Are Thread Lifts a Lower-Stakes Facelift Alternative?

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It's no secret that getting a face lift is a major commitment. Recovery takes weeks, face lifts are one of the most expensive cosmetic procedures, and they create a lasting change to your face. Needless to say, it's major surgery, and it's not for everyone. But there are a number of less intense options for those who are looking to tighten and lift facial skin without going under the knife. Thread lifts are one such alternative.

What is a thread lift?

"The thread lift is a minimally-invasive, surgical procedure that is designed to alleviate the facial skin and soft tissue laxity that typically develop with age," says Konstantin Vasyukevich, M.D., double board-certified plastic surgeon at New York Facial Plastic Surgery. "Typically, providers use a thin needle to pass a thread that has little barbs or cones that catch the soft tissue [as it's pulled through]." This catching and pulling of the thread is what elevates the soft facial tissue, he explains. Results can last between two months and six months, says Dr. Vasyukevich. (Related: How to Decide Exactly Where to Get Fillers and Botox)

Typically, a provider will use what're called PDO (or polydioxanone, a type of polymer) threads, which are self-dissolving sutures, meaning they dissolve in your body over the course of months, says Peter Lee, M.D., F.A.C.S, board-certified plastic surgeon and CEO and founder of WAVE Plastic Surgery. Depending on the area of the face or neck being treated, providers will choose from relatively smooth threads to larger barbed threads which can create maximal lifting but aren't ideal for areas with thinner skin, such as the forehead, says Dr. Lee. Thread lifts are most commonly used to lift jowls (aka loose skin underneath the chin), but brow, neck, or cheek thread lifts are also common, says Dr. Vasyukevich.

As with many cosmetic treatments, thread lifts are offered by a range of medical practitioners, but be cognizant of choosing the appropriate provider to perform such a delicate treatment. After all, the procedure involves the use of needles and sutures, so the American Med Spa Association's stance is that only people with registered nurse-level or higher training should offer thread lifts.

What's more, "over the years, the thread lift has evolved to do more than just tighten the skin," says Dr. Lee. "It's also now utilized to enhance the volume of hollow regions as well as lines. They can act almost like a filler for the smile line area and also increase the smoothness and improve the texture of the skin as well." (Related: How to Decide Exactly Where to Get Fillers and Botox)

The insertion of a foreign object (in this case the thread), triggers your body to go into repair mode while creating a temporary lift. "It's what we call a controlled inflammatory response," says Dr. Lee. "As the thread dissolves, it stimulates neocollagenesis - where the collagen starts growing. And as the collagen grows in, what happens is that it adds volume to that area." (Related: Curious About the Lip Flip? Here's What You Need to Know)

What are the pros and cons of thread lifts?

One of the perks of thread lifts compared to some of the more invasive cosmetic procedures is that they can be performed under local anesthesia during a brief office visit. Thread lifts can cause bruising or swelling, and it may take a few days - or up a week with maximal lifting - to get the final, most natural, appearance, says Dr. Lee. "Right after the procedure it's going to look a bit exaggerated and maybe within a week or two everything settles into the natural position," says Dr. Vasyukevich. If you've seen a thread lift before and after post on Instagram and thought that the result looked highly unnatural, it may have been taken immediately following the procedure. That said, if you want to avoid the downtime involved with a more serious surgery such as a traditional face lift, the thread lift might suit you. Another advantage is that thread lifts can be reversed; If you don't like the results, you can ask your provider to remove the thread rather than waiting months for it to dissolve.

Now for the downsides. The typical thread lift cost ranges from $4,000 to $6,000, according to Dr. Vasyukevich, so they're not exactly cheap, especially if you plan to get them repeatedly. In the absence of complications, thread lifts look and feel relatively undetectable. In some cases, people have reported being able to feel the thread after it's inserted or noticed bumpiness at the surface of their skin, says Dr. Lee.

Realistically though, some results can only be achieved with a surgical face lift. "If someone just has a sag to their skin, then thread lift can achieve a significant improvement," says Dr. Lee. People who are just starting to show signs of aging will have sagging at a superficial level that can be addressed with a thread lift, but for people who are older and have sagging at a deeper level, a thread lift won't have much of a visible result, he explains. (Related: I Tried Cosmetic Acupuncture to See What This Natural Anti-Aging Procedure Was All About)

This is all to say that there are a lot of factors to consider when trying to decide if a thread lift is right for you. If you like the sound of a less-invasive alternative to the face lift, though, a thread lift may be worth looking into. "I think of the thread lift as the middle ground for people who want more results than just with, let's say, lasers and fillers and Botox, but don't want surgery," says Dr. Lee.

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