A thigh lift, or thighplasty, reshapes and streamlines the thighs by tightening and removing excess skin and fat, resulting in smoother skin and better-proportioned thighs and lower body contours.
People who seek a thigh lift may have had significant weight loss or they may naturally have heavier legs. They may have tried to tone and improve their leg contours through diet and exercise with minimal success.
Heavy legs or excess sagging skin and fat can make some people feel uncomfortable or emotionally distressed about the appearance of their thighs. This can affect their self-esteem and confidence, and they may avoid physical activity or situations where their legs are exposed, such as at the beach, swimming pool, or gym.
Thigh lift surgery is complex and has one of the highest complication rates among the body contouring procedures. For these reasons, it is important to choose a surgeon who has specialty training and experience in aesthetic plastic surgery.
A good surgeon will listen to your vision for your body and give you a realistic idea of what a thigh lift can achieve.
Dr. Ginger Xu is a board-certified plastic surgeon who has helped many people align their appearance with their own personal goals. Dr. Xu received specialty training in aesthetic plastic surgery at Harvard. She is now based in the San Francisco Bay area.
A thigh lift removes excess skin, fat, and tissue from the outer or inner thighs. Many people who have heavier legs and are uncomfortable with their appearance try diet and exercise, and usually find that:
- Fat deposits in the legs are resistant to their efforts
- The amount of fat in their legs decreases but leaves behind excess sagging skin and soft tissue
Depending on the pre-existing condition of the legs, a thigh lift can:
- Help to resize the legs so they are more in proportion with the rest of the body
- Create firmer and tighter thighs
- Improve the appearance of cellulite
- Decrease the amount of excess sagging skin and tissue
A healthy lifestyle is a good starting point for everyone, including those with heavy legs. Weight loss can decrease the amount of fat in your thighs, and thus reduce the girth and size of your legs – but it will not help with any issues related to excess or sagging leg skin. Surgery is the only way to remove the skin and reshape the thighs.
Some people also have a predisposition for heavier legs and weight loss will not give them the desired decrease in leg size. In these cases, a thigh lift in combination with liposuction may give better results.
A thigh lift can remove excess loose skin and tissue, but it is not a replacement for weight loss. To significantly reduce the size of the legs, either weight loss or liposuction are better options. Once you have tried weight loss and are a healthy weight, you will then be in a better position to understand which procedures can help you achieve your goals.
Not everyone has the body type to have the same results after contouring of the thighs. The results will depend on your personal history, your body type, skin condition and the quantity of loose skin.
Once Dr. Xu has examined your body and understands your personal history, she can advise you of the surgical options and what they can realistically achieve.
People want a thigh lift for a range of reasons:
- Loose and sagging skin on the thighs do not reflect new body proportions or shape desired after weight loss
- Natural aging has left the thighs with loose skin and cellulite
- The thighs are heavy and out of proportion with the rest of the body and it is difficult to find clothes that fit
- People are not happy with the appearance of their thighs and it is affecting their quality of life
People are good candidates for a thigh lift if weight loss and exercise did not improve the appearance of their thighs and they:
- Know they want surgery to change the appearance of their thighs
- Have an idea of what they would like to achieve with the surgery
- Understand what the surgery involves
- Are non-smokers or have not smoked for six weeks or more
There are several possible techniques for a thigh lift. Each technique has the potential to give different results and involves different levels of scarring and risk. Your surgeon can tell you about the best approach for your situation.
During a consultation, Dr. Xu can recommend the best technique for you after she examines your body and has a good understanding of your vision and goals. The benefits and limitations of different thigh lift procedures are described below.
The mini thigh lift removes a small amount of excess tissue for people who have minimal sagging in the upper inner part of the thigh. The mini thigh lift is a modification of the inner thigh lift.
For a mini thigh lift, the surgeon makes a small incision in the groin area and so this method causes minimal scarring.
The inner thigh lift is the most common approach and can address a moderate amount of skin excess or sagging tissues in the inner thighs. The tissues are contoured and tightened to create a smoother and lifted appearance.
