The well known procedures of anti-aging facial plastic surgery continue to be debated as to which techniques are best. (e.g., facelift) And those debates will undoubtably continue for decades to come as the differences in them are often subtle and no matter how it is done it is still a surgical procedure. In contrast, the number of options of non-surgical facial rejuvenation procedures continues with growing numbers of injectable fillers, neuromodulators and skin tightening devices.
One of the most well known but least understood injectable facial rejuvenation procedure is that of the Liquid Facelift. This office-based procedure is an amalgamation of neurotoxins (like Botox, Dysport and Xeomin) combined with a variety of different injectable fillers. (e.g., Juvederm, Voluma) These are often combined with some skin resurfacing tightening procedure like a chemical peel, fractional laser resurfacing or pulsed light therapies. Because it is non-surgical, a Liquid Facelift has next to no downtime, requires no anesthesia and its full effects are evident within days to a week after it is done.
It is touted as a procedure that can take years off the face and can maintain or restore a youthful glow without surgery. While all three techniques (wrinkle weakening, adding facial volume and skin tightening/resurfacing) work synergetically, the back bone of the procedure as the name implies is the injectable filler part. Fillers add volume and with today’s number of injectable filler options exceeding a dozen, the choices are numerous most of which are hyaluronic-acid based. But almost no matter which FDA-approved injectable filler is used, they are all temporary with the exception of one. (Bellacol which contains small plastic non-resorbable beads) It is only question of how long they will last.
The volume effect of the injectable fillers is designed for the midface to add fullness and help create more of a V effect. Whether it really does much lifting can be debated but what it can do is increase cheek and midfacial contours. This can counteract the geometric effect when facial tissues fall (inverted V) and can correct cheek hollows from fat loss. The intent of creating this midfacial effect has led to the Liquid Facelift also being called the Liquid V-Lift.
While the Liquid Facelift has its place in facial rejuvenation, it should not be confused with what a surgical facelift can accomplish. These differences make it critical for patient selection and expectations. While age along is not the only factor, a Liquid Facelift is really for younger patients with early signs of facial aging that do not have a lot of loose skin. Significant jowls and turkey waddles are not going to get improved by an amount of volume addition or superficial skin tightening.
The desire to correct an aging facial appearance has been around as along as there is recorded history. Facelift surgery in various forms has been employed now for over one hundred years. Today’s facelift techniques are very diverse and use manipulations of all tissue levels down to the bone to achieve often dramatic improvements. Younger patients with very early signs of aging enjoy the benefits of facelifting albeit with more limited procedures geared towards the need for less dramatic changes.
But no matter how it is done, a facelift procedure is invasive and many patients want to avoid surgery if at all possible. Some patients are so opposed to surgery that they will choose any procedurethat simply isn’t surgery. With the widespread and growing use of injectable fillers and promising autologous therapies like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells, newer methods of ‘non-surgical facelifts’ have emerged. Some of these have very catchy names and good marketing efforts behind them, which combined with the ability to do them outside of a traditional operating room setting, has caught the attention and imagination of people concerned about their aging facial appearance.
The basic concept of all of these techniques is that they are injectable. While the name ‘facelift’ has become attached them, this is not an accurate name for them. They do not achieve the same effect as a facelift nor should they be construed as having much other similarity to a facelift either. Their use of the facelift name is a marketing manuever. The only similarity between a true facelift and these injection techniques is that they treat the same problem…facial aging concerns. Therefore, the proper name for them should be Injectable Facial Rejuvenation (IFR) which signifies their non-surgical nature They may provide some degree of rejuvenation but they definitely don’t lift tissues in the conventional sense.
In reviewing the available options for Injectable Facial Rejuvenation, it is important to recognize that most of them are not standardized treatment methods and are not sanctioned by the FDA to be used in this fashion. Because these techniques have emerged largely from marketing and patient recruitment means, and not from scientific or clinical studies, there is no way to compare their effectiveness other than anectodal reports and patient testimonials. This is why how one practitioner performs one injectable technique may be different than another. Such provider variability makes it impossible to assess the effectiveness of one IFR method, let alone if one IFR method is more effective than another.
The Liquid Facelift uses either one or a variety of off-the-shelf FDA-approved injectable fillers. These could include any of the many hyaluronic-acid based fillers, such as Restylane or Juvederm, or the particulated fillers such as Sculptra or Radiesse. The concept is the select placement of them into volume-deficient or sagging facial areas that expands them, thus creating some degree of a lifting effect. This is more expansion than a lifting result. Its effects will subside as the filler absorbs. It is postulated but not proven that these fillers have a long-term collagen stimulatory effect.
The Vampire Facelift is the ultimate marketer in IFR because it is a company that sells its technique for use. Its foundation is the use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP), an autologous platelet concentrate extract which contains growth factors and cytokines. Such factors have proven laboratory performance of accelerated healing. When introduced under the skin, it is presumed that it may have some rejuvenative or stimulatory properties. This technique is also combined with injectable fillers. The theory is that the PRP and the fillers in combination may lead to an enhanced and sustained collagen response. Whether this is enough to wake up the living dead is speculative.
The Stem Cell Facelift primarily employs the injection of fat or allegedly concentrated extracts of stem cells. Stem cells have caught the imagination of the cosmetic surgery world with the belief that they will provide some rejuvenative effect. This concept is theoretically appealing but has little scientific proof that this really occurs. Most ‘stem cell extracts’ are just concentrated fat from liposuction harvests. As such, it is impossible to know how many stem cells and what their potential is in any fat concentrate. Because of the widespread uncertainty of the value and effectiveness of stem cells, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has issued a position statement that any of its members promoting or marketing stem cell techniques as unethical behavior. In addition, the FDA has recently issued a ban on any company that grows patient stem cells for treatment. All stem cell therapies, even using the patient’s own stem cells, must be done under a clinical study protocol. This does not exclude the common use of fat injections in which stem cells exist amongst the fat cells and are incidentally injected. But promoting it as a stem cell procedure is not viewed favorably.
The Acupuncture Facelift employs the traditional Chinese technique of the introduction of needles to free up chi or energy. Allegedly, introducing needles into the face causes the production of collagen and elastin to plump up the skin. After a series of 10 treatments, wrinkles and deeper lines are purportedly reduced and skin is lifted. More likely, some mild swelling occurs as a result of the needles and results in some slight temporary skin fullness but no documented and proven lifting effect that is sustained as ever been studied or proven. This limited injection or needle approach to facial rejuvenation is the greatest stretch in calling it a facelift technique.
Injectable Facial Rejuvenation has a role to play in treating facial aging concerns but should be understood in proper context. They are not facelifts and will not lift up sagging facial tissues. They are principally plumpers or volumizers and achieve any wrinkle or fold reduction through this effect.
The treatment of facial aging has a new twist. Rather than lifting and removing loose skin in a traditional facelift procedure, the concept of adding rather than subtracting has gained some notoriety. The ‘5 Minute Facelift’ employs injectable fillers to add substance to facial areas that have undergone structural changes due to volume loss. Areas such as the cheeks and temples are prone to hollowing as one ages and adding back volume can help restore facial shape and provide a subtle improvement. Because the face is being partially ‘reinflated’, it is said to be ‘lifted’. Restoring volume with injectable fillers can help improve the dimensions of one’s facial features and even symmetry as well. But calling this office-based procedure a facelift is a bit magnanimous. For the younger patient with some volume loss, this ‘liquid facelift’ may be very helpful. But for those older patients with more advanced signs of facial aging, a surgical facelift that takes a few hours is more appropriate.
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.