Endoscopic Brow Lift: 13 Caveats To Success

Guy G. Massry, MD, Paul S. Nassif, M.D., F.A.C.S.

by Guy G. Massry, MD, Paul S. Nassif, M.D., F.A.C.S. | August 8, 2002 @ 01:00PM

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BrowLiftEndoscopic Brow Lift: 13 Caveats To Success
Presented in part at the 16th Annual Symposium on the Latest Advances in Cosmetic Surgery of the Face, Newport Beach, California, August 8, 2002.

Guy G. Massry, MD
Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Beverly Hills, California

Paul S. Nassif, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology
Head and Neck Surgery
University of Southern California & University of California – Los Angeles Schools of Medicine


Over the past decade, forehead and eyebrow rejuvenation surgery has changed significantly. The eyebrow lift, a procedure once considered traumatic and invasive, fraught with lengthy postoperative rehabilitation, and burdened with complications objectionable to the aesthetic patient (hair loss, anesthesia, scars, etc.), has become a welcomed surgical procedure to both the surgeon and patient. This has occurred as a result of the development of the endoscopic technique of eyebrow lifting. As with all new surgical procedures, a period of trial and error, and a steep learning curve, is inherent to the development and improvement of the technique. This has been especially true with the endoscopic brow lift, as most cosmetic surgeons, regardless of their particular background and specialty training, were not familiar with this technology when the procedure first emerged. As in the development of all new technology, perseverance, hard work, diligent study, and observation will eventually define the significance, worthwhileness, and feasibility of this new technique. This paradigm has held true with endoscopic brow lifting. Contemporary surgeons that routinely perform the procedure have found that it is an integral part of their surgical armamentarium, which has revolutionized, modernized, and simplified eyebrow-lifting surgery.

The authors (GGM and PSN) have been performing endoscopic browlifts since 1996. Over the last five years, our surgical volume with the procedure has been significant and steadily increasing. Our surgical technique is relatively identical and our combined clinical observations with the procedure have led us to develop a series of caveats, which we feel are important to the success of any surgeon who currently performs the procedure or is interested in venturing into it. We have called our series of observations "Endoscopic Browlift: 13 Caveats To Success." In the following paragraphs, we will outline each caveat, briefly summarize its significance, and emphasize surgical perils, which we feel are important.

Caveat #1
Educate yourself with knowledge, education, and practice.
In today's modern surgical era, it is not uncommon for physicians to take an intensive course in a particular surgical technique and then begin performing it on a routine basis. In many instances, there is nothing wrong with this, as most procedures are outgrowths of standard surgical techniques learned during one's period of training. This, however, is not the case with endoscopic surgery. In this technology, one must become familiar with new instrumentation, holding instruments at a distance from the surgical site, performing surgery in a closed space dependent on a video monitor to view the field, reduced tactile sensation during surgery, and an appreciation of anatomy from deep anatomic planes rather than from the skin down.

In the best of circumstances, this can be frustrating, even to the most seasoned of surgeons. We believe the best way to transition into endoscopic surgery is with appropriate preparation (knowledge of the current literature and anatomy), participating in an endoscopic brow-lifting course, and observing and performing a number of procedures with a surgeon experienced with the technique. Then, and only then, should you attempt to perform the endoscopic brow lift as the sole surgeon.

Caveat #2
Precise incision markings are not necessary.
We routinely use three incisions (one midline and two temporal) as entry for instrumentation and fixation points during surgery. The anteroposterior midline incision is approximately two centimeters posterior to the hairline and is one centimeter in length. The temporal incisions are three centimeters in length and are approximately two centimeters posterior to the hairline. The key to obtain a natural looking brow is to create a temporal incision parallel to the tail of the brow with its medial extent at the temporal conjoint fascia. It is not necessary to mark the incisions before surgery, as their location can vary without affecting the final outcome.

