What’s the Ideal Age for a Facelift?

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There are pictures taken of you that make you think, Do I really look like that? You scroll past, hit delete, accept or decline the tag, move on with your life. Then there are the ones you take at a plastic surgeon’s office. These are pictures you won’t easily forget. Because after these photos are taken — about 10 minutes after, to be exact — they might be displayed on a 60-inch flat screen for both you and the doctor (and likely an assistant) to analyze.

That was my experience at least. These photos required me to look squarely at the camera, then directly to the left, right, and half measures in-between, so every inch of my face and neck were captured. Any little tricks I’ve learned to help get my best angle had to be omitted: no raising of the brow to balance my eyes or pushing my chin forward to carve out my jawline. “Head down,” the nurse said before she snapped a picture, a reminder that I’ve learned over time to tilt my head slightly upward to avoid a double chin. She could have just said, “Nice try.”

I’m a journalist and I’m here for work. A certain 47-year-old facelift-curious editor (okay, it was Allure’s Jenny Bailly) wants to know: What is the perfect age to get this ultimate of skin-tightening procedures? She’s been hearing stories — as have I — of more and more patients (almost exclusively women) having the surgery in their 40s, even 30s. Do they know something that we don’t? Can you wait too long? And what about menopause? It causes skin changes, so if you go under the knife too early, will all that hard work be undone?

She wants answers — and I’m not opposed to getting a few plastic-surgery consultations in order to get them. I’ve been bothered by my lower face for a while and I’m curious to hear if I could actually be a candidate for a facelift… or if I’m delusional.

Meet the Experts:

  • Jason Diamond, MD, is a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.
  • Julius Few, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Chicago.
  • Melissa Doft, MD, is a board certified plastic surgeon in New York City.
  • Catherine Chang, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.
  • Sarmela Sunder, MD, is a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.
  • Amir Karam, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in San Diego.

I’m 37. I still feel like a teenager, just trying to navigate life. But then, somehow, a server calls me “ma’am” or someone in their 20s proclaims, “You look great for your age!” It’s a reminder that the world sees me differently than how I feel. This is a common concern for the patients who undergo facelifts, according to plastic surgeons.

And “good for your age” isn’t always good enough in work like mine that is often done on camera. In the entertainment world, women can play the mother to someone 10 years their junior. And the beauty industry often falls flat when it comes to age inclusivity despite ads that loudly advocate embracing who you are and what you look like. Industry events I take part in aren’t as age-diverse as their brand messaging is, like when I attended a launch party last year to celebrate a retinol eye cream and most of the attendees weren’t old enough to warrant using it. Not that gendered ageism is exclusive to my professional worlds, of course. Many women report being stereotyped and discriminated against based on their age.

A friend and former editor recently said something that struck a chord with me: It’s easy for someone in their 20s to tell you to appreciate the wrinkles — “They’re badges of honor!” — and that anything short of appreciating senescence is giving into the patriarchy. I would implore anyone generally considered “the youth” to wait 10 years and get back to us about that appreciation. Because aging is conflicting. You have to be beautiful and “age gracefully,” but doing anything that may make you beautiful or help you “age gracefully” can be scoffed at, even condemned. Also, can we ban “aging gracefully”? What the hell does that actually mean?

Which leads us back to facelifts. I just wanted to remind you first that if you have challenging feelings about your own beauty, age in general, and/or plastic surgery, leave this page immediately and go on with your day. You absolutely do not need to be thinking about a facelift or when to get one. But if you are, you aren’t alone.

Still here? Okay, let’s go! After interviewing half a dozen plastic surgeons about the perfect age to get a facelift, and having personal consultations with three of them, I got a lot of answers.

