Recovery time from a facelift (rhytidectomy) will vary depending on the individual, but as a general rule, for most people of good health, noticeable swelling will be reduced within the first 10 days after surgery. Typically, most of our patients are able to return to work after 2 weeks post op. However, a facelift is major plastic surgery and as with any surgery, there is a lengthy recovery process.
Before your surgery you will be given very specific instructions on how to care for the surgical site, any medications to apply externally, or take orally, specific concerns to watch out for, and when to follow up with your aesthetic nurse or your surgeon.
The following timeline is a generalized view of what to expect and may vary from person to person:
Welcome to post op day one.
In these first 24 hours avoid any excessive activity, enjoy bed rest, and take it easy.
Depending on the type of facelift you’ve had, you may have had to stay overnight in a hospital, or you may be recovering in a hotel room in downtown San Francisco. Our office will ensure that a registered nurse is present in these first 24 hours to look after you and take care of any needs that you might have.
As you wake up from anesthesia your face may feel tight, swollen, and mildly tender. You may feel groggy and tired due to the effects of the general anesthesia. Ensure that you’re feeling warm and comfortable, ideally, your back propped up by pillows so you do not lie down flat. We recommend you sleep with your head elevated on two pillows for the first two weeks to help reduce excessive swelling.
Some individuals may experience residual nausea caused by the anesthesia, if that is the case please let your nurse know because there is medication you can take for this.
A light bandage may be placed around your face to minimize swelling and bruising, along with small drainage tubes to drain excess fluid. Most patients only experience mild pain due to steps we take before your surgery. You will be prescribed non-narcotic, or over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol to reduce pain and swelling and to promote faster recovery time with less discomfort. Read more about our approach to pain relief after plastic surgery here.
If you are ready to go home, or to a hotel to rest, you will need to have someone to drive you, or alternatively, our office will organize someone to accompany you.
After your first 24 hours you are encouraged to get out of bed move around slowly to get your circulation moving which will work to speed recovery and healing. Small trips to the bathroom or around the house are encouraged, but don’t overdo it. You will still be feeling quite fatigued. Ideal activities for this first week may be to watch TV sitting up in bed, reading quietly, or performing very light housework.
You may actually experience slightly more swelling and bruising in the next few days after surgery but this should peak at about three or four days, and will subside within the second week. As healing progresses, you may experience temporary facial bumps, bulges, mild asymmetries, along with feelings of tingling and numbness. This is a natural part of the healing process but if you have any concerns please ask your aesthetic nurse or surgeon during your follow up visit.
You may also feel itching sensations in your incisions, this is a sign of healing and will subside if you follow provided post-operative care instructions.
Many patients may feel that this first week is the worst but not because of pain, but because how they look and feel. You may be feeling a bit of post-op ‘blues’ because you are indoors all the time and not partaking in your usual activities such as exercise and social activities. Also, looking at your swollen or bruised face in a mirror might be upsetting because you might feel it’s the opposite of what you were seeking. In this case, patience is a virtue and we remind you that the final results of your facelift will take at least 6-12 months to be evident.
After about 2 weeks most of the swelling will have dissipated, but you may still have mild bruising and swelling around the eyes, behind the ears, or on the sides of the face and neck.
Your physical activity levels should remain light (light walking or light housework) and avoid any strenuous physical activity such as working out. You may feel like returning to work after the second week and you should be able to unless your job involves any physical exertion. You will be given information how to apply light, post op friendly makeup if you’re feeling self conscious about any residual bruising.
Towards the end of the third week you should notice significant improvement in the quality of your facial skin and incisions, but you may still experience mild itching and numbness. Any bruising should be completely healed by this time, and any swelling quite minimal and barely noticeable.
At one month post op nearly all of your swelling or bruising should have dissipated and no one should be able to tell that you’ve “had work done”. Your incisions will be mostly healed however they may still appear pink in color, this is a natural part of the healing process and may take a few months for the color to fade. During this time it is important to stay out of direct sunlight and wear a sunscreen to protect your skin.
At this point, you should be able to resume all your normal activities, but please refrain from heavy exercise until the sixth week post op.
The final outcome of your facelift will become fully evident over the next 12 months. Typically it takes this amount of time for your facelift to fully heal and “settle” into its final result. Over the coming months you may be able to see the subtle shifts as your facelift heals and rejuvenates your appearance.