When most people think of facial rejuvenation undertandably the thought a facelift emerges. But contrary to popular perception, a facelift only addresses the lower third of the face. While smoothing out the neck and the jawline provides a youthful improvement, it does not address the middle of the face. Even if it could pulling the middle of the face outward would produce an unnatural distortion and is rarely the answer to midface rejuvenation.
Loss of facial volume and removal of tissue support is a well recognized mechanism of facial aging. Thus volume restoration is a very useful approach to helping to reverse midface deflation. This can be done by either malar/submalar implants or fat injections and there are advocates for each approach. Implants tend to produce a more consistent augmentation method that is stable long-term.
Neither a facelift or the addition of volume restoration to the midface will improve the texture of the skin. Chemical peels and laser resurfacing are the known effective approaches for smoothing out fine wrinkles and improving the look of the skin.
A more complete facial rejuvenation approach would include all of these elements from a facelift, midface augmentation and skin resurfacing. In the September 2014 issue of the American Journal of Cosmetic Surgery, an article appeared entitled ‘Total Face Rejuvenation: Simultaneous 3-Plane Surgical Approach Combined With Ablative Laser Resurfacing’. In this paper, a retrospective review of 21 female patients (age 58 to 71 years old) undergoing combined extended-SMAS facelift, mid-ace augmentation with implants, and full-face ablative laser resurfacing by a single surgeon was done. None of the facelift skin flaps suffered any healing problems. The skin healed (re-epitheliazed) within ten days and makeup was able to be worn again within two weeks. One hematoma occurred as well as one implant infection. This study showed that all three facial procedures can be performed at the same time.
It has been historically thought that combing certain procedures, such as laser resurfacing and a facelift, runs the risk of skin loss and other healing problems. But this study shows what has been known now for some time that combining multiple facial rejuvenation procedures is not only safe but necessary in most cases to have the best results. As long as the laser resurfacing is not done too deep over the raised skin flaps of the facelift, a negative effect of skin and incisional healing does not occur.
While cheek augmentation can be done by synthetic injectable fillers or fat injections, the only assured permanent method is through the use of preformed implants. Cheek implants come in a variety of styles and sizes and it is critical to make these implant choices thoughtfully to get the desired midface result. The most common aesthetic cheek implant complication, however, is that of asymmetry.
Cheek implants are the second most commonly performed facial implant used behind those used for the chin. But unlike chin implants, cheek augmentation requires the use of two implants that must be placed with their symmetry in mind. But cheek implantation sites can be difficult to see simultaneously and their symmetry is usually assessed by external evaluation of how the cheeks look. But swelling and other tissue distortions can mar the accuracy of this comparative assessment. This external view is complemented by also assessing how the implants rest on the bone between the two sides.
But despite the best placement efforts, cheek implant asymmetry can occur. This could be due to initial asymmetric implant placement or a migration/shift of the implant afterwards. Due to the size of the implant pocket initially, unsecured cheek implants can shift move right after surgery. (early displacement) It is very rare to have a cheek implant change position months or years later (late displacement) although it can happen. Why a cheek implant would have such a delayed shift in position long after the enveloping capsule (scar) around it has been created and healed could be infection or a reactive seroma formation. Surgery performed near the implant can also cause an implant reaction and subsequent shift. (picture shows a CT scan with cheek implants at two different positions and a reactive fluid collection around the left cheek implant as it moves its way towards the mouth incision)
Cheek implant reposition surgery can be performed but is rarely as simple as just ‘moving the implant around’. Because scar tissue forms around all synthetic materials, repositioning of implants usually requires some form of capsulectomy/capsulotomy. (releasing or excising portions of the existing implant’s pocket) In addition, it is critically important to secure the cheek implant into the new position and this is most reliably done by screw fixation with self-tapping titanium 1.5mm microscrews. A layered closure over the implant consisting of muscle and mucosa is also important to keep as much soft tissue between the intraoral cavity and the implant pocket.