1. Yes, facelift patients really are getting younger.

Jason Diamond, MD, a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, told me that he knows of celebrities who have gotten a facelift “early.” He says that 40 seems to be the “magic number” in terms of wanting what he calls his “Diamond Mini Lift,” which addresses the jowls and neck. “My goal for anyone, including actors and actresses, is to make the work undetectable,” Dr. Diamond says. “The reason I perform facelifts at 40, when appropriate, is because it makes work we do later less noticeable. We have a new, more youthful baseline that we are working from. This lengthens careers, especially for women in Hollywood.” His Mini Lift addresses the jowls and neck by pulling skin back toward the ear, but it doesn’t lift nasolabial folds — for that, patients would need a traditional facelift. Dr. Diamond notes that, among his patients, the Mini Lift has become popular for 40th birthdays and tends to be appropriate up to about age 50.

This is anecdotal, however. While many surgeons told me that they’re seeing patients in their 40s and 50s more often, this isn’t necessarily the “millennialization” of the facelift (yet) since millennials at their oldest are 43. A majority of facelift patients in 2022 were 55 to 69, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). (The ASPS doesn’t have 2023 data yet.) Patients 40 to 54 accounted for 19% of the procedures, which is a large jump from the 30 to 39 demographic at 2%, but pretty consistent with data from the last three years (the 40 to 54 group hovers around 20% of total facelifts performed). There was an 8% jump in facelift procedures altogether from pre-pandemic to 2022.”

Back to anecdotes: Dr. Diamond says that in the past the facelift demographic in Los Angeles was always 5 to 10 years younger than in New York and Europe. “That [age] difference is becoming more negligible; social media has made everyone, everywhere, want everything now,” he says. “The facelift patient base skewing from 60s and 70s to 40s and 50s makes sense to me. People want to look and feel their best at all ages of their lives and they want to enjoy the result for much longer.”

Plus, as a society we are more savvy about skin care than ever before, which affects our appearance — and what we expect from ourselves and others, says Julius Few, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Chicago. “Doing a retinol regimen every night, that’s going to change the way the face ages. So we’re seeing this kind of relative slowdown [with aging], but at the same time, hypercritical analysis,” says Dr. Few. Many of us are faced with our reflections all day, every day — something new and very specific to a population that carries pretty serious photography equipment in their pockets and purses.

“We live in a world where cell phones are ubiquitous, where photos are taken of you at all times,” says Melissa Doft, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in New York City. “We’re more aware of what we look like. Twenty years ago, you saw yourself in the mirror when you brushed your teeth in the morning and at night. Now you’re constantly on Zoom calls and you’re getting photos posted of yourself. It has affected the age of facelifting.”

2. But no, there is no “perfect age” for a facelift.

Maybe you saw this coming. But – apologies to my editor – there’s no magic number here.

Several of the surgeons consulted for this story said that if you lift your jawline up and backwards with your hands when you look in the mirror or notice in photos that you don’t have the taut jawline you used to, you could be a candidate. At 37, I can say check and check.

But we all age differently. There are people who go through menopause early (more on that in a minute), who have a history of smoking, or have long-term sun exposure that may make them a facelift candidate at a younger age. All of these things “change the texture and quality of the skin,” says Dr. Doft. There’s also the rise of GLP-1 and GLP-1/GIP weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro: “People have been pretty successful on [these drugs] and they’re losing substantial amounts of weight and are losing that weight quickly. For somebody who was significantly overweight that can lead to a lot of laxity,” says Dr. Doft. “[That’s a group of] people who tend to be much younger.”

3. There are definite advantages to getting a facelift younger.

Before anyone comes at us with pitchforks, by younger we mean under 50, not under 30. And rarely even under 40. But the point is that not waiting too long can mean your surgery results will be longer lasting. In her practice, Catherine Chang, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, has noticed that younger facelift patients may be able to go 8 to 10 years without touching up a facelift (i.e. getting a second facelift), while patients who get a facelift when they are 50 or older might come back for a touch-up in five or six years. “You lose [about] 1% of your collagen each year after the age of 25, so the ability of skin to hold [facelift results] gets lower as you age,” she says.

Sarmela Sunder, MD, a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, agrees. “If someone’s in their 60s or 70s coming to me for a lift, I’m telling them, ‘In five years, you’re probably going to want to do this again,’” she says. “If you want to look natural, we can’t pull someone super tight in their 60s and 70s because it’s going to look ridiculous. For most people, the goal of surgery is to look refreshed.”

