The History of Facelifts

How long do you think doctors have been doing facelifts? The history of self-adornment dates back 142,000-150,000 years ago in the form of decorative snail shell beads found in Morocco. The oldest known pigment samples, chunks of different colored stones worn down as if they’d been ground to make powders, come from archaeological sites in Zambia dating back 400,000 years. We don’t know how long humans have been sewing animal hides to make clothing. It’s evident, though, that people have been changing their appearance for a very long time.

The Beginnings of Reparative Surgery

Consider war: the oldest known proof of war predates written history, going back 13,000 years. By necessity, war has always generated advances in medicine, especially reparative medicine. More recently — 11,000 years ago — food animals were domesticated, and growing knowledge about their care launched the first practices of veterinary medicine. Proof of surgery to repair facial injuries dates back 4,000 years. Physicians in India and the Greco-Roman world wrote about procedures for skin grafting and reconstruction of lips, ears, and noses. Two milestones were discoveries in anesthesia and the prevention and treatment of infection. In light of all these skills, it’s a surprising fact that facelifts, as we know them today, have only been around for a little more than a century.

Moving Ahead by Turning the Clock Back

The first known facelift, or rhytidectomy, was performed by Dr. Eugene von Hollander in 1901 when he removed elliptically shaped strips of skin in natural folds near the hairline and ears. He modified his procedure for an actress a few years later. Dr. Bourget took the technique a step further by undermining the tissue beneath the skin and removing sections of fat pads around the eyes. World War I and an increasing number of surgeons, improvements in anesthesia, and growing wealth enabled the science of facelifts to grow. Physicians continued to experiment with different types of procedures.

A major breakthrough came in the 1970s when Drs. Soog, Mitz, and Peyronie created the SMAS (superficial musculoaponeurotic system) technique, repositioning muscles and extending to the neck. Modifications of the SMAS technique by Sam Hamra in 1990 went even more deeply under the superficial SMAS of the midface, making use of ligaments attaching muscles to the bone as well as addressing different fat deposits. His technique reorganized the tension of the facelift, resulting in a more natural distribution of “pull.” Dr. Tessier, who perfected the deep plane technique, is widely regarded as the Father of Contemporary Craniofacial Plastic Surgery

The State of the Art Today

In the half-century that has passed, many more modifications of the original procedure are available. New choices involve minimally invasive and non-invasive techniques, fillers, purse-string suturing, and skin-tightening modalities such as radiofrequency, laser, and ultrasound. The ideal surgeon will talk to you to learn more about your needs and goals, answer your questions, and give you information about what to expect at each step along your journey. If you choose to get your facelift in NYC or other large cities, you will have access to experienced surgeons who are familiar with the latest techniques. Verify that your surgeon is licensed to practice in your state by visiting the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website and searching under Consumer Resources. To verify specialty training and board certification, visit the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) website. Finally, interview your surgeon to learn more about different options.

Spirits Are Lifted Along with the Faces

Although a few people insist that altering one’s body is a sign of vanity, the truth is that almost all of us do what our ancestors did hundreds of thousands of years ago by finding ways to alter our appearance. Study after study demonstrates long-term mental health benefits from facelift treatment. Although such surgery won’t cure clinical depression, it clearly lightens the emotional burden. Facelift surgery can improve self-esteem, boost self-confidence, improve one’s sense of well-being, and contribute to satisfaction with life in general.

Final Thoughts

The young English actress Emma Watson commented, “A huge part of being a feminist is giving other women the freedom to make choices you might not necessarily make yourself.” We are lucky to live at a time when technology and social practices allow people of all genders the right to choose how they manage their own bodies.

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