Worried about surgery scars? Here are some tips
A scar is a necessary part of many plastic surgery procedures, including breast lifts, arm lifts, tummy tucks and more. Yet, there are steps you can take to ensure your scar heals well and doesn't detract from your enhanced appearance. If you're considering plastic surgery or have recently undergone a procedure, you'll want to understand how to care for your scar, so it ends up blending as seamlessly with your skin as possible.
We spoke with ASPS Member Surgeons Michelle Roughton, MD, and Nneamaka Nwubah, MD, about the tips they give their patients after surgery. What we found was that a good scar starts in the operating room.
"We do everything we can at the time of surgery to minimize tension, but a lot of the time what patients do at home can cause issues or increase tension," said Nwubah.
Get help at home
Everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and lifting can all increase tension and sometimes even cause wound separation. That's why Nwubah recommends only lifting objects that weigh less than ten pounds for about the first six weeks after surgery.
"I can't emphasize compliance and taking it easy as much as possible," said Nwubah. "A lot of patients struggle with that, and I find that's what leads to a lot of problems."
Use silicone gel
Aside from avoiding strenuous activity after surgery, the best thing you can do for your scar is to apply a silicone gel or sheet and massage it.
"Silicone and scar massage are two things that have been shown to decrease scarring," said Nwubah. "And what it does is decrease inflammation and redness on incisions."
Products for scar reduction include topical silicone gels and silicone gel sheeting. The one you'll use depends on your surgeon's preference and aftercare instructions. Your doctor typically sends you home from surgery with enough silicone product to get you started. When you run out, buying more is often up to you.
It takes about twelve months for a scar to fade. You should continue to massage and use silicone gel twice a day for the entire time, although patients often need to continue scar management longer according to Roughton.
"Ideally, in a perfect world, you do it for a year," said Roughton. "We think that scars take a year to be as mature as they will ultimately be. I don't think that's realistic for most people, so if I can get three to six months, I'd be thrilled."
Stay out of the sun
Another component of good scar care is minimizing sun exposure to it in the first year.
"The skin itself is immature where that new scar is," said Roughton. "If you expose it to sunlight too early, you can risk hyperpigmentation – too dark. And if you burn it, you can see hypopigmentation where it's too light."
You might have hidden scars. In that case, protective clothing is often enough to protect them from the sun. But for some patients, their scars are in visible areas.
"A lot of my tummy tuck patients, they're excited to get back in their two-piece bathing suits, but there's a scar around their belly button," said Roughton. "And you have to be diligent about either deciding you're going to wear a one-piece for a little bit longer or you're going to put a ton of sunscreen on the scar around your belly button."
The good news about plastic surgery scars is that they heal well for most patients who follow post-operative instructions like minimizing physical strain, using silicone gels or sheets and protecting the scar from sun exposure. While it may take up to a year for a scar to fully mature, the commitment to scar care can go a long way to enhancing your final surgical results.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.