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping I’d walk into these brightly lit patient rooms in Beverly Hills and be laughed out of the place by each respective surgeon. “Get out of here! Come back in 20 years!” That didn’t happen.

Dr. Chang and Dr. Sunder, both of whom I saw in person, walked me through my concerns and facial anatomy with precision, explaining the changes I was seeing in the area below my chin that seems to hang and isn’t as taut as it used to be and the area around my jawline. I couldn’t identify what was happening there, I just knew I noticed a “dip” between the corner of my jawline and my chin on my mandible bone and learned that was called the “pre-jowl sulcus.” Both said a facelift was within the realm of possibility for me and that if I got one now, my 37-year-old skin potentially could maintain the results until I approached 50.

4. Menopause is a factor.

And kind of a big one. “When a person starts to see the changes in their face that are remedied by a facelift, those changes generally happen in the late 40s, early 50s,” says Amir Karam, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in San Diego. “It actually correlates, almost precisely, with perimenopause and menopause.” (On average, menopause — which begins 12 months after a woman’s last period — starts at 51.)

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs as a woman nears and enters menopause causes the skin to thin and become drier and less elastic. And while women taking estrogen as part of hormone replacement therapy may see less dramatic changes in the texture and elasticity of their skin, they won’t avoid it completely.

So, as my 47-year-old, facelift-curious editor asked me at the beginning of this reporting: Should you wait until after menopause for a facelift because if you do it too early it’ll just fall apart? To that we do have a clear answer: No. “Pre-menopause is when your hormones are as best as they’re going to be going forward and your skin quality is so much better, your collagen-producing capability is so much better,” says Dr. Sunder. “If you have a higher store of collagen, have a higher store of elastin, and your hormones are optimized, that’s going to be a better result than if you were to wait until after.”

Getty Images

5. You can be too young.

If you’re under 35, why are you still reading this? And if you’re under 40 like me, well, before you do anything be very careful. The younger you are, the more crucial it is to find a highly skilled surgeon. (And, no, having a million followers or a strong social following doesn’t mean jack.) It’s actually easier to perform a facelift on an older patient due to the give of their skin. On a 40-year-old, “this surgery requires extreme precision and very careful lifting because it’s not a lot [of skin to work with],” says Dr. Chang. “If you’re not well-versed in facelift surgery, these younger patients are tricky.”

Dr. Few doesn’t recommend a facelift for anyone in their 30s because scarring is a concern. “Your scar response is statistically much more likely to be aggressive or hyperactive in comparison to somebody who’s in their 50s, 60s, or 70s,” says Dr. Few. Also, in your 30s, the tightening-effect could be so subtle that a facelift doesn’t provide the “wow factor” you may be anticipating. “I saw somebody who had a facelift at 39 and they still have the same neck-banding issue [they were hoping to treat],” says Dr. Few. “Probably all they really needed was a little bit of Botox in the [platysmal] neck bands (vertical cords one can see at the central neck, running from the chin down) and they would have been fine.”

At my consultation with Dr. Sunder, she explained that while most patients aren’t aging significantly enough in their late 30s to be candidates for a facelift, factors such as my anatomical structure make me one. She noted that my submandibular glands (one of the main salivary glands, a term entirely foreign to me before writing this story) hang lower than most people’s. And my pre-jowl sulcus (another one I’d never heard of before, but it’s the indentation I notice along my mandible or lower jaw) is becoming more prominent as a result of bone loss with aging. She said my skin is like a tablecloth being draped over my jawline; when you start to see dips in your jawline, it’s akin to a tablecloth showcasing the table underneath. We talked about whether weight gain was also a contributing factor to what I had considered fat under my chin. Dr. Sunder said that it was not subcutaneous fat and not something she could remove with liposuction. Plus, weight loss could neither help eliminate my concern altogether nor the skin laxity in the area. Ultimately, the only remedy would be a neck lift.