Because of the path of cheek implant insertion, asymmetry or migration of the implant is usually downward towards the location of the incision. This occurs also because the cheek bone is sloped downward and the maxillary bone underneath it is concave, making movement in that direction easy. Thus , most cheek implant repositioning is moving the implant back up over the bone.
Fat loss in the face is referred to as facial lipoatrophy. While some people have it occur naturally with aging or weight loss, for others it is a medication side effect. While retroviral drugs have extended the lives of patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), one of its well know side effects is the loss of the facial fat compartments. This has become known as facial wasting since it is an abnormal and active process. In facial lipoatrophy terms, there are various degrees of it classified as I through V. Many HIV positive patients have advanced type IV and V facial lipoatrophy appearances.
While facial wasting affects all fat layers in the face, its biggest impact is on the buccal fat pad. With its numerous fingers of fat that extend throughout the face and up into the temple region, loss of the buccal fat pad creates a skeletonized and hollow facial appearance. In its fullest extent, it makes one look ill and unhealthy and carries the social stigmata of someone who has the disease.
It has been shown that thymidine analogue drugs are the cause of this facial lipoatrophy effect. Recovery of some of the lost fat can be achieved with a switch to nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-sparing therapies but it is slow and never complete.Various forms of plastic surgery are needed to create a more dramatic and immediate facial change.
Facial rejuvenation procedures for facial wasting is focused on volume restoration around the periorbital region (eyes), specifically that of the cheeks and temple regions. The temple hollowing is a pure soft tissue deficit while that of the cheek area is a combined bone and soft tissue deficit. This is not to say that the cheek has lost bone but that it has become very skeletonized adn looks withered, thus cheek (malar = bone) and the area below the cheek (submalar = soft tissue) needs building back up.
While there are injectable treatments available to treat facial wasting, synthetic (Sculptra) and natural (fat), they have favorable degrees of effectiveness. Sculptra injections are for those patients who are definitely opposed to surgery and have the patience to wait until their fill effect is seen…and then have it repeated 18 to 24 months later. Fat injections are problematic both in harvest and persistence. Many facial wasting have little fat to harvest and its ability to survive in tissue beds with very little subcutaneous fat is precarious at best.
A facial implant approach can be very successful and create an immediate volume restoration with long-term stability. The temple hollowing is treated with new soft silicone elastomer temple implants that are placed below the fascia but on top of the muscle. This camouflages the implant edges and is a remarkably simple procedure to insert them with no postoperative pain, little swelling and a very quick recovery. They are far superior to any injectable filler because they are so effective. They key in using them is to not pout in a size that is too big which is very easy to do in a very skeletonized temporal region.
The cheek area requires a very broad-based implant, part of which is placed below the cheek bone on the masseter muscle. Proper implant placement actually puts at least half if not more of the implant below the bone. While once submalar cheek implants were exclusively used, I have found that larger combined malar-submalar shell implants do a better job of midface volume restoration. Because these type of cheek implants are substantative in size, screw fixation is useful to keep them in the desired location as they heal.
One area that is left out with temple and malar-submalar shell implants is the intervening area over the zygomatic arch and immediately beneath it into the lower face. A complete facial wasting surgery includes implantation of this area as well but has to be done with either fat injections or preferably a dermal-fat graft placed through a limited facelift approach. Without filling in this area there can be a step-off in the face behind where the malar-submalar shell implant ends.
Facial wasting treatment is one specialized form of facial reshaping surgery. These procedures allowing for volume restoration of the face hopefully to a level that is close to what they looked like before starting their anti-viral drugs. With a more ‘plump’ face, one self-confidence is improved, they look healthier and they will be encouraged to stick with their long-term drug therapy.
Of all the potential areas of facial skeletal augmentation, cheek implants are the second most commonly performed location. Having noticeable and strong cheek bones is considered just about part of every aesthetically pleasing face, There are gender and other ‘look’ differences in the dimensions of the cheek prominences but their presence is a key aesthetic element of an attractive and proportionate face.
