After a face-lift - What to expect during recovery

After a face-lift - What to expect during recovery

After facelift surgery

Once incisions have all been sealed they will be covered with surgical bandages and gauze. These may be bulky so as to provide gentle pressure on the wounds. This will help to alleviate bruising and swelling.

Drains (small tubes) may also be placed behind one or both ears (just under the skin) to help remove any excess fluids or blood during the initial days of recovery.

What will the first few days be like after a facelift?

Close-up portrait of a woman with a bandaged head and face.Initially, facial skin may feel a little stiff and numb. If unprepared, this can be a little shocking to experience. It is, however, quite normal and not usually a cause for alarm. In the weeks and months following surgery, strange facial sensations, like numbness, can persist. It is best to be well prepared to expect this before having the surgery done.

The texture of skin may also become a little dry and rough in the months following surgery. This is also normal. Men sometimes experience a shift in the placement of growing beard hairs which have been rearranged in the face-lift process. This may mean that shaving habits will need to be adjusted a little. If desired, men can make use of laser hair removal techniques or electrolysis instead of shaving hair growth in the new position.

A summarised overview of post-op care involves the following:

  • Home care: Pain medication and antibiotics will need to be taken as recommended by the surgeon for a prescribed period. The head will need to be rested at an elevated angle to assist with swelling and bruising. This will also provide more resting comfort. A person must refrain from excessive facial pressure or motion and try to avoid wearing clothing that needs to be placed over the head.
  • The first post-op consultation: A surgeon is likely to request a consultation a day or two after the procedure. Drainage tubes and bandages may be removed and antibiotic ointments applied to the incisions. New bandage dressings will be placed over the incisions. A surgeon will also provide an elasticised facial sling which can be worn over the bandages within the next 2 or 3 days. Bandages and dressings must be kept dry through the recovery period. A surgeon can also advise when normal daily activities and hygiene habits, such as hair washing or bathing can be resumed.
  • One week later (5 to 10 days): A surgeon will request the next follow-up a week later to remove stitches (if not dissolvable) and assess the healing progress. Incisions will also be checked for potential ingrown hairs. If there are any, a surgeon will remove them so as to prevent any inflammation or infection in the wounds. Bruising and swelling is likely to be at its worst 2 days post-op. The prescribed pain medication and elevation of the head will help to alleviate discomfort considerably.
  • The remainder of the recovery period (up to 6 weeks): As incisions begin to heal, crusts may form. Gentle hair washing with shampoo can help to gradually remove these crusts without causing any damage to the skin or worsening scarring. After about 1 week, ladies may be allowed to apply make-up to the face as a way to conceal and facial redness or bruising, but only to the edges of the healing incisions (scars). A surgeon will request that sun exposure be limited or avoided until scars are (at least) no longer pink in colour (as this is when they are at their most sensitive to sunlight). Smoking will also be prohibited for between 2 and 4 weeks post-op, and alcohol intake restricted too. Normal activities can usually be resumed within 2 to 3 weeks following surgery. Vigorous physical activity can be resumed 4 weeks following surgery. Scarring can take up to a year to start visibly fading.

Coping with pain and swelling after a facelift

  • Medication: Whether prescribed by a surgeon or recommended over-the-counter, it is advisable to take all medications according to the directions provided. This will help to ease both the discomfort or pain, as well as swelling. The initial few days is when the taking of medication is most important. Often, swelling and pain begins to ease by day 4, gradually improving thereafter until a full recovery is made.
  • Understand the recovery process: Following surgery, a person is going to look worse at first before looking better. A face-lift is an invasive procedure. Signs of surgery can be alarming at first. It is wise to prepare for this. Facial skin may appear ‘bunched up’ at the front of the ears, eyes are likely to be very swollen (even if no surgical procedure was done to this area of the face), and the bruising will be apparent on the face, neck or décolletage areas of the upper body. Pain in the ears may also be experienced.
  • Use cold packs: Swelling can be alleviated quite effectively with the use of cloth-wrapped cold packs or compresses. These can be placed on swollen areas for 30 seconds at a time and re-applied in about 15 minutes, and then again in an hour or so. Ice or ice-cold compresses should never be placed directly on the skin. Such cold can slow down blood flow, and thus affect the healing process.

Skin care tips following a face lift

The general rule of thumb when it comes to all cosmetic corrective procedures is to take the very best care of the skin as possible. There are no absolute rules, except that the best possible care being taken will encourage quicker healing during recovery, and ensure lasting results.

Many specialists will have certain preferences, however, and may offer appropriate skincare advice both before a procedure and as an ongoing routine thereafter. There may be bad habits to break or things to be tweaked in a skincare routine that can help to improve the skin’s appearance overall.