As I was reporting this story, my friends all remarked how mentally strong I had to be to get this type of feedback for a work endeavor and had a million questions, like if they were a candidate or not. (I’m not a doctor, just a writer!) But on the topic of deciding whether or not you’re ready for a facelift…

6. Whatever age you are, you have to really want a facelift.

Okay, so you feel younger than you look. Welcome to being over 30. And sometimes you pull your jawline up and backwards when you look in the mirror. Welcome to being over 40. Is the situation really and truly distressing you or are you just bemused and kind of bummed to be middle-aged?

“Is it weighing on you enough to where the cost of going through a two-week recovery, having an incision, potentially facing complications associated with a procedure… Is it worth that risk?” asks Dr. Karam. “Those risks are very small in well-trained and experienced hands, but they’re not zero.” They include infection, hematoma (lumpy bruising that is not dangerous), seroma (a post-op build up of fluid that tends to heal on its own), hypertrophic scarring (thick, raised scars), nerve damage, and complications from anesthesia. Dr. Karam says there are overzealous people who desire a facelift but aren’t the right candidate physically and/or emotionally: “We say no a lot in our practice.” As does Dr. Sunder, especially to the growing number of 30-somethings setting up facelift consultations. “I think people are seeing things that aren’t really there sometimes,” she says. “Or they’re feeling pressured to do something when they could wait.”

7. At 37, I am a candidate for a facelift… but then again, maybe I’m not.

There’s what Dr. Sunder told me about my submandibular glands and pre-jowl sulcus. And then there’s Dr. Chang, who explained that I am a good candidate for a lower facelift and also a brow lift and upper blepharoplasty to open up my eyes more.

My Zoom consultation with Dr. Karam went a little differently. (He often gives clearances to potential patients via video chat since many of them fly to California to see him.) He said there isn’t enough “slide” (or movement) of my skin to warrant a facelift at this time and asked me if my concerns were truly bothering me or not. Ultimately, he said to revisit the conversation with him in a few years.

All three said I would qualify for some form of neck lift surgery, however, to remove the subplatysmal fat that makes me unhappy with my profile. And I’m considering it. That’s because my neck and jawline in profile is something that’s been nagging me daily: when I look in the mirror, when I’m on video calls, when I’m filming. I told my mother — who thinks I am perfect and don’t need anything done — the results of these meetings, and while she didn’t totally negate the idea of surgery, she wasn’t enthusiastically supportive, either. I’m not about to book an OR, but I am weighing the costs versus the risks of surgery. There are the risks like infection or fluid accumulation at the incision site, and neck lifts also carry some of their own risks such as a rare nerve injury that may cause weakness of the lower lip or hair loss where the incision was made, according to the ASPS.

Bodily risk isn’t the only thing holding me back, though. There’s also this: I live in Los Angeles where people are desperate to turn back time. There’s a skewed idea of what is appropriate and when — a tendency to overindulge, if you will. I’ve seen, up close and personal, insane cosmetic work as well as insanely good cosmetic work. The difference typically depends on who the surgeon is, sure, but also whether the patient has thought carefully about what they’re getting done. Did they let the idea marinate a bit, sit with it for a while? Or did they make a hasty decision to do something just because it’s trending? My line of work allows me to learn what the popular procedures are, but that doesn’t mean I should go forward with anything even if I am a candidate. (I often pat myself on the back for not touching up filler every four months or testing out thread lifts when they were trending. I often wish I never got Coolsculpting.) But who knows? Maybe in five years I’ll be back in the office of one of these plastic surgeons, raring to go. Maybe I won’t.

Ultimately, when you have enough skin to be reasonably lifted up and you’re seriously thinking about it, that is the perfect age to get a facelift. “The best aspect of plastic surgery is restoring confidence,” says Dr. Doft. “When people ask, ‘Should I do this operation? Am I the right candidate?’ I say, ‘How often do you think about this? Are you thinking about it when you look in the mirror? Are you thinking about it once a month? Once a week?’ Most people will say, ‘I think about it every single day.’ If this is occupying that much of your time, you’re ready. Think how freeing it is to just take it off the table.”

Or onto the table, in this case.

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