When you want to look your absolute best – or you’ve reached the point where it’s time to upgrade your looks, you have two options – surgical and non-surgical.

The whole field of plastic surgery has now opened up to a lot more non-surgical options than ever and there are plenty of choices.

How do you know if you should ask for the surgical option or go for the non-surgical one? What are the criteria that help you determine how to make the decision?

Below are six questions to take into consideration that can help you make the decision.

What Type of Time Frame Are You Looking At to Achieve Your Desired Results?

Realistically, your schedule is going to be a primary ruler of whether or not you can afford the downtime of surgery or some of the laser procedures.

For the most part, the non-invasive procedures – such as dermal fillers, Ultherapy, SilkPeel™, CoolSculpting, and Vampire facials are the ones with little or no downtime.

The downtime on surgery is about 6-8 weeks, depending on the extensiveness of the procedure. Similarly, laser procedures may involve an exfoliation of the skin, which takes a few weeks and leaves a redness in the skin for another few weeks. Although the redness may be covered up with makeup, you may feel as if you have to curtail all your social events for a full 4-6 weeks.

Thus, scheduling surgery may not be suitable for winter months when the holidays demand family time. On the other hand, if family members are able to help you more over the holidays, scheduling that surgical procedure may be the most ideal thing to do.

Do You Want the Results To Be Slow or Immediate?

Non-surgical methods to beautify the face generally offer more immediate results. For example, fillers give immediate results. You can also see an instant face-lift with Ultherapy since its benefits include pumping up the collagen content of the face.

The results then improve over the next 30-60 days. You can see a smoothening effect in the skin from SilkPeel Dermalinfusion within hours – and it’s a procedure many women get when they have a big event they would like to attend. (Read Silkpeel Dermalinfusion Vs. Microdermabrasion.)

Surgical methods have downtime. You won’t feel your best after surgery because of the anesthesia effects. Then there will be bruising, swelling and inflammation that could take a few weeks to reveal the more beautiful you underneath the ‘work’.

CoolSculpting effects occur right away and then continue to improve over the next 30-45 days whereas liposuction results are seen immediately although there’s some healing time that's needed. (Read CoolSculpting Vs. Liposuction: Which Procedure is Right For You?)

What Type of Facial Damage Are You Trying to Correct?

Some types of facial damage are a lot easier to remedy than others. If you have fine lines and wrinkles, then modern non-invasive procedures such as laser, vampire facial, SilkPeel, filler and microdermabrasion will take care of them with little downtime. (Read Microdermabrasion Vs. Dermaplaning: 5 Ways to Find What Works For You.)

If your aging has progressed to the point where there are deep crevices along with a loss of facial volume in the mid face, it’s possible that your plastic surgeon will want to start with some fillers to show you the type of results you can obtain before undergoing surgery.

It’s also possible though that your plastic surgeon will say that the type of results that are obtainable with the non-invasive methods will not be good enough for you – or will only be good for a few months or a year at the most. In these cases, it may be simpler to do surgery from the start.

Extensive and extreme sagging of the skin may be at the point where surgery is the only option. You can still combine some of the non-invasive methods with the surgery – this is done a lot. For example, a face-lift may be done but it still doesn’t address the loss of facial volume so fillers are also used.

Methods that boost collagen production in the dermis are also used to improve the overall finished look. Some plastic surgeons are now using adipose-derived stem cells in their surgical procedures, which may one day replace the need for fillers. In this case, the fillers are the body’s own stem cells.

What’s Your Present Health Status?

Your health affects you when there’s a trauma to the skin. Surgery and even some non-invasive techniques can be considered as trauma to the skin; this is why the skin is able to rejuvenate itself so well after the ‘trauma’ of ultrasound, microdermabrasion, or laser treatments.

If you have diabetes, neurological disorders, immunological disorders, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, heart and lung illnesses, or other degenerative diseases, it will affect your healing time for both surgical and non-surgical beauty techniques. If you're taking blood thinners (aspirin, warfarin, or other drugs), this can affect your skin and cause greater amounts of bruising.

Your plastic surgeon will keep your present health in mind when a final decision is made on what would be the best plan for you. In some cases, the answer may be that surgery is not an option at all; you’ll have a much better chance of healing without complications with the non-invasive techniques.

Are You a Smoker?

Smoking is a habit that affects healing. Smoking causes a vitamin C deficiency, which in turn affects collagen formation and slows down healing. It also makes it more likely that you will have bruising and develop an infection.

These are the reasons why plastic surgeons will ask you to stop smoking for two weeks prior to the surgical procedure, and prior to the non-invasive procedure that is scheduled. The plastic surgeon’s intent is to give you the best possible chance of recovery without infection and complications.

Smoking may even affect the choice of treatment – and the plastic surgeon has the right to say to you that you won’t be a good candidate for a certain type of treatment if you’re a smoker. Infections in a surgical wound can be enough to cause scarring, which in turn affects your results.

Are You Looking For a Drastic Change or a Subtle Change?

Dramatic results are extreme changes that can take a woman from where she sees herself as a three or four on the beauty scale to an eight or nine. Dramatic results can occur for women who are older, but many women opt for more natural type of results. They don’t want to answer the question, “What did you do? You look so good!” from everyone in their social circle. They want to keep their beauty interventions private – and that’s understandable.

Dramatic results are generally seen with surgery. The classic makeover that produces dramatic results is a face-lift on a woman who has tired-looking eyes, jowls, loss of facial volume and wrinkles. During the face-lift, the sutures are sewn tightly to make up for laxity of muscle tissues, ligaments and fascia.

The plastic surgeon controls the tightness of these sutures and may opt for a looser connection to offer a more natural look.

The non-invasive techniques on the plastic surgeon’s palette are often used in conjunction with surgery but they may also be used as a standalone treatment. Skin sagging and loss of facial volume is due to loss of collagen and connective tissue; any treatments that boost collagen content will increase the overall appearance of the face.

Ultherapy does this through ultrasonic frequency. Microdermabrasion boosts collagen by making tiny injuries into the skin that need instant repair. Fillers add hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring substance in the skin that keeps the moisture level high.

Skin sagging may be tightened up with non-invasive techniques but the greater the sagging, the higher the chances that the laxity can only be improved by surgery.

What Do You Do To Discern the Next Step?

After reading all these guidelines, the next step is to write down the procedures you wish to have done on a sheet of paper. Then go through every one of the questions and see if there are any strikes against that option.

Here’s an example:

Option: Face-lift Surgery, Woman, 55 years old

  1. Time frame: Six weeks (taking off time from work).
  2. Results: Want them done slowly over time.
  3. Face changes: Loss of facial volume, jowls.
  4. Present health status: Good.
  5. Smoker? No.
  6. Drastic changes? Yes.

Option: Face-lift with Non-Invasive Means

  1. Time frame: Six weeks is ideal.
  2. Results: Fast but are they effective enough?
  3. Face changes: Loss of facial volume, jowls. Fillers, Ultherapy, microdermabrasion, laser and other methods will help temporarily and can re-evaluate later.
  4. Present health status: Good.
  5. Smoker? No.
  6. Drastic changes? Yes, but they may not be good enough!

You can see from this example that the better choice really is the surgical face-lift for this woman.

After doing this type of evaluation, you can then set up a consultation with your plastic surgeon. When both of you sit down and discuss the options, it removes the barriers that prevent a good decision from coming forward.