Cosmetic Surgery Subtracts Years, Doesn't Add Beauty

. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

A face-lift or eyelid lift may make you look slightly younger, but not any more attractive, a new study suggests.

In the research, patients who'd had facial cosmetic surgeryto correct signs of aging were rated as looking three years younger, on average, than they did before their operations. However, they were not rated as looking any more attractive.

The researchers conducted the study to try to objectively quantify improvements in attractiveness after surgery, which are often subjective and based on anecdotal reports.

"Patients come to us because they want to look younger. They want to look refreshed," said study researcher Dr. A. Joshua Zimm, of the Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Institute of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. "We typically avoid telling patients, 'We're going to make you look X amount younger'" or more attractive, Zimm said. "We don’t want to create false or unrealistic expectations." [See 7 Plastic Surgery Myths Revealed].

However, Zimm stressed that the question of increased attractiveness after plastic surgery requires further research. The new study was quite small, and a larger investigation may show a significant difference in attractiveness scores before and after surgery. And because the study focused on plastic surgery for aging, it excluded patients who'd had nose jobs or non-surgical lip or winkle injections, the researchers said.

In the study, raters recruited from the community examined photos of 49 patients ages 42 to 73 who had undergone facial cosmetic surgery. The raters were asked to guess the age of the person in the photo, and rate that person's attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. No rater saw both the before and after photographs of the same patient.

On average, when looking at before-surgery photos, raters estimated patients to be 2.1 years younger than their actual age. When looking at after-surgery photos, raters estimated 5.2 years younger than the actual age, meaning the surgery took about three years off of the patients' perceived age.

Most participants were given attractiveness scores between 4 and 6, and there was no difference between attractiveness scores before and after the surgery.

An earlier study found that face-lift and neck lift procedures— either by themselves or with additional eyelid surgery — take about seven years off a person's age. The new study may have found a smaller difference in perceived age before and after surgery because this research included patients who'd had less extensive surgery, such as eyelid surgery alone or a brow lift alone, the researchers said.

To be included in the new study, patients had to have photographs on file that were taken at least six months after their surgery. This may have excluded some patients who were very happy with their results and did not come back to the doctor, Zimm said.

The study is published today (Aug. 1) in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.