Caveat #3
Use high volume, low concentration local anesthetic.
The most important surgical aspect of a successful outcome is creating an environment that allows a clear view during surgery. To create this, a bloodless field is critical. We have found that injecting two different concentrations and volumes of local anesthesia can attain this goal. The local anesthesia consists of 15 cc's of one percent Xylocaine with 1:100,000 Epinephrine to be injected to all incisional sites along the orbital rim where deep tissue release is performed to the central glabellar musculature and for supraorbital and supratrochlear nerve blocks. The rest of the central forehead, parietal scalp, and the temporal region are infiltrated with approximately 30 – 40 cc's of one-fourth percent Xylocaine with 1:800:000 or of a solution consisting of 500 cc's of normal saline mixed with 0.5 cc's of 1:1000 Epinephrine, 5 cc's of sodium bicarbonate and 25 cc's of two percent Xylocaine without epinephrine. The high volume of the above solution creates a vascular tourniquet and augments the hemostatic effect of the original higher concentration epinephrine injection.

Caveat #4
Avoid excess cautery, scalp excision, subcutaneous sutures, and rigid fixation of the scalp.
A major complaint of traditional bicoronal brow lift surgery is hair loss. In the endoscopic technique, smaller incisions are made so that less alopecia is seen. To further reduce the incidence of this complication, avoid cautery to the incision sites (with the aid of caveat number three), direct the incisions in line with the hair shaft (not through it), do not excise temporal hair bearing scalp to aid in brow elevation, do not use subcutaneous sutures to close the temporal incision sites, and do not rigidly fixate the scalp (superfluous, as will be described later).

In general, the less manipulation of the surgical wound, the less the chance of hair loss. We feel this is an absolute dictum during surgery. If the above guidelines are followed, hair loss should be relatively nonexistent.

Caveat #5
Periosteal release is a given, but temporal orbicularis release is essential.
An emphasis on complete periosteal release (elevation, incision, and spreading) has been stressed since this procedure was first described (1). While this is a critical step in the surgical technique, it alone does not lead to sustained long-term brow elevation. In the postoperative phase, creating unopposed elevation of the temporal brow until it scars into place is critical. To achieve this, one must strip the only temporal brow depressor (the temporal orbital orbicularis oculi muscle). We spread and release the muscle until the yellow brow fat pad is exposed. This additional step to periosteal and central brow depressor musculature release has been the most important adjunct to the surgery that we have identified. It has not only stabilized long-term brow position, but has also obviated the need for paracentral bony fixation.

Caveat #6
Bony fixation is not necessary and only leads to complications.
Rigid fixation of the scalp with staples behind screws (most common), or other techniques, puts undue tension on the scalp skin and hair follicles. This invariably leads to hair loss and scarring. With a complete release of periosteum (2), central brow depressor musculature, and lateral supraorbital orbicularis oculi muscle (caveat #5), the entire brow complex will elevate to an unnaturally high position without any tension (Figures 1 A-C) and obviate the need for paracentral fixation (see caveat number eight). Avoiding this step reduces complications, shortens surgical time, does not adversely affect the final outcome, and makes the procedure more accepting to patients.

Caveat #7
Avoid excess glabellar muscle manipulation.
Extirpating the central brow depressors (corrugator, procerus, and depressor supercillii) may lead to an unnatural brow appearance (widened and elevated medial brow) and further complications. We have routinely seen indentations and depressions in the glabellar skin, prolonged sensory deficits, and unexpected intraoperative bleeding when employing this excisional technique. We counsel patients that the procedure elevates the ptotic brow well. We do not suggest that it consistently eliminates frown lines. Patients are advised that Botox is an excellent adjunct to surgery if the desire is to reduce frown lines.

Caveat #8
Deep temporal fixation only (DTFO) (with absorbable sutures) is all that is needed to maintain brow height.
As previously discussed, we only fixate the released composite temporal flap. Brow fixation is achieved by securing the superficial temporal fascia medially to the deep temporal fascia in a superolateral vector with two 2-0 PDS horizontal mattress sutures while the brow is lifted laterally and over-corrected. Permanent suture fixation has led to possible long-term suture extrusion, granulomas, palpable masses, and tenderness.

Caveat #9
Overcorrect brow height.
As with traditional brow lifting techniques, a degree of overcorrection of brow height is necessary to compensate for the inevitable drop in postoperative brow height. As described above, if a complete release of all periosteum and brow depressor musculature is performed, the entire brow complex will elevate to an unnaturally high position. Even with the above statement and overcorrecting the brow height, the brow tends to settle to an optimum position within the first postoperative month. While we have had patients desire a higher height than has been obtained with surgery (usually an over exaggeration of normal brow position), the opposite has not occurred. As such, do not be concerned with what appears to be an over-elevated brow in the immediate postoperative period.

