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No Long-lasting Results from Thread-Lifts, Study Says

Posted: May 20, 2009

Thread-lifts, a kind of face lift done with barbed threads placed under the skin, has been found to be unsuccessful in the long term.

A popular type of face lift produces only short-lived improvement in appearance, and should no longer be used given its risks, poor results and discomfort for patients, conclude the authors of a long-term study of patients who underwent the procedure. The surgery, a so-called "thread-lift," involves placing barbed threads under the skin and then tightening them to pull up drooping facial tissues.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Contour Threadlift system in 2005, Dr. Rima F. Abraham of Albany Medical College, New York and her colleagues note in their report. While approval was rescinded after reports of problems, similar products are still available, and the procedure is widely advertised.

To gather objective data on the risks and benefits of thread-lifts, Abraham's team looked at 33 patients who underwent the procedure. Twenty-three had other procedures as well, while the rest had thread-lifts only. Ten more patients who had other types of plastic surgery served as a comparison control group.

Four plastic surgeons who didn't know which procedure patients had received rated the aesthetic improvement for each patient on a scale from 0 (no improvement) to 3 (considerable improvement). A month after the procedure, they saw improvements in all the patients.

However, at follow-up, which ranged from 12 to 31 months and averaged 21 months, the thread-lift-only group scored lowest, with average improvement scores ranging from 0.2 to 0.5. For the patients who had thread-lifts plus other procedures, scores ranged from 0.5 to 1.4, while for the group that only had traditional procedures, scores ranged from 1.5 to 2.3.

Thread-lifts don't produce lasting results, Abraham and her colleagues say, because they don't change the shift in facial volumes that occurs with aging. Also, they add, excess skin left over after facial tightening is left in place. The results seen a month after thread-lifting were likely due to swelling and inflammation, they say.

Complications with thread-lifts seen in the study included visible knots and dimpling of the skin. Three patients had to have a thread removed. The investigators conclude that thread-lifts carry a high risk of complications, while extensive scarring may make it difficult to remove the threads, which is problematic because studies have found up to 20% of patients need a repeat surgery.

"Given these findings, as well as the measurable risk of adverse events and patient discomfort, we cannot justify further use of this procedure for facial rejuvenation," Abraham and her colleagues conclude.

Source: Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, May/June, 2009.

Reuters, May 19, 2009