Unlike the chin or the nose, the cheeks represent a paired area of facial bone prominences and this accounts for some of the unique considerations when surgically enhancing them. The cheek implants must not only be symmetrically placed but must have the right shape and size to give the cheeks their desired look.
While cheek implants used to be thought as two oblong shapes that were positioned right over the front edge of the zygomas (cheeks), that original approach was just the first step in how far cheek augmentation has come today. Understanding the different shapes of contemporary cheek implants can create a cheek look that best suits their face. They fundamentally break down into three types based on what area of the cheek they augment.
The traditional cheek implant is now described as a Malar Shell. It is called that because it sits over the curved zygoma and augments it in a near 120 degree arc. It most closely mimics the natural shape of one’s zygoma and just makes it bigger. For people with flat cheekbones from the lateral infraorbital rim down, particularly those who have a negative vector, this implant produces a natural and not overly prominent effect.
In the mid-1990s, the submalar implant was a revolutionary improvement in the few cheek implant styles that were available. It is designed to sit on the lower half of the cheek bone, creating more fullness below the cheekbone prominence and helping to pick up any sagging cheek tissues. It was even touted as a volumetric midface lift. It creates that effect in the patient with midface aging as well as one who has submalar hollowing from facial lipoatrophy.
For those patients who are in need of a more total cheek augmentation effect combining the malar and submalar areas, there is the Submalar Shell implant which can also be called the Midface Implant. Putting the two together gives a combined bone augmentation to the cheek prominence and a volumetric fill to the area below…a combined bone and soft tissue effect.
While not a different style, several features have been added to these cheek implant shapes that help them adapt to the bone better and provide increased soft tissue fixation. The Conform feature is that implant is no longer a solid piece but has a grid pattern on its backside that allows the ultimate in adaptability to the bone. (increased flexibility) The addition of a 0.3mm layer of Gore-Tex on the outside of the silicone implant provides a semi-porous outer layer for soft tissue to quickly grow into and fix the implant in position. (if a screw is not being used)
Selecting the cheek zones to augment is the key in selecting the proper cheek implant style. Selecting the right size of implant, however, is more of an art than an exact science as there is no quantitative measurement to make that determination. But in general it is usually better to be more conservative (smaller) than one would think as these broader surface area cheek implants of today can create a bigger effect than one might think when just holding them in your hand.
The one facial feature that is most associated with a youthful looking face is that of the cheeks. Firm uplifted and rounded cheeks are what is seen in younger people, flat deflated cheeks are usually seen as many people age. It is the loss of cheek volume that contributes to a tired looking and aged appearance. While browlifts and eyelid surgery for the upper face and neck and jawline lifts for the lower face have been around for decades, the intervening zone between the two has caught a lot more interest of late.
Cheek and midface rejuvenation is the last facial region to receive a lot of attention from both surgical and non-surgical treatments. Numerous good options exist today including the use of synthetic implants , cheek lifts , fat injections and expanded uses of injectable fillers. While each of these cheek enhancement treatments have their advocates and critics, it is important to realize that the controversy is more about indications and less about effectiveness.
One of the first treatments for midface rejuvenation was that of silicone cheek implants, specifically the submalar implant style. By adding volume to the underside of the cheekbone, a subtle but visible lift of the midface was obtained through a combined voluminization and positional effect. Restoring fullness to the ‘apple’ area of the cheek removes the midface flatness. The submalar cheek implant has now been expanded to incorporate more of the cheek area through a new style known as the malar shell. The biggest benefit of using implants is that they create permanent volume but yet can be completely and easily reversed if needed. Any concern about implant stability or shifting is removed by screw fixation to the bone. There is never any concern about implant settling/erosion in the cheek bones. Such facial implants have proven over the years to be very safe and effective when well placed with a very low risk of problems.
While cheek lifts (midface lifts) were the rage a decade ago for midface rejuvenation, they have fallen considerably out of favor. Beyond the complication risk of lower eyelid deformity (ectropion), the concept of lifting up fallen or sagging cheeks has not proven to be effective or sustainable alone over the long -term. Cheek lifts, as part of an extended blepharoplasty, still have a midface rejuvenation role but they need to be combined with the addition of volume through the concurrent insertion of cheek implants or with fat injections.
