not only a good or reasonable appearance but an attractive face. Dr. Gillies and his famous trainee, Dr. Ralph Millard, wrote a textbook to this effect in 1954 and Dr. Millard continued to be the “poster child” for the relationship between reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. It sounds foolish and ignorant for a surgeon to claim some sort of providence in facial aesthetics yet offers no educational training or pertinent experience as a surgeon to back up their improvable claims of superiority in our field of plastic surgery. In fact, aesthetic considerations are so pervasive in the plastic surgery residency that almost every patient and every challenge, whether cosmetic or reconstructive, is evaluated under the prism of Drs. Gillies and Millard. We aspire to surpass the normal and attempt to achieve the “Ideal Beautiful Normal” (D. Ralph Millard, MD).

Trying to answer the question “who are the best cosmetic surgeons” is impossible because the question applies to each individual surgeon and not entire groups of surgeons. On a group basis, competence can only be determined by training and education, and subsequent board certification and not by marketing skill.

Dr. Howard has been a Top Facelift Plastic Surgeon for over 20 years.  To learn more, please visit his web sites:

Read more about top facelift surgeon Dr. Paul Howard in Birmingham, Alabama.

Read more about Dr. Paul Howard’s popular short incision face lift with no general anesthesia.

The Mid-Facelift by Paul S. Howard, MD, FACS

Facial aging is complicated by genetics, environment, sun damage, smoking, and drinking.  There is not a single procedure that works for everyone, therefore it is important that individualized evaluation leads to an operation which is specific for that person.  The uniqueness of all faces as well as the patient’s desires may lead to a slightly different surgical approach for each individual.  Another way to say this is that the one-size-fits-all facelift has become antiquated.  To facilitate individualized care we prefer to look at each part of the face separately leading to a unique surgical treatment plan.

We divide the face into its component parts; forehead, eyes, midface, and neck with primary emphasis on the midface.  Midface aging is characterized by sagging of the facial soft tissues causing a deepening of the nasolabial folds, dark circles beneath the eyes, and the development of marionette lines from the corner of the mouth to the jaw line.  The jaw line becomes less defined as the sagging facial soft tissues drop below the mandible causing jaw line “bubble.”  In addition to the sagging soft tissues aging always involves a loss of volume and a loss skin elasticity.  It is the surgeon’s charge to address individual manifestations of aging for each component part of the face.  Elevating the soft tissues must be done and requires a specific vector or direction of elevation which may be unique for each face.  This maneuver defines the jaw line, improves the deep nasolabial folds, addresses the marionette lines, and elevates the lower eyelid skin.  This procedure is always required and must be performed accurately with minimal incisions.  Elevation of the cheek tissues is so important that it must be done under direct vision with the results being technique dependent.  The incisions are much less obvious than the old facelift scars.  While elevating the cheek and malar tissues some augmentation of the malar prominence (cheek bones) is achieved.  The need for additional volume can be affected by adding autogolous fat to the procedure.  As a rule of thumb, we rarely, if ever, remove fat from the midface but frequently add fat back to replace the soft tissues we lose over time.

The next issue to be addressed is the blending of the cheek elevation with the lower eyelids.  These procedures are typically done together; that is lower blepharoplasty and midface lift.  The elegance and effectiveness of the midface lift sets up the rejuvenation of the remaining parts of the face.

Dr. Paul Howard

Read more about Dr. Paul Howard’s minimal incision face lift with no general anesthesia.