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Facelift History: From Ancient Techniques to Modern Innovations

Facelift History


The pursuit of eternal youth and beauty is an age-old obsession, transcending cultures, continents, and centuries. But today, when we talk about facial rejuvenation, the facelift, – also known as the rhytidectomy – stands out as a hallmark procedure. But how did we arrive at the sophisticated techniques of today, and what does the future hold for this transformative surgery? In the following blog, we’re going to take a look at the history of the facelift, from its ancient origins to the cutting-edge innovations of the present. Let’s dive in!


What is a Facelift?

A facelift, or rhytidectomy, is a surgical procedure that aims to rejuvenate the face by addressing signs of ageing, such as sagging skin, deep-set wrinkles, and jowls. Through carefully placed incisions, typically around the hairline and ears, surgeons can remove excess skin, tighten underlying tissues, and reposition the skin to achieve a smoother, more youthful contour. While the specific techniques and results can vary, the overarching goal remains consistent: to reverse the visible effects of ageing and restore a fresher, younger appearance.


When Was Facelift Surgery Invented?

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of surgical facial rejuvenation isn’t a modern invention, and some historical records suggest that rudimentary forms of cosmetic surgery were performed in ancient civilizations like India and Egypt. For instance, ancient Egyptian mummies have been found with gold thread beneath the skin, possibly an early attempt at skin tightening.

However, the formal recognition of facelift surgery can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Eugene von Holländer, a German surgeon, is often credited with performing one of the earliest documented facelifts in 1901. His procedure targeted sagging skin in the neck and jawline, laying the groundwork for the modern techniques we’re familiar with today.


The Evolution of the Facelift

The facelift, like all medical procedures, has evolved significantly over the years, driven by advancements in technology, understanding of anatomy, and patient needs.

In its infancy during the early 1900s, facelift surgeries were somewhat rudimentary; they focused predominantly on skin tightening, often yielding results that looked pulled or overly taut. As understanding of the intricate facial anatomy deepened, surgeons began to realise that effective rejuvenation required more than just skin tightening – the underlying structures, like the superficial musculoaponeurotic system (SMAS), played a pivotal role.

By the mid-20th century, SMAS manipulation became integral to facelift procedures, allowing for more natural and lasting results. The 1970s witnessed further refinements, with surgeons adopting deeper plane techniques, which addressed the deeper layers of facial tissue.

In the decades that followed, the emphasis on a more holistic approach grew, recognising that true rejuvenation wasn’t just about lifting but also restoring volume, improving skin quality, and addressing the entirety of the face.


Modern Techniques

As the 21st century dawned, facelift surgery saw a fusion of traditional methods with state-of-the-art technology. The rise of minimally invasive techniques, combined with a better understanding of facial ageing, led to more tailored and comprehensive approaches:


Combining Facelift with Fat Grafting

Fat grafting, or autologous fat transfer, involves harvesting a patient’s own fat (usually from areas like the abdomen or thighs) and re-injecting it into areas of the face that have lost volume, and is a popular facelift procedure in the 21st century. When combined with a facelift, this procedure can offer a fuller, more youthful appearance, addressing not just sagging, but also volume loss – a key component of facial ageing.


Facelift and Laser Resurfacing

Laser resurfacing has emerged as a revolutionary method to address skin texture, fine lines, and pigmentation issues, and when combined with a facelift, laser treatments can significantly enhance the skin’s overall appearance, making it look smoother, more even-toned, and radiant. This combination targets both the structural issues (like sagging) and the skin’s surface quality, offering comprehensive rejuvenation.


Facelift with Non-Surgical Procedures

The use of non-surgical treatments, such as dermal fillers and botulinum toxin (Botox), in conjunction with facelift surgery has also gained popularity in recent years; these treatments can fine-tune results, address areas that aren’t typically affected by a facelift (like the lips or forehead), and prolong the youthful effects of the surgery.


Is a Facelift Worth It in 2024?

Today, a facelift is a far cry from its initial predecessors; with the fusion of traditional surgical expertise and innovative techniques, the results are more natural, long-lasting, and holistic than ever before. The procedure’s versatility, especially when combined with supplementary treatments, allows for customised results that can cater to a diverse range of aesthetic goals.

Plus, with the continuous advancement in medical technology and post-operative care, the recovery process has become more manageable, with reduced downtime and more predictable outcomes. So, is a facelift worth it in 2024? For many seeking comprehensive facial rejuvenation, the answer is a resounding yes!


The Bottom Line

From its humble origins in the early 20th century to the multifaceted procedure of today, the facelift, or rhytidectomy, has truly stood the test of time when it comes to transformative cosmetic surgery. And as developments in science and technology continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in facial rejuvenation, one thing remains clear: the facelift remains at the forefront of aesthetic surgery, adapting and growing with every innovation.



How long do modern facelift results last?

While the longevity of results can vary based on individual factors and the specific techniques used, most patients can expect their facelift results to last anywhere from 8 to 12 years.


Are there non-surgical alternatives to a facelift?

Yes, treatments such as thread lifts, dermal fillers, and ultrasound or radiofrequency-based skin tightening can offer non-surgical facial rejuvenation. However, the results might not be as dramatic or long-lasting as a surgical facelift.


What are the risks associated with facelift surgery?

While modern facelift techniques are safe, as with any surgery, there are potential risks, including bleeding, infection, scarring, and anaesthesia-related complications. It’s crucial to consult with a qualified and certified plastic surgeon like Dr. Ivo Gwanmesia to discuss any concerns.

Dr Ivo Gwanmesia

Dr Ivo Gwanmesia is one of Harley Street’s most experienced and renowned craniofacial plastic surgeons. With over a decade of professional experience, he has transformed the lives of countless patients from all over the UK & abroad.

Due to his vast and hands-on training in the UK and the US, Dr Ivo now specialises in more than a dozen different aesthetic, craniofacial and transgender procedures. Some of them include face, neck, and brow lifts, upper and lower blepharoplasty, breast reduction & breast uplift as well as facial feminisation surgery, to name a few.

Dr Gwanmesia has also conducted pioneering research, which led to the development of a new technique for the reconstruction of the middle vault of the nose, known as the ‘Fulcrum Spreader Graft’. He was also part of a study comparing the efficacy of the Sheen Spreader Graft and the Fulcrum Spreader Graft. The study has since been published on PubMed and the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.