The real revolution in cheek enhancement has been through the use of injectable fillers. This has not only made it possible for a wide array of practititoners to engage in midfacial augmentation but the number of filler options is considerable. With injectable fillers, it is theoretical possible that just about every patient over 40 years of age could benefit by some degree of volume addition. Younger patients may only need a single syringe or less while older patients may need multiple syringes over broader areas.
The injection location for filler placement is based on an understanding of aesthetic cheek anatomy. A youthful cheek has a three-dimensional shape with the greatest projection producing a light reflex at the apex of the cheek. This point is often described by the intersection of lines drawn down from the lateral canthus of the eye to one drawn from the corner of the mouth to the tragus of the ear. But the injector must use an artistic assessment as to what looks best for each patient.
While many fillers exist for midface injection, the hyaluronic acid-based (HA) fillers are associated with the best safety profiles. The more robust HA fillers, such as Juvederm, works best as their higher G prime (stiffness) allows the cheek tissues to be lifted effectively with less volume than other fillers. A game changer in cheek fillers has been the introduction of Voluma late last year. As an extension of the HA product Juvederm, Voluma was specifically made and studied for the cheeks/midface. Its unique properties allow it to lift tissues effectively and it persists for over a year.
Fat injections has grown tremendously in popularity over the past decade and the cheeks is one of its prime targets in the face. It is a treatment option between injectable fillers and synthetic implants. It offers a more less invasive option than implants but with the potential for a longer-lasting result than injectable fillers. The key variable in this equation is the unpredictability of how well injected fat survives. While the cheek is one of the most favorable areas for fat survival in the face, it is still wildly unpredictable. The appeal of its natural composition is counterbalanced by the risk of partial or complete resorption.
When factoring all the advantages and disadvantages of every cheek enhancement option, it is a balance of the magnitude of the problem vs. how much effort one wants to invest in the treatment. For the younger patient with early facial aging concerns, injectable fillers are the best treatment unless they are having surgery for other aesthetic issues (e.g., rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, liposuction). Then fat injections would be worth the effort in the hope for a long lasting result. For the older patient with more moderate to more advanced midfacial aging, implants are the best treatment as other facial rejuvenation procedures are being simultaneously done. Fat injections are a good choice for those patients who are opposed to implants but they should not expect the same predictable volume result.
Rejuvenation of the aging face has well established methods for correcting the upper (browlift) and lower face (lower facelift/necklift) that produces consistent and satisfying results. But the face does not age in just individual subunits and the midface has similar aging issues that are uniquely different. Sagging cheeks, lower eyelid hollowness and lines and folds under the eyes present challenges for successful rejuvenation.
The development of midface rejuvenation techniques has historically lagged behind that of the upper and lower face. Only in the past decade has the concept of midface lifting emerged. The vector of the midface lift is different than that of a facelift being more vertical than oblique in orientation and more closely resembles the direction of a browlift. But it has been associated with significantly more complications and dissatisfaction than either browlifts or facelifts.
The factors that contribute to midface rejuvenation complications are several fold. First, most midface lifting techniques go through the lower eyelid and require resuspension after the tissues are lifted. This places the lower eyelid at risk for sagging or ectropion due to the tension placed on it and the very delicate suspension system of the lower eyelid which is easily disrupted. Secondly, where to attach the lifted cheek tissues to is limited and adequate bony support may be lacking.
As a result of this midface conundrum, a wide variety of open and endoscopic midface lifting techniques has developed. There is no consistent midface rejuvenation technique and this has lead to a lot of confusion on the part of both surgeons and patients alike.
