Scar tissue may be a less talked about side effect of surgery. Excess scar tissue that is layers deep may form and significantly reduce function and movements months after surgery recovery. On the surface of the skin, visible lingering scars may cause discomfort and really bother you. Most plastic surgeons, Dr. Taylor Theunissen included, will provide comprehensive instructions to help prevent these complications. But it is also important to go out of your way to learn how you can reduce scarring even before you undergo surgery. This page contains everything you need to make sure that scars – if any – are as faded as possible.

What causes scarring after surgery?

Scars are a part of the body’s natural healing process. Surgical incisions are traumatic to the body and damage the deep, thick layers of skin. When this happens, the biological process of wound repairing will happen in the skin and other affected tissue. Except in circumstances when the wound was minor – this process will result in some level of scarring. The new scar tissue has a different quality and texture than the surrounding tissues. While most scars are flat and pale, the body may produce too much collagen, resulting in raised scars that are sometimes referred to as keloid or hypertrophic scars. These are particularly more common in dark-skinned and younger individuals.

What is the risk of scarring after surgery?

The risk of scarring following your cosmetic procedure will vary from one patient to the other, depending on various factors:

Age – skin elasticity tends to reduce with age as the fat underneath becomes thinner, and the collagen that constitutes the skin changes. Other factors such as smoking, sun exposure, and lifestyle factors may negatively impact your skin’s healing capacity over time. However, one benefit of age is that imperfections that happen over time (such as sun damage) tend to conceal scars very well.

  • Race – African Americans are particularly more prone to hypertrophic and keloid scarring than other racial groups. In fair-skinned people, scars tend to remain very thin and their color is very close to that of the surrounding skin.
  • Genes – it goes without saying that if your parents and siblings have a tendency to scar, then you may also be the same. Talk to your surgeon about possible solutions if your family is prone to scarring.
  • Incision type – the depth and size of your incisions will go a long way to determine the degree of scarring. Highly experienced plastic surgeons minimize the incisions to deliver the desired outcome while minimizing the risk of scarring.
  • Healing ability – some people tend to heal better and faster than others. Also, underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and other chronic health issues may predispose you to slower skin healing.

Tips to prevent and minimize scarring after surgery

In order to prevent scarring after your plastic surgery, you need to focus on the factors that you can control. Following the instructions that your surgeon provided to you is non-negotiable. You may also do the following:

  1. Quit smoking and drinking – smoking increases your risk of scarring, and also impairs the healing process after your cosmetic plastic surgery. This is indeed such a significant risk factor that many plastic surgeons will refuse to operate on patients who do not quit smoking at least several weeks before surgery. Alcohol – on the other hand – dehydrates your body and skin, decreasing your overall state of health. As your wound is healing, ditch alcohol and consume non-caffeinated beverages instead.
  2. Focus on balanced nutrition – focus on a balanced diet throughout the recovery and healing process. Protein is particularly important because it makes up the building blocks that are necessary for proper healing. Eat lots of chicken, fish, pork, beef, seafood, and dairy products to give your skin what it needs to fully heal. If you are not into eating meat, plant-based proteins are an excellent alternative.
  3. Stay hydrated – needless to say, your body and skin need to be well hydrated in order to support the healing process. Consume lots of water and other healthy beverages. You should know that you are well-hydrated because your urine becomes nearly colorless. Keep in mind that if you become dehydrated because you are not taking in enough fluids – this will cause electrolyte imbalances and may also lead to heart issues. In many cases, you will feel overly thirsty and your overall health will be negatively impacted.
  4. Watch your weight – overweight individuals are at a greater risk of scarring. This is so because the fat under the skin can work against your plastic surgeon’s best efforts to seamlessly close your incision sites. It may be a better idea to wait until you have reached – or are near – your ideal weight goal before you receive your cosmetic procedure.
  5. Take good care of your incisions – taking proper care of your incision sites is of utmost importance. This will not only help prevent infection – which can be dangerous after surgery – but also reduce scar tissue after surgery. Your plastic surgeon will let you know how to keep your wound clean at all times throughout the recovery process. In the case your wound becomes infected, make sure that you identify this as soon as possible, and seek immediate assistance from your physician.
  6. Rest as much as possible – depending on the nature and extensiveness of the procedure you had, your plastic surgeon will let you know how long you should rest before you get back to work. It may be a week, two weeks, or up to six weeks. Make sure to stay away from work during this time. It is healthy to move around as often as you can in order to promote proper blood circulation, but avoid any form of strenuous activities.
  7. Don’t put stress on your incision – avoid putting stress on your incision sites by bending, lifting, or doing anything that is overly strenuous. Here’s why: doing this can strain the incision and delay healing, often making your wound bigger than it should be, as well as increasing the size of your scar.
  8. Minimize exposure to sunlight – keep your incision sites protected from direct exposure to sunlight. If the surgical scars are in an area that is hard to cover such as your face, invest in a good sunscreen or wear a wide-brimmed hat when out there. Your plastic surgeon will let you know when it is safe to apply ointments – which is usually after sutures have been removed or the incision is completely closed.

How to fade surgical scars using scar treatments

Certain treatments are available for patients who are overly concerned about scarring. Depending on the nature of your post-op scars, your surgeon may recommend any of the following:

  • Silicone treatments – recent advances in medical technology have resulted in various solutions for healing scars after surgery. Silicone treatments are particularly popular – and very effective as well. These come in the form of sheets that feel like a thick plastic wrap. These need to be applied directly to the wound area. Another silicone treatment in the form of a gel is applied directly to the scar and allowed to dry in place. You may want to discuss silicone dressings and other treatments with your surgeon well before you receive your procedure.
  • Prescription medication – certain cleansers, ointments, or wound care regimens may help – especially if you have a tendency to scar badly. Your plastic surgeon will determine the need for these based on your medical history, healing capacity, and other patient-specific factors.
  • Steroid injections – plastic surgeons usually use steroid injections on patients who are prone to forming keloid scars.

Surgery scarring FAQs

Is scar tissue permanent?

No. Once scar tissue forms, it will slowly be remodeled so it can accommodate the forces and stress that the body experiences on a daily basis. This remodeling process is important to make sure that normal mobility, strength, and range of motion is restored to the previously injured tissue. If the scar tissue does not remodel properly, this can lead to loss of mobility or weakening in the injured area.

Will massage help to reduce scars naturally

More and more doctors are recommending massage as a solution to help post-surgical scars resolve better. Massaging an incision and its surrounding areas may even out lumps or bumps that remain after recovery. Simply apply lotion to the treatment area and gently massage with your fingers. Keep in mind though that you should only massage your scars after the wound has properly healed.

Can I predict how much scarring I will get after my plastic surgery?

The degree and nature of scarring varies greatly from one person to the other. Some patients may have virtually no scarring following their procedure, while others may struggle with unsightly scars. It is important that you fully discuss scarring with your surgeon before the procedure is performed. Many plastic surgeons can utilize techniques that minimize scarring when performing surgery.