The face lift is arguably one of the beauty industry's most extreme treatments. Not for the fainthearted, the procedure typically consists of making incisions in the face to lift and pull back skin, the main focus being smoothing and tightening. If you have a social media account, you've no doubt seen many wince-inducing paparazzi shots of celebrities just days after going under the knife — like Marc Jacobs swaddled in bandages and, famously, Katie Price's bloodied stitches.
In recent years, thanks to the rise of readily available injectables such as dermal filler and Botox, face lifts fell out of favour among celebs and influencers. It made sense. With potential side effects including permanent nerve damage, scarring and skin loss, face lifts seemed to carry higher risks and involve a lot more downtime. If TikTok is anything to go by, though, the surgical procedure is making a slow but steady comeback.
It's fair to say that in 2021 plenty of outdated phrases like 'anti-ageing' have been kicked to the kerb. Collectively, it seems, many of us are coming to terms with pro-ageing and embracing the natural (and entirely normal) process of getting older. So why is the face lift trending so highly? Consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Mr Naveen Cavale (known for the Real Plastic Surgery Face Lift) explains that the interest in facial surgery follows the COVID-related 'Zoom Boom', which magnified insecurities for many. "It shows no sign of slowing," he says. "An interesting increase in bookings has been for the deep plane face lift specifically, which is a relatively new technique compared to the face lifts of old," targeting the lower half of the face including the neck. Mr Cavale reports that the first half of 2022 is already booking up with face lifts. "I'm expecting a big surge next year," he says.
On TikTok, the hashtag #faceliftsurgery has garnered 707.7 million pairs of eyes and internet-famous surgeons regularly post before and after clips to their accounts, amassing thousands of curious followers. While the face lift is arguably most common among people in their 60s looking to target the signs of ageing, it has recently seen a resurgence among much younger women on the social platform.
A quick search uncovers women in their 30s who have opted for partial face lifts (a mini version of the full face lift where incisions allow surgeons to pull the lower half of the face upwards) and have diarised the procedure. Besides more 'traditional' face lifts, it seems millennials in particular are booking in for brow, eye and temple lifts to appear more awake, youthful and "snatched", as wellness TikToker @ariellelorre puts it. In a video, she tells her followers: "If you wanna know the permanent way that celebrities get that lifted, snatched look on their eyes and their brows, hear me out. It's not shaving their brows; it's not Botox; it's not threads. It is surgery." She then lets viewers in on her own surgical treatment: a combination of an upper blepharoplasty (otherwise known as eyelid surgery) and an endoscopic brow lift. In the clip, Arielle shares multiple pictures showing intense post-surgery bruising and swelling — and she isn't the only TikToker to document her journey to more lifted features.
So why are face, eye and brow lifts gaining such traction among young women right now? Mr Cavale says that more younger patients are enquiring about facial surgery as a preventative measure — in other words, slowing down the signs of ageing. On TikTok, #preventativeskincare has 3.7 million views and counting, while Pinterest serves up hundreds of relevant pins. "They're looking to smooth out jowls, neck or cheeks — all areas that naturally drop a bit with age," Mr Cavale says. What's fuelling the boom? There's no denying social media sets an unrealistic standard for ageing. We all know that the vast majority of pictures of celebrities and influencers are edited in some capacity but it seems our phones are programmed to smooth, tighten and tweak our faces, too. Earlier this year, TikTok was found to change people's face shapes without permission, while phone cameras are known to airbrush skin, removing fine lines and wrinkles. The pressure to look a certain way no doubt has an impact on our self-esteem and how we see ourselves IRL.
Ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon Dr Elizabeth Hawkes puts the surge down to the pandemic. "There are a number of reasons why eye lifts are trending among younger women especially. I think it is largely due to our eyes being placed under more scrutiny than ever before as a result of mask-wearing, which covers the rest of the face and leaves the eyes on display." Dr Hawkes explains that blepharoplasty is a type of surgery which repairs 'droopy' eyelids and may involve removing excess skin, muscle and fat. Unlike full face lift surgery, Dr Hawkes says that patients won't appear an entirely different version of themselves. They will simply look less tired and more refreshed — another reason for its popularity.