Some things to take into consideration include:

  • Topical creams and lotions: Whether prescribed or recommended over-the-counter, cortisone based creams do not effectively promote healing. Creams, serums or moisturising lotions that contain retinoids can exacerbate inflammation post-op too. They also have a strengthening effect on the skin. Many surgeons will recommend discontinuing use of these creams at least a week or two before surgery, as well as shortly afterward. When appropriate, a surgeon may advise resuming use as part of a skincare routine.
  • Exfoliants: A surgeon may advise against the use of exfoliants (especially scrubs) a week before surgery. It’s not always essential, but in some cases, it can be helpful to avoid any skin irritation (microscopic tears which can slow down the healing process). Once the facial skin has healed and has returned to its normal texture and colour, it is safe to make use of exfoliants as part of a skincare regime (they can assist in the healing process, enhancing desired results). A surgeon will be able to guide one on the appropriate use (or disuse) of exfoliants at the best time before and after surgery.
  • Cleansing and moisturising products: Skin post-op will be incredibly sensitive and is prone to healing with a degree of discolouration if not handled with utmost care. A surgeon will be in the best position to provide guidelines that will assist in preventing any pigmentation. In general, the use of mild, hypoallergenic products (non-soap cleansers and fragrance-free creams or moisturisers) are best. Mild astringent pads may be easiest to use for cleansing (without applying too much pressure), especially on sore areas of the face during the first few days. A surgeon will advise that the face must not be submerged in water until the incision wounds are closed up, and healing well. Instead, cleaning can be done by using cleansing pads or a clean, damp cloth to gently remove dirt, dried blood or fluid from the face. It’s important to cleanse properly and with utmost care, even though the skin will be sore and sensitive. Regular cleansing helps the healing process, as well as avoids build-up of dirt or bacteria which can lead to breakouts. Silicone-based serums can also help to heal highly sensitive skin. These usually contain antioxidant and skin-repairing ingredients which will do wonders for helping the skin to heal.
  • Sun exposure: With skin being incredibly sensitive in the days following surgery, sun protection is essential. Direct sunshine should be avoided, especially during the first few days. Thereafter a good sunscreen (at least SPF 30 or 40) that blocks alpha and beta sun rays is best. Sunscreens with a higher SPF can sometimes block the pores of the skin, so one at 30 or 40 usually works best.
  • Hydration: Nothing nourishes the skin quite like a sufficient amount of moisture. Skin is best rejuvenated with a sufficient amount of water (daily intake), not only to nourish, but also to flush out toxins from the body.
  • Allow proper healing: Healing skin is often a little uncomfortable. It can itch and scab. For some, the temptation to pick can get the better of them. It is best to be mindful that the wounds need to heal. Picking at peeling skin or scabs will cause further damage or markings, which won’t help achieve desired results. Picking also runs the risk of developing infection, as well as scarring. Minimise swelling with cloth-wrapped ice packs or cold compresses, and sleeping (or sitting) at an angle that elevates the head above the heart. Sometimes using pillows on either side of the body can make this position more comfortable. To treat bruising and skin discolouration, arnica can be used, topically or taken orally. A surgeon may also caution against things which may raise body heat, such as participating in hot yoga, having a soak in a hot bath or tub or sitting in a sauna.

What about using make-up after having a face-lift?

Make-up is best used when the skin has settled a little following surgery. Normally, one week after the procedure is fine, but it is best guided by a surgeon. He or she will assess how well healing is (or isn’t) taking place. If healing is going well through the recovery period and the incision wounds have closed sufficiently, make-up may be used to conceal any discolouration caused by inflammation (redness) and bruising). The epidermis (top layer of skin) will need to be recovering well before a surgeon will be comfortable for make-up to be used.

Tips for using make-up:

  • The best make-up to use will be mineral-based as these are typically gentler on the skin, while still providing adequate coverage.
  • Skin discolouration which is red or purple can be rectified with a green base to help balance out the contrast in colours. This can help to create a more natural-looking skin tone. Foundation can be sealed with a mineral-based powder that is one shade darker usually works best.
  • Clean all make-up off at the end of the day. It is essential to cleanse the skin before going to bed every night. 

How should you sleep after having a face-lift?

The initial days following surgery will likely be highly uncomfortable. Pain and discomfort will be accompanied by swelling, which can make it difficult to sleep comfortably.

Tips for a good night’s rest

  • It’s a good idea to prepare the home for additional post-op comforts. Following a face-lift, it is best to keep the head elevated above the heart, and especially so during sleep. Elevation eases swelling, which in turn will help to alleviate some discomfort. Additional pillows and cushions can help to comfortably keep the head elevated.
  • Resting will also be much easier if one arranges for a close friend or relative to stay during the first week of recovery to assist with basic things around the home, especially during the first few days after surgery.
  • Caffeinated beverages may prove disruptive to sleep, especially when combined with prescribed pain and antibiotic medications. Herbal or caffeine-free beverages are best drunk before bedtime instead, many of which have a soothing effect which can promote better sleep and rest.
  • Try and stay as still as possible during sleep as this will be more comfortable. Odds are that any movement that does occur will cause a person to awaken and shift back into a comfortable position anyway.
  • It is sometimes best to sleep alone, for the first week, when discomfort is at its worst, so as to keep the now very sensitive facial area away from any potential harm.
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