Face-lifts have minimal effect, according to new study

Facial plastic surgery does little to improve your attractiveness or how old you look, a new study indicates.
(Ed Jones / AFP/Getty Images)

Before you spring for that face-lift, take another look in the mirror — the face looking back will only look about three years younger and be no more attractive than it was before surgery, according to a new study.

While there’s a longstanding assumption that facial plastic surgery adds beauty and strips years, the idea had never been objectively tested by scientists.

A team led by Dr. A. Joshua Zimm of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City assembled a set of 49 patients who received “facial rejuvenation” from 2006 to 2010; they served as test subjects for the study, which was published Thursday in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. The patients, whose average age was 57, were photographed before and after their surgery, sans makeup and jewelry.

A group of 50 “raters,” comprised of hospital workers and local laypersons, then examined the photographs. They were asked to guess the patient’s age and to rate their attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10 (half-points were allowed). The raters were not told the objective of the study.


To ensure objectivity, each rater examined only a “before” or “after” picture of a given patient so that they were not biased by trying to evaluate the change due to surgery.

The raters underestimated the patients’ true ages, both before and after the surgery. But when the assessments were pooled, the plastic surgery patients looked only 3.1 years younger post-surgery, on average.

Though they looked a little younger, they did not get higher marks for attractiveness. Most people scored 4 to 6 both before and after their procedure, the researchers reported.

But they weren’t ready to give up on the idea that facial plastic surgery makes patients more attractive. Perhaps the problem with the study was that they didn’t include enough raters to allow a “statistically significant improvement in attractiveness scores” to emerge, they wrote.

Alternatively, the raters’ assessments of attractiveness may have been baked into their assessments of age.

“In the future, we may consider performing an attractiveness study alone without age estimation,” they wrote.

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