There are two types of incisions used in the inner thigh.
The surgeon makes a horizontal incision along the inner groin crease, where the thigh meets the pubic area. This incision may extend as needed toward the front of the hips and toward the crease under the buttocks to capture and pull up all the excess skin. This technique produces a scar that is hidden in the crease of the groin. Because the skin is very thin in this area, there is a risk for wound healing problems and scar widening if the surgeon is too ambitious with this approach.
The incision starts at the groin and extends down along the “inseam” of the inner thigh to enable a more powerful removal of more skin and tissue. This method gives the surgeon better access and more flexibility to shape and tighten the thighs. It may be used in patients with significant skin laxity after massive weight loss. A disadvantage of this method is the potential for visible scars along the inner thighs.
Depending on your individual anatomy, you may benefit from either or both of these incisions types.
An outer thigh lift addresses skin laxity on the front and outer regions of the thigh. The procedure may be performed as an extension of a lower body lift for body contouring in patients who have undergone massive weight loss.
The surgeon makes an incision at the bikini line at the top of the leg and the incision can wrap around toward the buttocks. This allows the surgeon to remove skin and then pull the remaining skin up to attach at the bikini line. This method can also help to lift the buttocks.
Surgery for people who have had massive weight loss is more complex. Typically, there is a larger amount of excess skin in all dimensions. After a large amount of skin stretch, massive weight loss causes:
- Excessive sagging of skin
- Delicate and thinner skin
- Wound-healing problems
The more extensive thigh lift procedures needed and the delicate condition of the skin may mean that some patients have a higher risk of complications from surgery.
People who are seeking surgery after massive weight loss may wish to combine thigh lift with a lower body lift or tummy tuck, and should ask their surgeon about the potential for combining or staging their procedures to give optimal results.
You and your surgeon must communicate and work together so you have a good understanding of the process that will give you the best results. The goal of a good surgeon should be to arm you with the knowledge to understand the factors affecting your thigh lift.
Dr. Xu can discuss how weight loss, age, body type, and skin condition affects the choice of surgical procedure and the results you can achieve.
It is important you have a realistic understanding of:
- How your thighs will look after surgery
- The limitations of the surgery
- Any short- and long-term effects such as scarring
- Any possible complications
- The potential need for more thigh surgery to fine-tune the appearance of your legs
Dr. Xu can explain which technique she would recommend for your situation and the level of scarring you can expect.
Techniques causing more scarring might also give the shape and contour of the thighs that is closer to your goals. Dr. Xu can give you the information you need to weigh the benefit of a more aesthetic thigh shape with the level of scarring.
Dr. Xu encourages open and honest communication about your body, your lifestyle and what you want for the future. Photos of your desired look can help her understand your needs. Your medical history is also important, including any information about pregnancies, weight loss, or other medical conditions. Things to also discuss with Dr. Xu include:
- Why you want the surgery
- Your future lifestyle goals
- What appearance you hope to achieve
- What sort of thigh shape or size you would like
Dr. Xu understands the responsibility of transforming a person’s appearance to better reflect their identity and build self-esteem. Her top priority is understanding your vision and desires.
Once Dr. Xu has examined your body, she will use her artistic sense and technical expertise to recommend an approach to your surgery that will best suit your goals. During a consultation, Dr. Xu will explain:
- The different types of thigh-lift options
- Which thigh lift surgery options would best suit your needs
- What types of incisions will be needed
- How much scarring you can expect
- How other surgeries (eg. breast lift, liposuction, tummy tuck, arm lift, other body contouring) can fulfill your vision for your body
- Any need for further operations
- Potential complications or side effects
Once you and Dr. Xu have agreed on an approach to your surgery, Dr. Xu will book your surgery time and give you instructions on what to do before and after your surgery.
Dr. Xu will also let you know which medications you should and should not take prior to your surgery and what to do on the day of your surgery. It is important to stop smoking at least six weeks prior to surgery.