Dr Hawkes adds that as plenty of people are still conducting the majority of their work online, they might become more aware of factors such as asymmetry and drooping, which she says can result in wrinkles, dark circles and bags. Upper eyebrow lifts are also trending, Dr Hawkes continues. "I have done more of these operations in the last year than previous years." As video calls continue to be an enormous part of our everyday lives, it's easy to become fixated on looks (with relatable memes and tweets deconstructing the experience still flooding the internet). Are we so concerned with ageing because we're seeing it happen in real time? Perhaps, but beauty 'trends' also have a part to play.
While eye and brow lifts may be safe in the right hands, Mr Cavale reports that a questionable procedure is 'fox eye' surgery, where people's eyebrows and eyelids are pulled up at an unnatural angle. Celebrities like Bella Hadid and Doja Cat often serve as inspiration for the 'fox eye' look. "Honestly, this is quite worrying," Mr Cavale says. "I've seen this done mainly nonsurgically [often using dissolvable threads] but I've also heard of people wanting to get this done surgically, too. It isn't something I offer at all. Even the nonsurgical route can offer permanent damage," says Mr Cavale, alluding to risks such as pain, bruising, infection and scarring.
Social media makes face and eye lift procedures appear both easy and attractive. As impressive before and afters flick before your eyes, you'd be forgiven for not giving a second thought to the ins and outs of the procedure and any complications. As a result, Mr Cavale says that face lifts are now much less taboo. "This is true for cosmetic surgery in general; it's no longer reserved for the rich and famous." Both Mr Cavale and Dr Hawkes explain that face and eye lift treatments can have benefits when done correctly but it's impossible to ignore the risks.
"Although [eyelid surgery] is largely safe, there is a risk of infection, swelling, bruising and pain, which will usually subside within a few weeks," says Dr Hawkes. "Scarring is always a risk," but fortunately rare. With face lifts, Mr Cavale explains that pain and numbness is common, as well as muscle weakness in the face. "This is usually temporary," he continues, but bleeding or infection and the need to go back to the operating theatre to have these sorted may also occur. Downtime is an important factor. Mr Cavale says that patients would need to take two to three weeks off work. "For the first night they'll need someone to look after them," he adds. Compression garments must also be worn.
While it's evident that lots of women in their 20s and 30s are opting for face and eye lifts, Mr Cavale refuses to perform any type of face lift surgery on someone who is "too young" for the procedure. His clients are usually 45 and over. "Being a good surgeon often means saying no," he explains, although it's not unheard of to find someone who will perform the treatment on a younger person and cut corners when it comes to safety. As a result, it is always advised to visit a qualified professional for advice.
It goes without saying that Refinery29 is a judgement-free space. Ageing is an entirely normal process that we encourage you to embrace but we also know that not everyone is happy to do so. Though evidently popular, face lifts can be an extreme route to go down. It may feel impossible to avoid the conversation around surgical procedures and tweakments (especially if you have an Instagram or TikTok account). Happily, though, 2022 might shift the focus. Anti-stress is taking over from anti-ageing, while experts report that smart micro-treatments (which can even be done in the comfort of your own home) are going to replace costly and lengthy procedures.
Mr Cavale recommends other skin rejuvenating options if surgery isn't for you. "Skincare products range from a good moisturising regime and sun protection [wear a broad spectrum SPF 50 daily] all the way up to chemical peels and laser." Mr Cavale concludes that if professional skin treatments are on your radar, a good clinic will offer a range of services to make it easier to choose the ones that are best for you. Lastly, he hits home the importance of walking away if you experience any hard selling. Beauty treatments and procedures should be a personal and well-thought-out choice.