The shape of the neck is an important aesthetic structure of the face. When it is well defined with a sharp angle definition (between 90 to 120 degrees in profile), it makes the chin and jawline more prominent and flattering. When the neck angle is obtuse or completely open (straight), the jawline becomes obscured and less aesthetically pleasing. The neck can be seen to have a major influence on how the entire lower third of the face looks. As one begins to age, the neck tissues become loose and begin to sag.For some, even at a young age, they have a naturally full with an obtuse angle due to a thicker fat layer and a lower positioned hyoid bone.
While genetics, gravity and time work against a shapely neck with a good angle, there are a number of plastic surgery procedures to improve the aesthetic appearance of the neck. First, however, a few comments on non-surgical reshaping methods. While creams and exercises are touted to improve the shape of the neck, none have been proven effective for making noticeable changes. Some modest changes can be made in the appearance of jowls and neck skin sagging in those who have good skin elasticity withvarious transcutaneous energy therapies. (e.g., BBL or Skin Tyte) These are not to be confused with surgical results but there can be visible improvement. Injectable Botox can also be used to treat prominent vertical platysmal neck bands. These are best viewed as treatments neck for those that don’t have enough of a problem to justify surgery or for those who do but prefer to try a non-surgical approach first.
Full thicker necks with good skin can be treated solely by liposuction. Removing fat allows the skin to shrink and tighten up to reveal the shape of the underlying platysma muscle. While traditional liposuction is effective,the additional use of a laser-assisted technique can help improve the results. Smartlipo, which uses a fiberoptic laser probe, creates heat which not only helps melt fat but can create a skin tightening effect as well. While neck Smartlipo is ideal for younger patients due to their better skin quality, I have seen a few older patients with impressive neck changes as well.
The next level beyond neck liposuction is a submentoplasty. This is a neck tightening operation that not only removes fat by liposuction but tightens the platysma muscle as well. It is performed through a submental incision in which some small amount of loose upper neck skin can also be removed. Also known as a submental tuckup, it can be effective for the very beginnings of neck sagging in younger patients with good skin. It is also historically used after a facelift when some submental skin sagging develops (rebound relaxation) in the first year after surgery.
Facelifts are the primary procedure that can create the most effective change for the aging neck. Facelifts, also called necklifts, can be thought of as being two fundamental types either a limited and full type. Both use incisions around the ear but the length of the incisions and what effects they create in the neck and jowls is different. A limited facelift, which goes by a lot of marketing names (Lifestyle Lift, Quicklift etc), has as its main effect the smoothing out of sagging jowls with a more limited effect in lifting neck skin. It is best used in patients whose primary complaints are about their droopy jowls and not their necks. Full facelifts are used when the neck problem is more significant and its improvement is the main objective of the surgery. It is the most powerful changer of both the neck and jowls and usually also incorporates liposuction of neck fat and tightening of the platysma neck muscles. Chin augmentation with a facelift can also be helpful in giving a more defined jawline.
One other approach to the sagging neck is that of the direct necklift. Unlike facelifts in which the incisions and the direction of skin lifting is based around the ears, the direct necklift removes loose neck skin by excising it down the center of the neck…directly if you will. This is a simpler approach to a necklift and is a very powerful reshaping method of the neck but it does so with the trade-off of a midline neck scar. This can be a preferred procedure for older men (greater than age 65) who prefer the least recovery and have large hanging neck wattles. Male beard skin heals remarkably well and I have not found the neck scar to be a visible concern after it heals.
The last area of neck reshaping, which has nothing to do with age, is the prominent Adam’s apple or thyroid cartilage. For those that have too strong of a neck bulge caused by the strength of the paired cartilages of the Adam’a apple, this can be reduced by shaving the prominence down. This is done through a small horizontal neck incision directly over the prominence. It is a virtually painless procedure with no recovery and a result that is immediate. Most patients obtain results where the size of the bulge is dramatically reduced and a few will end up with a completely smooth neckline.
Dr. Barry Eppley