The trials, trade-offs and tribulations of upper lip lifts and other plastic surgery.

All plastic surgery has trade-offs.

By trade-offs, I am not referring to complications or risks.

By trade-offs I am referring to subtle and sometimes significant alterations in your appearance that will be incurred by undergoing a certain plastic surgical procedure. It is the doctor’s responsibility to inform the patient of these trade-offs (including risks of complications) while it is the patient’s responsibility to make an informed decision to proceed if he or she feels that the benefits of the surgery will outweigh the risks and trade-offs.

Examples of such trade-offs are the scars in and around the ear that result from a facelift. Even though they may be near invisible, they are scars nonetheless. The majority of patients feel that benefits of the facelift outweighed any of the associated trade-offs. Similarly, patients who undergo an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), mastopexy (breast lift) or brachioplasty (arm lift) should be fully aware that they will develop scars from those procedures. Though the majority will heal well with very acceptable scars, most of the time the scars will be visible to some degree.

Patients who undergo a rhinoplasty must understand that their nose will be numb, stiff and hard for up to 3 months or more while swelling can persist for 1 to 2 years. Numbness from a facelift or a browlift can last many months as well. Despite understanding these trade-offs, the vast majority of patients have no problem undergoing these procedures once they have decided to do so.

Over the years, I have found it curious that a small minority of patients undergoing lip reshaping surgery in the form of upper lip lifts and V-Y plasties had unrealistic expectations in terms of their healing and results. They were surprised even angry that they experienced numbness, stiffness and associated scarring. Sometimes a very subtle change in the nostril position occurred after the surgery. These trade-offs may arise even though the result of the upper lip lift is successful from the aesthetic standpoint-in other words, the net benefit in the sensual-youthful-beauty quotient for the face has been increased. However, a few may consider the lip lift a failure if they have experienced even a slight degree in any of these trade-offs.

Though these trade-offs can mostly be successfully reversed, a patient should not elect to undergo such a procedure if he or she will not accept that these can be normal aspects of the procedure. If one thinks about it, an upper lip lift will have its trade-offs in the same way other procedures would have their own yet it perhaps gets more attention than other anatomical features of the face because the lips are expected to not only look beautiful but also function as well.

And function they do, more than any other part of the face. Indeed, lips are used to express, emote, eat, kiss and speak-essentially they move millions of times a day! Because of these strong repetitive muscle forces around the nasal and oral region the plastic surgeon must create a strong upper lip lift that will resist these forces in order to achieve a result that is long-lasting, with minimal scarring and nasal distortion.

In fact, lip shaping procedures are the most challenging of all facial plastic surgeries, even rhinoplasties. Though the success of facelifts are measured in centimeters, brow lifts in increments of 2 to 4 mm and rhinoplasties in millimeters, lip reshaping surgery is measured in quarter-to-an-eighth of a millimeter! With those scales, one can almost consider this close to microsurgery.

In 2014, it would be a miracle to undergo an upper lip lift with an unequivocal guarantee of no scarring, nasal distortion, prolonged minor sensory changes and stiffness. If you are contemplating undergoing an upper lip lift but will not tolerate any of these tradeoffs, I suggest you avoid the procedure altogether and wait for that miracle to happen.

Lip Lift status for 2014 and beyond

Lip lifts for 2014

Patients often asked me what are the differences between a skin-only lip lift and my muscle hemming technique. To put it simply, longevity, scarring and nasal distortion.

Skin Only Lip Lift

Until the late 90’s, the only lip lift I knew how to do was the skin only type. I would perform this by excising a certain amount of skin below the nasal base and sewing the lower edge of the excision to the upper edge which happens to be the skin of the nose.  The only thing now supporting this entire weight of the upper lip (which happens to move millions of times a day, eating, kissing, expressing and speaking) is the freshly closed incision at the skin level.  One can imagine that this provides little support for all the action occurring around the upper mouth area.  Consequently, the longevity of the lip lift itself is lessened, the nostrils are more likely to be pulled downwards while the resulting scar is more likely to stretch and thicken.

The results of a skin-only lip lift. Notice the widened scars, significant nostril distortion and recurrent long upper lip.
The results of a skin-only lip lift. Notice the widened scars, significant nostril distortion and recurrent long upper lip.

Muscle Hemming Lip Lift

After many years of observing the long-term results of skin-only lip lifts, I developed the muscle hemming technique.  By employing moderate principles of plastic surgery in which nip and tucks (such as a facelift) are improved by lifting and tightening the layers below the skin including muscle I have noted a significant benefit to my lip lifts in terms of scarring, longevity and less nasal distortion.  However, the recovery period was notably increased.  The muscle hemming technique involves placing slowly dissolvable sutures into the muscle layer below the skin and intern suturing that to the periosteum (lining) of the bone deep to the nose itself.  The lip lift is thus a solid one without relying on skin closure to achieve its  superior long-term results while lessening the chance of undesirable scarring and pulling around the nostrils.

Skin Flap Lip Lift

Which brings me to today.  For the last 3 years I have been employing a skin-flap technique which provides all the benefits of the muscle hemming technique but with half the recovery.  Suturing of the muscle is minimized in this technique but none of the longevity and superior scarring is sacrificed. The period of significant distortion and swelling has been halved from 2 weeks to less than 1.  Additionally, the results are “softer” in appearance with minimal to no distortion of the nostril area.

Patient with subliminal long upper lip with minimal upper toothshow
Patient with subliminal long upper lip with minimal upper tooth show
After skin -flap lip lift by Dr. Haworth of Beverly Hills. Notice significant improvement tooth show, natural shortening of the upper lip with minimal nasal distortion. Being a lip lift expert, he developed surgery during to further his evolutionary journey into perfecting the ideal upper lip lift. This new technique also produces softer results those from the skin-only at muscle-hemming  techniques.
After skin -flap lip lift by Dr. Haworth of Beverly Hills. Notice significant increase in tooth show and natural shortening of the upper lip with minimal nasal distortion. Being a lip lift expert, he developed this surgery to further his evolutionary journey into perfecting the ideal upper lip lift. This new technique also produces softer results those from the skin-only and muscle-hemming techniques.

Performing the modern lip lift with minimal-to-no-scarring and achieving a permanent beautiful result is challenging .  It requires attention to minute detail and appreciation of how the oral region plays a central role in facial harmony.  The vast majority of patients are thrilled with the subtle yet powerful results of this operation, but it has taken over 2 decades of  unwavering dedication and imagination to get this far.