Some cosmetic procedures — even ones that provide immediate results — are actually less invasive than you think. Botox brow lifts, for example, are not new by any means, but Instagram has recently put them in the spotlight. It's the same with filler that's injected to create a sharp jawline, another trending treatment you can find all over TikTok. One of these newer advancements in aesthetic procedures is thread lifts (Although, not to toot our own horn, we've been covering threads for a while now.)
Known as a less invasive alternative to face-lifts (even the queen of Goop is a fan), threads allow doctors to create a sculpted, lifted look without fillers and without the incisions or scars that are typical of a surgical face-lift. Like a marionette, with one pull of a string (er, thread) your downward-facing brow can be elevated to new heights and your jowls pulled taut.
And now, doctors are using them to treat areas all over the body. Sew, what do you need(le) to know about thread body lifts? Here's all the info you need, including the cost, risks, and long-term effects.
What are thread lifts and how do they work?
"Threads are surgical sutures that have either cone anchors or mini barbs that hold the skin and deeper tissue in a more youthful position," says Julius Few, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of The Few Institute based in Chicago, Illinois.
The threads, which pull the skin in the direction your provider discusses with you, are made of absorbable materials including poly lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), polydioxanone (PDO), polyglycolic acid (PGA), and poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA). (These are chemically similar to sugar, which is why they're often referred to as "sugar threads.") After insertion, these materials are absorbed by the body within a few months and stimulate collagen in their place to retain the modification for more than a year.
"PDO is an FDA-approved suture material that has been used in cardiothoracic surgery for the past 30 years," says Anna Guanche, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute based in Calabasas, California, of one of the most popular thread materials. "It is fully dissolved by the body within four to six months. The presence of this PDO material in the skin stimulates collagen, and this newly produced collagen will maintain its hold for another 12 to 15 months."
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To create a lift in the skin, bi-directional cones or barbs are used on the suture to hold the "lift" in place. If you're squeamish with injections, this may not be the treatment for you — a blunt-tipped cannula is used to insert the threads underneath the skin. Dr. Guanche explains that typical sutures are tied in a loop to make a knot when skin is stitched together (think stitches after the skip of a kitchen knife.)
But in this case, the suture is simply threaded through the skin without a knot, which is why cones or barbs are needed to lift the skin. "You could just put a suture under the skin and it would stimulate collagen but without barbs or cones it wouldn't lift — it's not hooking into anything," she says. But hook them in place and voilà: a more lifted cheek, jaw, et cetera.
What are the benefits of thread lifts for the body?
The benefits thread lifts have for the face extend to the body: there's an instant "wow" factor as the results are immediate, there's minimal downtime, and it stimulates collagen production at the same time, giving a lift to the body part in question.
"I use the sutures in a weaving pattern I developed to give a 3D resurfacing of the skin, hiding excess in natural creases and folds," says Dr. Few of how he uses threads for the arms, legs, and abdomen. He recommends utilizing threads in combination with other non-invasive treatments, like filler for plumping, laser treatments to tighten, and Ulthera, which helps with collagen and elasticity. But, he notes, threads alone can be very effective depending on the patient.
Dr. Guanche has used threads to rejuvenate the chest and reduce the appearance of sleep lines, and they can also be used around the elbow and knees. At her practice, her most-requested area outside of the face is the neck, which can require extra care for a (literally) seamless result.
"You [place a thread] right where the jawline and neck meet to lift the skin and to stimulate collagen," says Dr. Guanche. "The neck skin is thinner, so you have to be careful to use very fine thread because you don't want the ridges to show. You want it to be subtle."
What is after-care like?
Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City, says there should be no visibility of the threads after the treatment if placed right, but there will be a small degree of swelling around the thread for about 24 to 48 hours afterward. "Once that resolves," he specifies, "there is no [visible] evidence of threads."
Caring for your threads after they're placed will help keep them aligned. "In general, [don't] exercise for 48 to 72 hours after face or body threads," says Dr. Frank. He notes that any makeup or skin care can be resumed immediately, but all skin manipulation must be rubbed in or applied upward in direction of the lift so as not to displace threads.
After about two weeks, the threads are healed in place, and Dr. Frank says "the patient will no longer 'feel' them or any limitation due to their presence."
What are the side effects or risks of thread lifts?
Dr. Guanche cautions those interested in thread lifts to be aware that though it is minimal, there is some downtime and minor short-term side effects post-procedure. "Having done it myself, there's possible bruising and some inflammation," she says. "That's how the healing process starts," she says. Temporary dimpling of the skin can also occur but will settle within five days of insertion. And while she hasn't personally experienced this in her practice, Dr. Guanche notes she has read about adverse reactions to sutures.
Because use of thread lifts for the body is off-label (or in a way that the threads are not labeled with by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA), it's especially important to seek out a board-certified doctor with extensive experience.
"[You] should ask for their level of experience and [before-and-after] photos if possible, demonstrating the level of change," Dr. Few suggests. "It is important to go to a provider who has a lot of experience if you are thinking about an off-label indication, as a mastery level is needed."
For those who may be concerned about scar tissue, Dr. Few and Dr. Guanche clarify that scar tissue is technically made of collagen bundles, and threads themselves do stimulate collagen production, but it's rare to experience scars from suture lifts.
"This explains why the effect of the thread is seen beyond the life of the thread itself," says Dr. Few. "Most threads dissolve within one year, but the effect of threads, in my experience, is more than two years. Collagen is key, because we lose one to two percent of our collagen in the skin and soft tissue every year starting at age 21."
Who is a good candidate for thread lifts?
"This application is best suited for the person with slight skin laxity wanting an extra boost," says Dr. Few. "This does not work well in areas where there is excessive fat or severe skin laxity," says. If you have excessive laxity in the area, you may need to consider a more invasive procedure, like a traditional face-lift.
How much do thread lifts cost?
Depending on the type of threads you choose, the size and scope of the area you're getting treated on the body, where you live and the experience of your doctor, pricing starts at about $2,500.