What I Wish I’d Known Before Getting A Facelift

Fashion

I can’t believe that I am talking publicly about my facelift and that millions of people now know how vain I am. But since I don’t believe in gatekeeping, and this was not a decision I took lightly, I’m embracing the power of transparency and sharing information.

Having been in the beauty industry for many years as a makeup artist, beauty expert, author, and brand founder, by the time I hit my late forties, I’d already tried it all: Botox, fillers, lasers, radio frequency, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), LED, microneedling, and microcurrent therapy. Many of those procedures were effective, if not miraculous, and they did help smooth, tighten, and lift. But as I rounded the corner into my fifties, I found these treatments were less and less effective, and I was no longer getting the results I wanted. I was probably in my midforties when I started thinking about getting a lift, and I even had surgery booked at one point, but I was honestly just too chicken to move forward with it. After I hit 50, I felt differently. I reached out to the many plastic surgeons I had met over the years to ask every question I could. I pored over before-and-after photos with the intensity of a forensic scientist, and hounded friends and acquaintances who’d been through it already.

I know a lot of people might think I’m crazy for getting surgery at the tender age of 53 (or for doing it at all), but according to New York facial plastic surgeon Andrew Jacono, MD, the average age of a facelift patient in his practice is between 47 and 53. When I decided that Michael Byun, MD, in Chicago was the right plastic surgeon for me, I felt prepared. Calm, even. He has a reputation as the “repairman” of faces, known for putting everything back where it was. I scheduled a lower- and mid-face lift, along with an upper and lower blepharoplasty (lift) for my eyelids, for September 2021. The surgery was planned for five hours, and I had a 7 a.m. start time.

The road to recovery didn’t go exactly as planned. Despite all my due diligence and my surgeon keeping me well-informed of what to expect, I encountered surprise after surprise in real life. I wish I’d known a few more things. So here are six thoughts to keep in mind if you think a facelift might be in your future.

There Can Be Unplanned Complications

As I mentioned, I’d sampled from a pupu platter of nonsurgical procedures prior to surgery. What I didn’t expect is that some of those same stopgap measures could end up complicating my surgery. I’d been getting conservative hyaluronic fillers in my nasolabial folds for years and had filled my cheeks once or twice when I was around 40. Byun says that fillers “can linger and accumulate, especially into the muscle and fatty tissue.” He had to remove some during surgery, because it can bulge when you lift the muscle and skin.

I also had a complication from a previous thread lift. According to Byun, most suture thread lifts now use absorbable sutures, but they cause abnormal scar tracks as they disappear. He had to “fight” through the abnormal scarring during my surgery, which added an extra hour to my procedure (and an extra, unanticipated incision). This alarmed my husband, who was actively pacing in the waiting room.

It’s Normal To Feel Regret

I had no pain after surgery (literally none). But the emotional toll of the surgery took me by surprise. Maybe it was the unrecognizable face staring back at me in the mirror and the nagging feeling of, “Oh shit, what have I done?” But for the first time in my life, I had a panic attack, necessitating a middle-of-the-night call to my doctor and a prescription for Xanax. In truth, I had been warned about this by my surgeon’s office, but I assumed that since I was so well-informed and had done so much research, it wouldn’t happen to me. But it did, and like my post-op face, it wasn’t pretty.

Your Face Will Mutate

I learned that swelling resolves in neither a linear nor symmetrical way. In the first two weeks after my surgery, I would wake up every day secure in the knowledge that I would look better each morning. But then two weeks hit, and boom, as I became more active and rejoined my life, my face would still puff and swell in odd, uneven, and sometimes alarming ways. My surgeon calls the first month after surgery the “Baby Alien” phase. It’s aptly named because while you may look a little younger, you also look…otherworldly. Byun explained to me that wound healing goes through four phases. The first two (hemostasis and inflammation) are quiet. Proliferation, the third phase, is “quite noisy, that’s why you see fluctuations after two to three weeks.” Wearing a mask was particularly helpful for incognito purposes.

Your Skin May Feel Really Strange

There are a lot of odd facial sensations after surgery. My skin was so tender that I didn’t so much as splash water on it for a month, throwing my dedication to my skin care routine right out the window. It was also numb, and the crown of my head and my whole scalp also felt itchy and spongy. My head itched for months afterward. Byun says these reactions are “completely normal and expected” and are even a “great sign” that the nerves are growing back.

Eating And Sleeping Will Be Different

My doctor said not to eat anything other than soft foods for the first few weeks after surgery in order to limit the use of the muscles in my lower face while chewing. Not only could I not get a fork in my mouth, I could barely open wide enough to fit my toothbrush. I ate lots of oat milk ice cream and soup. The act of brushing, swishing, and rinsing was comically messy. Sleeping was a challenge, because my eyes wouldn’t fully close for months. I could manipulate my lids to get them shut, but the muscles were pulled so tight they wouldn’t stay closed. The doctor kept telling me it would resolve, and of course it did, but it was incredibly distressing.

You May Want To Change Your Phone’s Security Options

The facial recognition feature on my iPhone didn’t recognize me for several days. Fair enough, though, because I didn’t either.

Today, nearly a year and dozens (okay, hundreds) of scrutinizing selfies later, I’m delighted by my crisper jawline, higher cheeks, and smoother eyelids. Still, it took me a long time to get to this point. For most of those months, I felt like my face just looked odd, although I was certainly my harshest critic.

I wish I could definitively say that I would go through it all over again, but because of the emotional strain it put on me—and on my poor, disconcerted husband—I just can’t say for sure. Outwardly, he was nothing but supportive and encouraging. Inside, I later found out, he worried about my pain, my emotional anguish, and my appearance throughout my entire recovery. He was beside himself with fear that my face would never get back to normal and that he would have to live with a miserable wife who’d fucked up her face. Even now, in the “settling” phase, which can take up to a year, I still have the occasional moment of thinking, “Why on earth did I put myself through this?” I assume that, as with childbirth, the memory of the trauma will fade, and that when my jawline inevitably succumbs to gravity once more, I might give it some thought. Might being the operative word.

This article appears in the August 2022 issue of ELLE.

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