To aid surgeons in midface analysis and in the selection of the most successful rejuvenation strategy, a paper on this topic published in the March 2013 issue of the journal of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. A retrospective review was done on 150 patients who had midface rejuvenation procedures done by a single surgeon. The procedures included cheek implants, fat injections, limited and full midface lifts and facelifts. The vast majority were women (93%) with an average age of 51 years as would be expected. About one-third of patients had more than one treatment for their midface aging. Patient dissatisfaction in this study was 14%. Fat grafting alone had the highest rate of dissatisfaction of all treatments. The rate of patient dissatisfaction was associated with malar hypoplasia (skeletal deficiency) and loss of skin elasticity.
What makes midface rejuvenation unique from a facelift is that the degree of skeletal support is significant. No matter how well the cheke tissues are lifted, failure to achieve an aesthetically pleasing or a sustained result is doomed if the cheek bone does not have adequate projection to support it. The use of cheek volumizing through implants is needed in such cases. When the cheek skin has poor elasticity, pulling up alone again is inadequate and adding skeletal support needs to be considered.
One of the key features of an attractive and youthful face is the cheek area. The desire for fuller cheeks, however, is driven more than just by that of model and celebrity faces. Part of the aging process is losing volume (fat) in the cheeks and temple areas, creating more hollowed or gaunt type look. For those that start out with thinner faces, this process is more accentuated even earlier in the aging process. This form of facial aging can not be treated by any form of a facelift or tissue shifting approach. It requires restoration of facial volume.
So it is no surprise that plastic surgeons over the years have used every available option in their armamentarium to reshape and lift the cheek area. While once only able to be treated by synthetic implants up to the early 1990s, injectable fillers of differing compositions for cheek enhancement became a dominant force over the past two decades as they have surged in popularity. The use of autologous fat in just a few short years has also become now a major tool for use in the cheek.
The single greatest advantage to synthetic injectable fillers for cheek enhancement is its immediate result. The hyaluronic acid-based fillers, such as Restylane or Juvederm, offer the greatest margin of safety because of their lack of inflammatory response and assured resorption profiles. Other fillers such as Radiesse and Sculptra offer longer results but a somewhat higher risk of soft tissue reactions to their particulated content. Composition aside, the biggest disadvantage to fillers is that they are temporary. (which is also their advantage) This makes them expensive to maintain over time if one likes the result. But they are actually a low cost approach to doing a trial cheek enhancement that is completely reversal. Using a microcannula delivery technique, injectable fillers can now be delivered painlessly and without bruising.
On the surface, fat carries with it many of the same features as synthetic materials because it is injected. But beyond being injectable, it is a very different filler material. Because it is harvested from each individual patient, there is no chance of any inflammatory reaction and a very low risk of infection. It’s other tremendous advantage is that there is no limit on the volume that can be injected (in the small face) and its inherent composition of stem cells has its own list of theoretical advantages. In addition, it is done for a set procedure price rather than by a cc cost for synthetic fillers. It is similarly injected by small cannulas so placement can be very exact without bruising. The best fat placement is down at the bone level and in the muscle, where survival is better. But with all these advantages comes two distinct disadvantages…it is a minor surgical procedure and there is no assurance as to how much fat will survive. For these reasons, fat grafting is often advocated when the patient is in surgery for other procedures (e.g., facelift, lkipsouction etc) or the patient has been previously qualified by having had successful cheek augmentation with synthetic fillers.
Implants offer the one permanent method of cheek enhancement. With no external scarring as a result of being placed from inside the mouth, implants are not only permanent but can provide the most dramatic of cheek augmentation effects. The most difficult aspect of using cheek implants is selecting the proper style and size. With dozens of implant options the choices can be overwhelming and there is no clear-cut quantitative way to know what effect the implant will create in any particular patient. It can also be surprising how much change can occur in the cheeks from what appears to be a relatively small implant.The cheek is a very volume-sensitive area. So it is always better to ‘undersize’ or choose a size below what you think you should use in many cases. The disadvantages to cheek implants are infection, displacement and asymmetry. Fortunately infections are very uncommon and displacement can be circumvented by securing the implant position with small self-tapping screw fixation. Avoiding asymmetry is a matter of experience and matching carefully the position of the implant in reference to various bony landmarks.
