Feb. 21, 2012 -- People often get plastic surgery hoping to take the years off, but a new study gives an idea of just how many years they might be able to take off.
More extensive facial surgery predicted a younger estimated age for patients after their operations, according to researchers from the University of Toronto. Overall, patients looked an average of about 9 years younger than their chronological age after surgery, in the opinion of raters who compared before-and-after pictures.
The more procedures a patient had, the greater the difference between estimates of their age before and after surgery, according to the results of the study published in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery. The effect was "unrelated to the preoperative age of a patient and unaffected by other variables that we investigated," the study's authors wrote.
Dr. Julius Few, founder of the Few Institute for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Chicago, said the report confirms what he has seen with his own practice.
"I believe it is a study that adds objective confirmation to what was already known to be associated with facial rejuvenation surgery," Few told ABC News.
Patients often go to plastic surgeons wanting to look younger, and doctors face a delicate task in managing patients' expectations about how young they'll be able to look after surgery. But age and age change after surgery as perceived by others are usually the best barometers of success after facial plastic surgery.
In the study, the researchers used before-and-after photos of 60 patients who had undergone facial cosmetic surgery. All the patients were about 60 years old, and all but six were women. Twenty two patients had a face and neck lift, 17 had a face/neck lift plus an eyelid lift and 22 had a face/neck lift, eyelid lift and a forehead lift.
The researchers showed patient photos to a group of 40 first-year medical students, asking them to estimate the patients' ages before surgery and the perceived change in age after surgery. After averaging the raters' responses, the researchers found that patients who had one surgery, the face and neck lift, looked 5.7 years younger, patients who had two procedures looked 7.5 years younger and after three surgeries, patients looked 8.4 years younger.
"Our findings offer some objective sense as to our success with surgical intervention as facial plastic surgeons and provide us with more evidence to give patients when formulating their preoperative expectations," the authors wrote.
But Dr. Garry Brody, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California, said it's still important for a patients to take a realistic approach to how successful their surgery will be and to get surgery for the right reasons.
"Inappropriate motivation and unrealistic expectations will spoil any such surgery," Brody said.