You may need to get a blood test or undergo additional tests depending on your medical history. Dr. Xu may also correspond with your primary care doctor to ensure you are in an optimal state of health prior to surgery.
In the weeks before surgery, recommendations to help you prepare include:
- Making sure you get enough sleep and rest
- Eating a healthy diet with adequate protein and nutrition
- Exercising or engaging in physical activity to strengthen your body
- Maintaining a positive state of mind
- Prioritizing your well-being and reducing stress levels
It is essential that you feel comfortable about your upcoming procedure and fully understand the process. Dr. Xu encourages her patients to ask any questions about their surgery or recovery.
After your thigh lift surgery, you will feel mild to moderate discomfort. The amount of pain you feel depends on a number of factors such as:
- The type of thigh-lift surgery performed
- Whether you have had other surgeries completed at the same time (eg. arm lift, body contouring)
- Your age
- Your health before the surgery
Prescription pain medications might be needed for the first few days. After this time, any pain should be relieved with over-the-counter or non-opioid medications.
Recovery typically takes approximately three to four weeks. For four to six weeks, you should wear your compression garment and avoid lifting heavy items. Some people may have had drains inserted and should follow their surgeon’s instructions to look after the drains.
Once bruising and tenderness have gone, you can return to normal activities. Most people can return to work after three weeks, but strenuous exercise should be avoided for six to eight weeks. Ask your surgeon when you can return to the full range of activities.
If you have had a combination of surgeries, Dr. Xu can advise you of any additional recovery needs.
A body mass index (BMI) of less than 30 is preferred for a thigh lift. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy, stable weight for at least six months is needed before a thigh lift or other body contouring procedures. This helps the condition of the skin to stabilize before surgery. Any weight fluctuations after surgery will affect healing and the appearance of your upper legs.
The location of scars depends on the surgical technique your surgeon uses. Many thigh lift scars will be hidden in the groin crease, especially for people with a smaller amount of sagging skin. If the more extensive vertical inseam incision is used after a significant amount of weight loss, the scars may extend down to the knee and be visible if skirts or shorts are worn.
The extent of scarring is an important consideration for a thigh lift because everyone has a different tolerance for scarring. People needing more extensive procedures should consider the benefit of a more aesthetic thigh shape versus the level of scarring.
Dr. Xu uses surgical techniques to decrease the risk of scars spreading or thickening. Scars never disappear, but they will fade and become less obvious with time.
Liposuction only removes fat and does not address excess or sagging skin. It is not a replacement for thigh lift surgery but is often performed at the same time to help better contour the results.
Your risk of complications will depend on the specific technique used and Dr. Xu will make you aware of these before you have surgery. Of the body contouring techniques, thighplasty has one of the highest rates of complications. Each person considering a thigh lift should think about whether the increased risk balances out their desire for more aesthetic thighs. Thighplasty has a higher risk of:
- Wound separation or breakdown – caused by stretching, pulling, tension, the weight of the leg tissues, and the force of gravity on the incisions in the groin crease
- Additional revision surgery needed to obtain the desired result
Swelling or fluid collection
- Disruption of the flow of tissue fluid (lymph) and the retention of excess fluid (lymphedema)
The risk of some common complications (such as infection and bleeding) can be decreased by following your doctor’s post-surgery instructions. Potential common complications after surgery include:
- Bleeding or hematoma (a collection of blood)
- Seroma (fluid collection) requiring drainage procedures later
- Unfavorable scarring
- Chronic pain
- Suture irritation or extrusion
- Fat necrosis
- Minor asymmetry
The combination surgeries are more complex and will cost more. The best way to understand the costs of surgery is to contact our San Francisco office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Xu.
Dr. Xu is a board-certified plastic surgeon with a high level of technical expertise and the sense of artistry necessary to help you achieve your aesthetic goals.
Many people are unaware of the full scope and possibilities of plastic surgery. Dr. Xu will listen to your vision for your body, review the options available to you, and advise you on an optimal surgical plan that will best meet your needs.