With three cheek augmentation options available, how does any patient know what is best for them? Cheek augmentation is a lot more art than it is science and appreciating the underlying bony anatomy, the overall facial shape and what look the patient is after is key. But you have to take the whole patient into analysis not just the cheeks. Thin people with low body fat may do poorly with fat grafting, the devout non-surgery patient can only have synthetic fillers, or those seeking the most efficient and long-term method may opt for implants. Good cheek results defy a cookie-cutter approach and the most natural outcomes come from knowing how to use all three…occasionally even blending two of the techniques together.
There are many reasons that patients request surgical changes to their face. With over twenty different facial regions that can be altered, there are seemingly endless options and combinations. But when you break it down, there are two main reasons for making cosmetic changes to the face. I divide these into either facial anti-aging surgery and facial structural surgery. For the most part, this is the difference between soft vs hard tissue facial surgery.
Anti-aging facial surgery includes many of the most recognizeable procedures such as a facelift, blepharoplasty (eyelid tucks) and skin resurfacing. These are done to counteract the effects caused by time, age and sun exposure. Changes are made to the soft tissues of the face, largely the outer skin layer. Facial structural surgery goes much deeper and makes changes to the bone and cartilage. The most common structural procedure historically is rhinoplasty but today includes everything from forehead augmentation and brow reduction down the face to chin and jaw angle augmentation.
Besides the tissue levels which these two types of cosmetic facial surgeries affect, there are also very significant psychological differences between them. Anti-aging facial surgery is more psychologically comfortable for patients because the goal is to take them back to once how they looked, a place in which there is familiarity. The surgery and recovery may be scary but the end result is a look that the patient can recognize and has known in the past. In contrast, structural facial surgery is very different. The end result is one that is not familiar. It is a new look, an alteration of a face that one has known their whole life.
Having done many facial structural procedures in my practice from rhinoplasty to jawline enhancement, I have made several observations about these types of plastic surgery. Some of these are not new and have been known in plastic surgery for a long time. But new technologies and biomaterials have changed what is possible today and with that comes new psychological ramifications for patients.
Changing the structure of one’s face obviously requires an understanding as to what the patient’s goals are. Patients provide that information by descriptions of their concerns and often provide visual aids such as drawings, self-photographs and photographs of other people. These are all really helpful and collectively important. But one concerning issue is the overuse of model or celebrity facial photos. Seeing too many of these or having a patient show a whole notebook of other people’s or famous face may be a sign of unrealistic expectations after surgery. While everyone willingly acknowledges that they can not look like someone else, whether they believe that or not may be another story.
To aid presurgical discussions and goals, I consider computer imaging essential to any facial structural surgery. For the psychological reasons previously mentioned, I rarely do it for anti-aging facial surgery but consider it essential for structural changes. But computer imaging can be misinterpreted and often is. It is not a guarantee of results and such imaged results may never actually be achieved. It is a communication tool about surgical goals and what a patient wants changed and the degree of those changes. It is only as good as the person doing it and is really an integration of surgical experience and how well one knows computer imaging technology. This is why a plastic surgeon should be doing the imaging, for only they know what can really be achieved by different types of facial surgery. But even in the best of hands, a patient should not assume that is exactly the way they will look after surgery. It is an estimate or prediction but human tissues induce more variables than pixels on a computer screen.
When going through structural facial surgery, the recovery is going to be longer and more psychologically difficult that most patients envision. The swelling and bruising on the face can be quite shocking and no patient is ever really prepared for it. When the dressings, splints or sutures come out days or a week later, it is not a moment of celebration or expectation. It is just the first step in the recovery process. One is not looking at the final result and, depending upon the procedure(s) being done, full recovery is not just a few weeks away.
Facial areas will be puffy, swollen and distorted and usually far more than one anticipates. It may be significant or not all that bad, but this is not the time to judge the results. More importantly, and I have seen this many times, one should not assume that the changes are too big and need an immediate revisional surgery. What appears too big at two or three weeks after surgery may be just perfect at two or three months. My minimal time for judgment of facial structural surgery results is three months and I will not consider any revision before then unless they are compelling medical reasons. (e.g., infection) One should not attempt aesthetic revision on a moving target.