Caveat #10
Botox is an excellent adjunct in the pre- or post-operative period.
Botox can be used in the preoperative period to weaken (cause atrophy) the orbital orbicularis and glabellar musculature. This appears to make release and spreading of these muscle groups easier. We prefer not to use Botox preoperatively. If an inadvertent ptosis was to occur, it may require delaying surgery to a later time (especially if blepashroplasty is added).

Botulinum toxin may be used synergistically with the surgical brow depressor musculature release in an effort to weaken the inferior vector forces and promote the maintenance of the newly elevated brow. Botulinum toxin is used to block the depressor function of the corrugator, procerus, depressor supercilii, and lateral supraorbital orbicularis oculi muscles (3). One to two weeks following surgery, patients are injected with botulinum toxin. The corrugator, procerus and depressor supercilii muscles (medial brow depressors) are typically injected with a total of 18 units of botulinum toxin and the lateral supraorbital orbicularis oculi muscles (lateral brow depressor) are injected with four to six units of botulinum toxin on each side. Botox in these areas helps assure unopposed frontalis muscle action (elevation of the brow) during the critical healing period after surgery; consequently, no botulinum toxin is injected into the frontalis muscle. We have not found an increased risk of diffusion and ptosis from the surgery.

Caveat #11
Be aware of, but do not fear, neurologic deficit. Permanent motor damage is rare. Sensory deficit is common and usually temporary.
Motor nerve injury to the frontal branch of the facial nerve is a rare occurrence. When it does occur, it typically results from spread of heat from cautery to the superficial temporal vein, undue upward traction on the flap, or inadvertent dissection in an inappropriate plane (see caveat number one). In our experience, motor injury has occurred in less than two percent of cases and has universally resolved in the first four to six weeks following surgery, with or without the use of oral steroids.

Sensory deficit is common after surgery. We have found that at least 50 percent to 75 percent of patients describe some form of paresthesia. These changes include decreased sensation (most common), tingling, and itching. Itching is the most troublesome (and fortunately rarest) symptom. Sensory changes can last up to six months. They typically resolve first in the forehead, then the temples, and finally, the rest of the scalp.

Caveat #12
Postoperative dressings can increase periorbital swelling and ecchymosis.
We have found that compressive forehead dressings increase periorbital swelling and bruising. If bleeding may be an issue, place a 10-French drain into the right temporal incision and run it along the orbital rim until it reaches the opposite temporal wound (at the canthus). The drain is removed 24 to 48 hours following surgery. One of the authors (PSN) uses platelet rich plasma routinely with good results. In either case, we find pressure dressings to be unnecessary.

Caveat #13
Be careful when adding blepashroplasty.
When blepashroplasty is added to a brow lift, careful attention must be given to not over-resect eyelid skin. There are two particular areas in which we have found this to be important. When the brow is lifted in conjunction with blepashroplasty, the brow fat pad is elevated, which may yield a more hollow appearance to the superior sulcus (especially medially). Consequently, conservative amounts of skin and fat should be excised. Secondly, when combined surgery is performed, we tend to avoid excising palpebral (eyelid) oribicularis muscle to preserve as much eyelid closure as possible after surgery.

The endoscopic brow lift has become an essential tool to the facial cosmetic surgeon. It has transformed the brow lift into a procedure, that is minimally invasive and performed through small incisions. The caveats described herein are important observations developed over time and with experience. We believe that if one follows these guidelines that consistent, reproducible, and superior results may be achieved.

1. Ramirez OM: Endoscopic subperiosteal browlift and facelift, Clin Plast Surg
22:639-660, 1995.

2. Nassif PS, Kokoska MS, Cooper P, et al.: Comparison of subperiosteal vs
subgaleal elevation techniques used in forehead lifts, Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck
Surg 124(11): 1209-1215, 1998.

3. Zimbler MS, Nassif PS: Adjunctive applications for botulinum toxin in facial
aesthetic surgery, Facial Plast Surg Clin North Am (In Press) 

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