I Hate My Neck

In running across a copy of Nora Ephram’s best selling book by the same title, I could not help but think how many times I have heard this very phrase from patients. While we are long past Thanksgiving,  some may still be thinking of turkey in a different light…that of their ‘turkey neck’.

Many people want to improve the appearance of their neck without having to resort to a facelift. Getting rid of a neck wattle would return them to a younger look and be able to wear ties, turtlenecks or jewelry more comfortably. The fear of a facelift is a near universal one. Whether one feels that they are too young or too old for surgery, do not have time for any significant recovery or cannot afford it, many potential patients are drawn to any procedure or method that offers an alternative.

Some fuller necks or neck wattles may benefit from targeted treatment just to the neck. Such neck rejuvenation, known as submentoplasty, only works on the neck removing fat and tightening muscles. No incisions are around the ears are needed unlike traditional facelift surgery.

As we age, definition and smoothness under the chin and along the jaw line is lost. This occurs due to fatty deposits, weakening muscles and the appearance of loose skin. This results in the obliteration of a sharp neck angle, where the neck and chin meet. Often this just becomes a straight line angling obliquely down from the chin to the lower neck.

Neck skin is different from the rest of facial skin. It generally has much more elasticity and can actually contract or shrink upward after being released from the underlying muscle and fat. Given that the neck skin lies on the underside of the chin, many would think that it would fall downward and hang more after being released. But this does not generally occur unless one’s neck skin is paper thin.

The submentoplasty procedure is done through an incision under the chin. First, fat removal in the neck is done with liposuction. This is followed by midline platysmal tightening and wide freeing of the neck skin from the muscle. Whether liposuction alone or the complete submentoplasty procedure is needed will depending on the age of the patient and the quality and amount of loose neck skin that is present.

Younger patients (less than age 35), who generally have more skin elasticity and have a skin wattle because of too much fat underneath the skin, usually just need liposuction only. Middle-aged patients (ages 35 to 55) have fat deposits also but in addition have a loose or split plastysmal neck muscle and skin. This requires the full submentoplasty method of treatment. Older patients (age 55 and over) almost always need extensive neck recontouring and a facelift is needed where loose skin is actually removed.

In my Indianapolis plastic surgery experience, I have found that adequate neck rejuvenation for many patients requires some version of a facelift. But age is a key factor in determining the suitability of a submentoplasty. In patients under age forty-five, about half of them can get good results with a submentoplasty and avoid a facelift. Over the age of forty-five, however, that number drops to less than one in ten. And over the age of fifty-five that numbers drops to essentially zero.

While submentoplasties are a primary treatment for certain neck issues, it can also be used as a secondary tuck-up after a facelift. Some facelifts, particularly with really saggy necks, will often get some rebound relaxation in the submental region which is furtherest from the point of skin pull way back at the ears. A submentoplasty allows further neck refinement when the results of the facelift begin to relax.

Dr. Barry Eppley