When three or more structural facial procedures are done at the same time, the appearance of the face the first few weeks after surgery can be very disturbing. Patients will often feel that they have made a mistake and even wish to return to how they looked before even though they obviously did not care for that appearance. Such after surgery appearances disrupt work and social interactions but are part of the process. If one thinks they will go back to work in two or three weeks after such surgery and will look perfectly normal…this is not realistic. Plan accordingly and I mean this from a psychological perspective. Living through the process of facial swelling resolution and tissue adapation around the bone or implant shape requires tolerance, explanations and even an openness about what has been done if necessary.
One of the most important considerations about structural facial surgery is an appreciation that the risk of needing revisional surgery is significant. At the least, it is much higher than that of a facelift or eyelid surgery. On the most simplistic level, let’s compare the risk of complications/revisional surgery of eyelid surgery (1 % to 2%) vs a chin implant (5% to 7%) in my experience. Both are fairly straightforward and relatively simple procedures. But the use of an implant introduces issues of infection, malposition and size and shape issues that do not exist as much in manipulating one’s natural skin. Now multiple that times the number of facial structure procedures being done, each with their own percent of risk, and it is easy to see why the risk of revisional surgery in facial structural surgery is significant.
For example, take a patient who is having rhinoplasty (5% revision risk), a chin implant (5% revision risk) and jaw angle implants (10% revision risk) done as a single procedure. On an additive risk basis, the real risk of revisional surgery in this case is 20% or higher, If you take more extreme cases of five or more facial structural procedures being done at the same time (a not uncommon collection of procedures in my practice), the potential risk of revisional surgery could be as high as 50%. This doesn’t mean that the complications are devastating or severe but are almost always about symmetry and the size of the changes done in the various areas. It is hard aesthetically to make so many facial changes and have them all look perfect afterwards…particularly when one is not precisely sure how they will interpret the changes.
Facial structural surgery can make significant aesthetic changes to either give the face a better shape, more definition and improved balance or to improve asymmetries between the two sides. But it is harder surgery to undergo both in planning and during recovery and has a higher risk of the need for revisional surgery.
Almost anyone in the world is aware of the recent tragedy in Norway with the mass killings of an incomprehensible number of Norwegian teens and young adults. The murderer Anders Breivik appears to have acted alone, driven by his white supremacist and anti-Muslin views. What has caught my attention as a plastic surgeon, however, is comments that have been written about his facial appearance.
According to the head of Norway’s intelligence agency, it is believed that he had undergone plastic surgery in the past to look more “Aryan.” The agency’s head has stated that “You do not have that Aryan look naturally in Norway”…”Hitler would have had him on posters. He has the perfect, classic Aryan face. He must have had a facelift.”
While I am not an expert on Norwegian facial structure, I do know that he would not have had a facelift to change his facial appearance. That is not what a facelift does. A facelift is what I call ‘anti-aging facial surgery’, where one is trying to return to one’s prior appearance. This does not change your face but rather makes it look rejuvenated and less tired like it did 10 or 15 years ago. But you still look like you, just a better you.
Rather he would have undergone ‘structural facial surgery’, where the foundational components of the face are altered. That can and often does change one’s appearance. Foundational facial procedures are done at the bone or cartilage level, not just the skin and soft tissues. This includes plastic surgery procedures such as rhinoplasty and facial bone augmentations. (forehead, brow, cheek, chins and jaw angles) According to reports, he supposedly underwent nose and chin surgery at age 21. This would make more sense as these can change the structure of the face and definitely can make one more Aryan in facial appearance, particularly if certain elements of the face are already there.
