Cheek-Lifts Get a Lift

It's been called one of the hottest topics in plastic surgery — and it doesn't involve the breast or the buttocks.

Cheek-lifts are "it," say some plastic surgeons. And though they're not for everyone, they are helping some people look younger at a much lower price than a traditional face-lift.

Surgeons say the procedure can help patients achieve that "fresh look" they lose as they age. They can serve as a fix for droopy fatty tissue in the middle of the face that often causes puffy jowls.

The cheek-lift combats this problem by lifting the droopy cheek tissue, repositioning it back over the cheekbone, and thus restoring the youthful contour of the cheeks, a far cry from the tight, windblown look of some face-lift patients.

"It is a very hot area," says Dr. Darrick Antell, a New York-based plastic surgeon.

But Antell says facial rejuvenation is more complicated than "simply pulling the skin back. You need to actually reposition and lift some of the deeper tissues as well."

Less Pain, More Gain

And in recent years, cheek-lifts have become more and more "user-friendly." While the traditional approach to a cheek-lift involved making an large incision under the eye, cutting down to the cheekbone, and laboriously scraping face tissue off the bone, surgeons have significantly modernized the technique.

Dr. Brent R.W. Moelleken, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Calif., has developed the "superficial" cheek-lift, in which the surgeon makes a small incision under the lower eyelashes, strengthens the facial muscles, and pulls the cheek pad up and anchors it to tissue at the temple. Using this procedure, the surgeon achieves a vertical lift of the mid-face and rejuvenates the area under the eyes with much less risk to the lower eyelids.

Dr. Gregory Keller, a plastic surgeon in Santa Barbara, Calif., and clinical assistant professor at UCLA, takes a slightly different approach with a procedure he says goes beyond the cheek-lift.

Keller's procedure, called a "percutaneous mid-face-lift," lifts the whole area in the center of the face upward and outward, rather than lifting just the cheek pad. To perform the lift, Keller makes two tiny puncture holes just below the sagging cheek, then uses surgical thread to draw up the cheek and re-anchors it at the temple.

"This is simply putting in a few suture loops and pulling it up like a puppet string," says Keller, who adds that the procedure involves no undermining of tissue and can be done under local anesthesia.

As for lasting result, Keller says that, after five years, his lifts have passed the test of time. Moelleken says he's done several hundred superficial cheek-lifts, and no one has returned for additional surgery.

Move Over, Face-Lift?

So does the advent of the cheek-lift, or mid-face-lift, mean the days are numbered for the traditional face-lift?

Experts say this is not likely. They stress that these procedures are not replacements for the face-lift, but should be thought of as additions to it. They point out that only the conventional face- and neck-lifts can address excess skin on the outer face, neck and jawline.

"The cheek-lift is really a subtle operation," says Moelleken, "and that's all it will ever be. This is because the mid-face is really a very small area and you can't expect it to cure the whole aging of the face through a small incision."

Most important, say experts, is that the needs of the individual patient be considered before a procedure is considered. "You have to consider what the patient has," says Keller.

*Editor's Note:* Beginning Wednesday on Good Morning America, Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports on the latest innovations in plastic surgery, from the grandmother who reveals why she had breast implants in her 80ss to a new, scarless procedure to help the thousands of women who want to reduce the size of their breasts. Amazing surgeries and a look into the future — coming up Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, only on Good Morning America.