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New study says a facelift only shaves off an average of 3 years

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds number of years you look younger post plastic surgery is only 3

Looking younger is the main reason people elect to have facial plastic surgery, but have you ever wondered just how many years it can actually make you look? According to a new study in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, the average number of “years saved” is less than you may think, at least depending on which study you believe.

“Typically, we tend to tell patients they’ll look less tired and more refreshed and try not to overpromise and say ‘You’ll look X years younger,’ because we don’t want to create unrealistic expectations,” says Dr. A. Joshua Zimm, a Manhattan plastic surgeon and one of the coauthors of the study, which he says was an attempt to “scientifically quantify the degree of change in someone’s age as perceived by a lay person.”

In other words, they based their study on what complete strangers perceived to be the true age of the plastic surgery patients.

To achieve that goal, Zimm and four colleagues looked at 204 facial plastic surgery patients, all of whom had opted for primary facial surgical procedures like facelifts, neck lifts, upper or lower blepharoplasty (eye lifts) and brow lifts at the same plastic surgery center in Toronto, Canada.

Among the 204 patients, 49 men and women met the criteria for the study, who ranged in age from 42 to 73. Each of the 49 had a variety of photos taken both before and after their facial plastic surgery. Variables, such as makeup and jewelry, were not allowed in the before or after shots in an effort not to detract from the primary objective of estimating the patients true age.

All the patient photos were taken by lead author Dr. Peter Adamson, who also performed each patient’s plastic surgery. Adamson used the same standardized background, camera and the same type of photography techniques.

The team then selected 50 “judges” consisting primarily of recruited hospital workers and lay people, who were then asked to record the estimated age of the patient’s in the before and after photographs. Additionally, the “judges” were also asked to rate the attractiveness of the patient’s on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest they could rank.

On average, the judges estimated the patients’ age to be approximately 5.2 years younger than their real age after surgery. Prior to surgery, they estimated them to be about 2.1 years younger than their chronological age; thus, the average age the judges estimated the patients to be was only 3.1 years younger than their actual chronological age.

In the after photos, there was also a nominal “insignificant” increase in attractiveness scores.

Nevertheless, Zimm still says the study’s findings are positive for those considering age-related plastic surgery.

“The takeaway is that patients will definitely appear younger after aging facial surgery on average,” he says. “There’s a range – the highest level was a patient who looked 9.4 years younger. I think it’s going to help with regard to communicating with patients. We can say to them you will look younger – we’ve shown it in studies.”

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A scientific study published online, February 21, 2012, in Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery demonstrates that a facelift and other facial cosmetic surgeries can alter your appearance so that you appear about seven years younger than your actual age.

“Our study…demonstrates a significant and consistent reduction in perceived age after aesthetic facial surgery. This effect is more substantial when the number of surgical procedures is increased, an effect unrelated to the preoperative age of a patient and unaffected by other variables that we investigated,” the study’s authors wrote in regard to their results published in the Archives of Plastic Surgery.

Other expert’s question why one study shows a seven-year reduction, yet this newest study led by Zimm shows only a three-year reduction. One reason is because such studies are based on the subjective perceptions of others, which vary. As the old saying goes, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”

Also, this newest study involved the results of only one surgeon, so the results could vary depending on how conservative the surgeon was or was not.

Zimm agrees that more studies involving several surgeons would be ideal. He also points out that the discrepancies between the two studies may have to do with the types of procedures performed.

“In our study, we had 18 patients who didn’t have face lifts, but just had a brow lift or an eye lift,” he explained. “You’re not going to get the same kind of results in terms of age reduction or attraction really when you’re looking at just that alone.”

When you examine the study’s findings, the numbers appear to support what Zimm says. For example, patients who had full facelifts that included upper and lower facial lifting scored the highest for “years saved”, going from -2.9 to 9.4, compared to those who had only lower facelifts who went from -1.6 to 7 “years saved” post-surgery.

Zimm also emphasized the study’s scientific nature.

“This is a very honest study,” he says. “We wanted to be as scientific as possible and keep everything consistent. That’s why we chose not to have makeup and jewelry before and after. If you have a before shot with no makeup and jewelry and the after photo has makeup and jewelry, it’s going to enhance the person’s look, their attractiveness, and their youthfulness.”


1. JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, “Objective Assessment of Perceived Age Reversal and Improvement in Attractiveness After Aging Face Surgery,” Zimm A, Modabber M, Fernandes V, Karimi K, Adamson PA, Published online August 1, 2013 (doi:10.1001/jamafacial.2013.268).

2. American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery/Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, “New study finds that a facelift can make you look about seven years younger,” February 1, 2012.