This raises the question of what is an Aryan facial appearance and why does it look so? The word Aryan, at least as it was perceived and used in Nazi Germany, specifically refers to being white, blond-haired and blue-eyed. But there is not necessarily a specific set or arrangement of facial features that are ascribed to an Aryan face. People talk about it and one would know if they saw it but may not be able to describe the details of it. But what it undoubtably refers to is a strong and well-chiseled face. For a male this would be highlighted by well-defined facial bony prominences of the brows, cheeks, chin and jaw angles. The nose would have a strong and high dorsal line with a balanced ratio between the three nasal thirds.
The concept of an Aryan face continues to exist today but it is better known as the ‘Male Model Face’. Most young male models in any advertisement today almost all have this type of facial appearance. Whether they have it by genetics, plastic surgery or the use of good lighting and/or Photoshop, the strong and desireable male face has these consistent features.
Plastic surgery techniques today can help many men undergo these type of structural facial changes. Rhinoplasty, anatomical cheek implants, square chin implants, vertical lengthening jaw angle implants and occasionally select fat removal below the cheeks and in the neck can create a face that has more well-defined angles and is more masculine in appearance. For some men, this ‘Male Model Surgery’ can be very effective provided they don’t have a lot of facial fat and not an overly round face.
It is well known that one of the major contributors towards the perception of an attractive face, albeit a man or a woman, is the proportion of certain features. Known as indicators of facial beauty, disproportionate and asymmetric features are the main reasons many patients seek plastic surgery procedures. One can debate endlessly why this is so, but we are fundamentally driven to an attractive face from an innate drive of evolution and the desire to procreate. Attractiveness is desireable because it is perceived, right or wrong, to be associated with better genes.
But what are some of these features and can they really be changed by plastic surgery? For women it is bigger eyes, a rounder forehead, a smaller nose, well defined cheeks, larger lips and a chin that is not too prominent. For men, slightly prominent brows, a nose with a high dorsal line, well-defined cheeks, and a strong chin and jaw angles are associated with more masculinity. Short of the size of the eyes, all of these facial features can be modified by differing plastic surgery techniques.
The one desireable facial feature that both men and women share is the value of high and well-defined cheek bones. It is probably the only facial feature whose size and prominence is considered attractive for both sexes. It is also the one facial feature that I never receive requests to be reduced. (short of Asian patients and this more about the zygomatic arch width not anterior cheek projection) Few patients, if any, really want smaller cheeks.
What is it about high cheekbones that makes them some desireable? Many say that they feminize a face. If high cheek bones contribute to greater femininity, then why would it be attractive on men? The caveat is that it is only an aesthetically desireable facial feature in a man when it coexists with a stronger jawline as well. Strong cheekbones on a man with a small jaw or chin does not make for an attractive face. It is the angularity of the three defining points of a male face, the cheeks, chin and jaw angles, that makes for its aesthetic desireability. Such well-defined facial skeletal highlights equates with a strong and virile personal character. (and maybe the chance to pass along some good genes)
The benefits of cheek augmentation in either a man or a woman must take into consideration these aesthetic and gender differences. While cheek enhancement can be done with injectable fillers, I am reserving my comments here to the insertion of implants. Injectable fillers are largely a good trial method to determine the merits of proceeding to a permanent cheek augmentation in my opinion. Cheek implants in women should be softer and more round to provide volume but they usually don’t need to be angular or cross onto the zygomatic arch or encroach upon the lateral orbital rim area. This can add too much width which is not usually feminizing. Cheek implants in men often need to be more angular and add more height. They are beneficial to help balance out a strong jawline or should be done in conjunction with chin and jaw angle augmentation.
The cheeks can contribute significantly to one’s facial attractiveness. But it needs to be considered within the context of the whole face. The balance of one’s facial features is what makes for gender-specific facial beauty.
Dr. Barry Eppley is an extensively trained plastic and cosmetic surgeon with more than 20 years of surgical experience. He is both a licensed physician and dentist as well as double board-certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. This training allows him to perform the most complex surgical procedures from cosmetic changes to the face and body to craniofacial surgery. Dr. Eppley has made extensive contributions to plastic surgery starting with the development of several advanced surgical techniques. He is a revered author, lecturer and educator in the field of plastic and cosmetic surgery.