Newspaper tabloids are full of horror stories about plastic surgery scarring. Scarring is a fear for many of our patients. Let’s put aside all the drama and take a look at the facts and what you can expect after your surgery.
What is a scar?
A scar is part of your body’s natural healing response to skin damage. In their mildest form, they will be little lines of skin that are much lighter than the surrounding skin. They may be hardly noticeable. A few years after the surgery, they may disappear entirely.
However, some scars are really noticeable and form a raised surface above the skin. This raised surface can even extend beyond the incision. There are also scars that itch badly or can cause lingering pain if the healing process goes wrong.
All surgeries involve damaging the skin. While a surgeon will do everything they can to minimize scarring, no surgeon can guarantee a scarless surgery. Additionally, what you do after the surgery is more important for minimizing scarring than what the surgeon does.
So, if I’m going to scar, what’s considered a “good” scar?
A “good” scar is one that is very thin and only as long as necessary for the surgery. These have the best chance of fading with time and remaining unnoticed. However, if you have darker skin it will be much harder to hide a scar. Scar tissue contains no melanin, the compound responsible for dark skin tones.
What scar factors are beyond my control?
The older you get, the easier you will scar. However, scars may be less noticeable on older skin due to other damage over time.
Your genetics may cause your skin to naturally create larger scars than you need. As scarring is a natural response, there is little that can be done if you have a strong scarring response. However, there are procedures to smooth down bumpy scars.
The speed at which your skin heals will also affect scarring. The procedure you get may require a long incision or an incision over a part of the body that moves often. This can make healing difficult and promote scarring. But if your skin naturally heals quickly, your final scar might be really small.
Your weight and fat distribution after the surgery can also be an issue. If you are too big, it makes it much more difficult to close a surgical site cleanly. Depending on your size and the procedure, it may not be possible to lose enough weight to prevent this.
What can I do to minimize scarring?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce the chances of a bad scar after your plastic surgery. The first thing is to follow your surgeon’s aftercare instructions to the letter. These instructions are meant to prevent infection and speed healing, so if you don’t follow them you’re at risk for a bigger scar or one that itches badly due to infection.
You will also need to give your body what it needs to build new skin. This means plenty of water and plenty of protein and nutritious food. It also means that you need to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages while you heal, since these will dehydrate you. Also, if you are diabetic, it’s crucial that you control your blood sugars, as high blood sugar slows down healing. Proper sleep is also important!
Smoking is a definite no-no. Smoking reduces your body’s ability to heal and increases scarring dramatically. If you’re a heavy smoker, you may be asked to quit for several weeks before your surgery. This will let your body can recover enough from smoking to be ready to heal after your procedure.
You should also avoid direct sunlight on your surgical spot until it is fully healed. Sunlight on healing skin triggers a response to form scar tissue. If your procedure is in a spot you can’t cover, ask your surgeon which sunscreen to use and when you can use it.
Finally, if you feel unusual burning or pain at your surgical site, or notice it getting redder or an unusual color, see your doctor. This could be a sign of an infection. An untreated infection is not only dangerous, but the delay in healing will definitely worsen scars.