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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Wondering how young you'll look after that face lift? Now there's a study to help you out.
Researchers reported this week that plastic surgery procedures took an average of seven years off patients' appearance, with more extensive facial surgeries turning the clock back farther.
They said that while the goal of surgery is to restore a more youthful yet natural appearance, doctors haven't had the data to provide a good estimate to their patients of just how much younger they'll look after face lifts, forehead lifts and eyelid work.
Still, "it's not the numbers that are important so much as the trend," said Dr. Nitin Chauhan from the University of Toronto, who worked on the study.
"Everybody has different objectives in mind (for surgery), and everybody has a different pre-operative state," he told Reuters Health.
The results follow another recent study, from some of the same researchers, which found that nose jobs come with a side benefit of taking a year or two off patients' perceived age (see Reuters Health story of January 19, 2012).
For the current report, Chauhan and his colleagues recruited 40 medical students to evaluate the "before" and "after" photos of 60 people they'd operated on with face lifts, neck lifts and additional procedures.
Those patients, mostly women, were between 45 and 72 years old when they got cosmetic surgery.
Before their procedures, the raters -- who evaluated different sets of photos and looked at them in random order -- estimated that patients were a year or two younger than their actual age. In the after shots, however, they pegged them at nine years younger than they really were.
The perceived age benefit was larger the more procedures patients had done, Chauhan's team reported in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery.
Getting only a face and neck lift turned the clock back 5.7 years, on average, based on the photo assessments. That compared to 7.5 years for patients who had eyelid work in addition to neck and face lifts, and 8.4 years for those who got forehead lifts on top of the other procedures.
Combined, patients looked an average of 7.2 years younger post-surgery.
Dr. Anthony Sclafani, a facial plastic surgeon at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, said that patients shouldn't necessarily choose to get extra procedures done based on the new findings.
"The group that got the most benefit was the group that had more done. That's somewhat intuitive," he told Reuters Health. "But the underlying argument and realization should be, you did more because these people needed more. They looked more tired, they looked older."
According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, facelifts typically run for close to $7,000 and eyelid work and forehead lifts for about $3,000 each.
Possible complications include bleeding, infection and the typical risks associated with going under anesthesia -- as well as the chance of not liking the way your face turns out. But serious complications are rare, researchers said.
One of the study's authors is a consultant for Allergan, the pharmaceutical company that makes Botox.
Researchers said that as well as looking younger, the goal of facial plastic surgery is also to make people look generally healthier, happier and more refreshed. And often, that's more important than perceived age itself.
"I would never tell somebody who's 60 years old, 'Go back and look at a picture of you from when you're 52,'" said Sclafani, who wasn't involved in the new study.
"You're going to look better; you're going to be more rested. The exact number, I wouldn't get too hung up about."
Chauhan said that surgery isn't the answer for everyone, and he also recommends eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and avoiding sun exposure to people seeking a more youthful appearance.
SOURCE: bit.ly/zEjqMd Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, online February 20, 2012.