MONDAY, Feb. 20, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A small, new study finds that people who had facial plastic surgery looked an average of seven years younger than they did before the procedure.
There are some caveats to the research. Almost all of the study participants were women who were middle-aged or older, and the findings don't prove that the surgeries -- instead of other factors such as the mood of the patients -- directly caused them to look younger.
Also, only a single surgeon performed all of the procedures, each of which costs thousands.
Still, the study "does give us some quantifiable evidence that we do achieve significant success in terms of our ability to rejuvenate patients and help them achieve a less tired look," said study author Dr. Nitin Chauhan, a facial plastic surgeon in Toronto.
One of Chauhan's colleagues performed one or more facial plastic surgery procedures on the 60 patients in the study between 2005 and 2008. One group underwent face and neck lifts; another had those procedures plus upper and lower eyelid lifts; and a third group had all the procedures plus a forehead lift.
The ages of the patients ranged from 45 to 72; only six were male.
The study authors then asked a group of first-year medical students to estimate the ages of the patients after looking at photos of them before and six months after their procedures.
The goal of the research was to "see if we can effectively quantify how much we can turn back the hands of time with certain rejuvenation procedures," Chauhan said.
The results of the study were published in the Feb. 20 online edition of the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery.
After they adjusted their findings for statistical reasons, the researchers found that, on average, the raters estimated that the patients looked 1.7 years younger than their actual age before surgery, and 8.9 years younger afterward.
On average, the estimated age dipped by 5.7 years in the first group and by 8.4 years in the third group, which had all of the procedures.
The researchers tried to standardize the photographs by, among other things, asking participants to not wear makeup, Chauhan said. But some factors, such as a person's level of happiness, are hard to gauge, he said.
As of 2010, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated that on average, eyelid lifts cost $2,800, forehead lifts cost $3,200 and facelifts cost $6,200.
Dr. Michael Olding, chief of the division of plastic surgery at George Washington University, reviewed the research and said it "points to the obvious" when it comes to multiple procedures: "The more the merrier, or in this case, the more the younger."
In his own practice, Olding said, he believes that "doing a number of small things makes a tremendous difference when combined, rather than making a tremendous difference in one area."
Olding said he'd like to see a larger study that follows people over time instead of looking backward. Also, he said, the study doesn't look at fat injections or address a major factor in plastic surgery -- the quality of the patient's skin.
Another expert, Dr. Malcolm Roth, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and chief of the division of plastic surgery at Albany Medical Center in New York, has advice on how to find a dependable plastic surgeon.
"Do your homework and check that the doctor is board-certified in plastic surgery," Roth said. "There is too much white-coat deception. Virtually any kind of doctor can legally claim to be a plastic surgeon without any formal training in plastic surgery. Members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons are seeing increasing numbers of patients -- who have not done their homework -- with complications and unsatisfactory outcomes."
Learn more about plastic surgery from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.