Facelifts cannot be guaranteed to last more than five years, according to one of Britain’s most eminent plastic surgeons.
His verdict is the result of more than a decade of groundbreaking research based on photographs taken of 50 women before and after their operations.
Dr Barry Jones, a former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons who has carried out more than 1,700 facelifts, will present his findings to an audience at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Using a state-of-the-art computer program, Dr Jones and his assistant Dr Steven Lo, a plastic surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, uploaded a series of images of each patient, all taken using the same camera and lens, identical lighting and the same position of the subject’s face. After producing a detailed set of measurements of sections of the face and neck, the results were analysed for any movement that occurred from before the facelift compared to six days after surgery, four weeks after and between four and five years after the operation.
All the women in the study were given “deep plane” facelifts, a procedure that surgically tightens the muscles behind the ear and neck as opposed to cutting and stretching the skin to improve the tightness of the face.
The findings suggest slightly more than three-quarters maintained an improvement in their looks up to five-and-a-half years after surgery.
Dr Jones said: “One of the questions asked by almost all patients considering facelift surgery is, How long will it last?
“Studies of this kind have been, historically, difficult to perform because there needs to be a large number of patients with very accurate records, especially photographs, to eliminate variables, and accurate measuring techniques and over the same period of time.
“Since scientific data has not been available the answers given by surgeons have been no more than guesses, but now any woman considering this type of procedure will be able to confidently trust the findings for themselves. All patients are photographed in the same studio with the same camera, lens and lights, in the same positions, which has given us the best possible results.
“Every patient was photographed pre-operatively, at three to six months after surgery during a routine follow-up and again an average of five-and -a-half years after surgery for comparison.
“This study provides validated evidence for the first time that positive aesthetic changes from facelift surgery are maintained over several years with 76 per cent of patients still looking better more than five-and-a-half years after deep plane facelift surgery than they did before.”
He added: “In simple terms, by having a deep plane facelift you can expect to look on average at least five years younger.
“What happens after that period of time we do not know because our longest case study covers a period of around five-and-a-half years. We are continuing our research which may produce different findings over time.
“We operated by tightening the muscles but it stands to reason that given the process of time, those muscles will relax again through the natural ageing process.”
Caroline Cassidy, PA to a company chairman, who had her facelift in August 2008 when she was 48, said: “Mr Jones explained that it is always best to have the operation before you really need it and I think it’s worked.
“I’m going to be 53 in January and people say I look younger without it being obvious I’ve had a facelift. Most important of all, my father, who was dead against it, is amazed and delighted.”
The specialised computer software uses the iris of the eye as a constant marker for the facial measurements, on to which the later pictures can be superimposed to measure movement in the face with complete precision.
Dr Jones, who has published more than 120 scientific articles on subjects from facial aesthetic surgery to breast reconstructive surgery, said: “This is the first time patients can know for certain the average results of the deep plane procedure is likely to give them, which should give considerable peace of mind and a better understanding of the likely outcome of the procedure.”
A second study was run alongside the revolutionary research as a way of comparing the findings.
“I didn’t want it just to be about the statistics, which can be quite difficult to understand on their own,” said Dr Jones, who is also emeritus consultant plastic and craniofacial surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
“So we organised a team of four independent observers to view the photos and give us their opinion of whether or not they believed the results were just as good five years down the line.
“Astonishingly the views of the panel were identical to the set of results from the statistics from the computer research.
“Of course, the best way to maintain your skin is to look after it, to not smoke and to keep well hydrated, but for those who need a little help in maintaining their looks it’s good to know they can make their decision on the back of evidence-based medicine.”