Any expert will agree that when it comes to plastic surgery, a carefully placed scar is a fair trade off for quality, life-improving results. “Every surgical procedure will have scars,” notes Houston, TX plastic surgeon Olga Bachilo, MD. “A surgeon may do a meticulous job closing an incision but scarring will still be affected by a patient’s genetics and post-operative care.”
“As plastic surgeons we try to camouflage our scars by hiding them in the body’s natural lines, but it is impossible to do a surgical procedure or invasive treatment on the skin and not leave a scar,” reminds Louisville, KY plastic surgeon Chet Mays, MD.
As such, experts say patients play a huge role in the critical healing process of their scars. “Following the post-op instructions of your provider can ensure you get the best possible outcome from the procedure performed,” adds Dr. Mays. “The right care can help prevent poor healing, discoloration—resulting in red or brown patches—and can help prevent a thick, raised scar from forming,” adds Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD.
To help ensure your scar heals as quickly and beautifully as possible after your next cosmetic procedure, keep these expert-approved guidelines in mind.
Do: Avoid Sun Exposure
The most common post-operative piece of instruction given by our skin experts: “Avoid sun exposure without sunscreen to the area,” says Dr. Papantoniou. “Sun exposure will lead to hyperpigmentation and worsening of the appearance of the scar,” explains Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD.
Do: Avoid Harsh Ingredients
Dr. Papantoniou advises against the use of any harsh cleansers, or any exfoliating ingredient or product, to the area during the healing process. “Additionally, avoid applying a strong retinol without guidance from a dermatologist,” says the doctor.
Don’t: Pick or Smoke
Aside from the ever-important instruction of never picking at a healing scar, Dr. Bachilo also serves up a not-so-common piece of advice: “Patients should also avoid any tobacco products for best healing,” she says. The reason: Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, which can lead to delayed or halted healing.
Do: Keep the Area Clean at First
Within the first few days of a procedure, Dr. Mays instructs to keep the incision clean and free of any contaminants, noting “an infection could lead to poor healing and a worsening scar,” says the surgeon.
Do: Use Scar Products
After about seven to 10 days, Dr. Mays says a scar cream should be applied to the incision. “I prefer a scar cream with SPF or UV protection to protect the collagen production and maturation,” he says. “Also consider using silicone gel or sheets once healed to help keep the stratum corneum of the skin moist while allowing the skin to breathe,” adds Dr. Behr. “This regulates fibroblast activity and helps the scar heal flatter and smoother.”
Do: Avoid Tension
Always keep tension off your scars, instructs Dr. Mays. “Applying tension to the scars can lead to scar widening and thickening which can make the scar more prominent as it matures.”