Need-to-Know Cosmetic Surgery Guide

Beauty/Skincare, Healthy Living, Power to the Patient
on September 30, 2011

Procedure: Facelift

During a traditional facelift, surgeons make an incision in the hairline near the temples, then redistribute excess fat from the neck and jowls while lifting the muscles and deeper layers in the face.

Is it for you? Yes, if you have the classic features of an aging face, like a lot of skin laxity, deep lines and wrinkles, and sagging in the neck and jowls. As we age, the heart-shaped face of youth gives way to a more rectangular shape and only a facelift can truly transform it. “I think the traditional facelift is coming back in popularity because the public is realizing what we’ve known for a while: There’s really very little in the way of non-surgical options that can replace a facelift,” says Dr. Leo McCafferty, vice president for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery with a private practice in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Reality check: When you head home, you’ll be bandaged in dressings that will be changed the following day, and you will have to wait 24 to 48 hours before showering. Expect some minimal pain (most patients take pain pills during the first 24 hours only) along with a feeling of tightness or numbness.

For quick recovery: A few simple actions before surgery can help you recover afterwards. First, your doctor should make sure you aren’t taking medications that thin the blood, as these promote bruising. Then, talk to your doctor about taking the herb arnica in pill form beginning a day or so you go under the knife. McCafferty, and many other surgeons recommend it to help prevent bruising. Eating pineapple is also believed to help prevent bruising, so consider snacking on it as part of your prep. Beyond this, the best advice is to follow the post-op guidelines given by your surgeon. “That will lead to the safest, quickest recovery,” says McCaffety. Facelift stitches are usually out in about a week and with proper makeup, you should feel confident enough to return to work within two weeks.

For best results: Taking proper care of your skin before and after a facelift will give you more lasting results, and ensure a more natural look; tight skin that’s covered in age spots is a pretty good giveaway that you’ve had work done. A proper anti-aging program should include a retinol cream, sun protection and possibly a bleaching/lightening cream.

Procedure: Lower-body lift

This multi-pronged procedure involves tightening loose skin in the buttocks, thighs and lower torso.

Is it for you? If you’ve had massive weight loss—whether through gastric bypass or old-fashioned diet and exercise—you’re likely a good candidate for a lower-body lift. Extreme weight loss usually leaves skin lax and this procedure helps tighten and lift it. This is an extensive surgery, so McCafferty urges patients to seek out a board-certified surgeon who has done this procedure many times. Your surgeon should also work with your physician to ensure your weight loss is stable and that it was achieved in a healthy manner.

Reality check: This surgery requires an overnight stay and the road to recovery can be painful, though pain medication will help. Be sure to have someone around to help with typical household activities for the first week after surgery.

For quick recovery: You should stop taking any medication that thins the blood, including aspirin and certain herbal supplements, before surgery to avoid excessive bruising or blood loss.

For best results: Sticking to a healthy diet and exercise routine post-surgery will keep your body looking its best. You should also protect your newly tightened skin from the sun to prevent UV damage that can lead to aging and sagging.

RELATED: What to Know When Shopping for a Surgeon

Procedure: Liposuction

Traditional liposuction surgically removes excess fat that is trapped between skin and muscles.

Is it for you? Liposuction is not a quick fix for anyone who is overweight. “It is for someone who is in relatively good shape but has problem areas that are out of proportion to the rest of their body,” says McCafferty. The ideal lipo candidate lives an active, healthy lifestyle yet is unable to reduce fat in certain trouble spots, such as the outer hips and thighs, lower back and belly.

Reality check: You’ll head home wearing a girdle-like garment and you can expect some spotting or light bleeding from the incision sites for the first 12 to 24 hours. Showering is off limits for the first 48 hours post-op and your doctor may recommend wearing the girdle for several weeks.

For quick recovery: Downtime after liposuction is fairly short so you should be able to return to normal activities within a week. As for exercising, McCafferty suggests starting with low-impact cardio after a week, gradually progressing to restriction-free exercise within three weeks.

For best results: Once all post-op swelling has disappeared, at about four weeks post-op, you can really enhance your results by working to tone muscles in the areas that were surgically treated. This will increase definition to muscles that were previously hidden by fat.

Procedure: Tummy Tuck

During this procedure, the surgeon tightens muscles and skin in the lower belly and removes excess fat, leaving the stomach firm and flat.

Is it for you? During pregnancy, both your stomach muscles and skin stretch to accommodate the growing baby. “A tummy tuck is great for moms who have stretched skin over their abs that doesn’t respond to working out,” McCafferty says. If you’re planning on having more children, though, wait until you’re family is complete before getting the procedure: While the surgery won’t keep you from getting pregnant, its benefits will be lost once your belly swells again.

Reality check: One of the more uncomfortable surgeries, you’ll need to stay overnight after this procedure and have someone around to help with daily activities for the first week.

For quick recovery: Tummy tuck scars are typically horizontal and can be hidden below the bikini line, but McCafferty says massaging scars has been shown to reduce their appearance. After a tummy tuck, you can head back to work in 2 to 4 weeks.

For best results: “Pilates and yoga are great tools for enhancing the results of a tummy tuck,” says McCafferty, who recommends beginning core-strengthening exercises like these at about 6 weeks post-procedure.

Procedure: Breast reduction

Surgeons remove some of the fat from overly large breasts, then lift and reposition the now smaller breasts.

Is it for you? Yes, if the size of your chest size is out of proportion with the rest of your body. “If your breasts rest on your stomach, it’s probably a better idea to lose some weight than to have this surgery,” according to McCafferty, who adds that shedding some pounds may be enough to reduce breast size in some women. When you are at a healthy weight yet have back, neck or shoulder pain because of your chest size, this surgery may actually be covered by your medical insurance.

Reality check: You’ll be wrapped in gauze and wearing a surgical bra for a few days post-op. Showering after 48 hours is fine as most of the sutures will be under the skin and will dissolve on their own. While you probably won’t be in terrible pain, pain pills are often used for the first day or so after surgery.

For quick recovery: You should be back to work in about two weeks after breast reduction surgery.As previously mentioned, massaging the resulting scars from this procedure can reduce their appearance, but McCafferty says not to put stock in “miracle creams” that claim to wipe out scars completely.

For best results: Be sure to look for bras that offer plenty of support for your new chest size, which can help prevent sagging in the future. Chest exercises that tone this area can also keep breasts lifted.

Procedure: Eye surgery

Skin around the eyes is tightened and bags are removed to create a more youthful looking face.

Is it for you? If you look tired or angry when you’re neither, you might be a good candidate for an anti-aging eye surgery. Bags, droopy eyelids and wrinkled, crepe-y skin around the eyes can drastically change your appearance.

Reality check: You’ll leave the operating facility bandage-free so you will see some black and blue marks around the eyes (no makeup is allowed for the first 24 hours). Ointment is used on the incision sights and sutures are usually removed in about four days.

For quick recovery: Keeping your head elevated while you sleep and icing the eye area can decrease recovery time and keep swelling and bruising at bay, yet you’ll probably still be back to work within 10 days after this surgery.

For best results: “Eye surgery is one of the longest-lasting procedures we do,” says McCafferty: Once puffiness is removed or repositioned it’s unlikely to recur. Plus the amount of skin involved in an eyelid lift is so small that even if some laxity returns, it probably won’t be enough to require fixing. That said, you should still use sun protection in the area and follow a professionally prescribed skincare routine to maintain healthy, wrinkle-free skin.