Facelift and patterns of lymphatic drainage

Aesthet Surg J. 2012 Jan;32(1):39-45. doi: 10.1177/1090820X11430683.


Background: It has commonly been assumed that deeper facelift dissection causes greater and more prolonged swelling.

Objectives: In this preliminary report, the authors compare the lymphatic reconstitution after multiple techniques of rhytidectomy by means of dynamic lymphoscintigraphy.

Methods: Three patients were enrolled in this study. All three were female, were similar in age, and exhibited similar signs and degrees of facial aging. Each woman underwent a facelift with a different technique: (1) subcutaneous dissection with superficial musculoaponeurotic system (SMAS) plication, (2) subcutaneous dissection with SMASectomy, and (3) a "high SMAS" composite facelift. Postoperatively, (99m)Tc-sulfur colloid was injected into a standardized infraorbital location in each patient to compare patterns of lymphatic drainage using lymphoscintigraphy. Postoperative scans at two weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, and one year were compared to the preoperative scans taken seven days prior to surgery.

Results: All rhytidectomy techniques appeared to temporarily create a significant and similar degree of interruption in lymphatic drainage. There was a subtotal recovery of lymphatic pathways within three months and complete return to baseline drainage pattern after six months, regardless of surgical technique.

Conclusions: Based on the results of this study, it appears that the extent of facial dissection, rather than the depth, is the most significant factor in postoperative edema.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphoscintigraphy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / administration & dosage
  • Rhytidoplasty / methods*
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sulfur Colloid / administration & dosage
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sulfur Colloid