Once the short-term effects of surgery such as pain and discomfort have faded, patients may find themselves left with a long-term effect that is far less likely to fade—scarring. Today advancements in orthopedic surgery are making some procedures less invasive, reducing scarring, but sometimes larger incisions are unavoidable.
While your surgeon will always do his or her best to avoid leaving scars by cutting in the direction of collagen fibers in the skin (think of how you would cut parallel to the grain in wood when carving), not all surgeries lend themselves to this technique. In addition, no matter how skilled the surgeon is when it comes to closing the wound, even the most precise sewing and stapling can leave a mark. Thankfully, there are some actions you can take following your procedure to help reduce scarring.
8 Ways to Reduce Scarring Before and After Surgery
1. Stop Smoking
We don’t need to lecture you on the reason you should quit for your overall health, but quitting, at least temporarily, can reduce the chance of scarring. Why? Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, which displaces the oxygen in your skin needed to heal your body. Smoking also depletes other nutrients vital to the healing process, such as vitamin C. In fact, smoking is such a factor in scarring that many plastic surgeons will refuse to operate on a patient if they don’t agree to stop smoking at least two weeks prior to surgery.
2. Stay Hydrated
Keeping your body hydrated is a good practice in general, but it can also assist in wound healing. Lack of moisture stops cellular migration and decreases oxygenation of the blood, which can seriously delay wound healing process. When your wound is unable to repair itself at a normal pace, it becomes more susceptible to open air and infection—which increases the risk of scarring.
3. Cut Out Alcohol—and Reduce Caffeine
Not only does overconsumption of alcohol decrease your overall state of health, it also dehydrates the body and skin, leading to the negative effects described in tip number two above. Too much caffeine can have the same dehydrating effect, so switch to decaf coffee and caffeine-free soda while your recuperating.
4. Get Nutritious—and Boost Your Protein Levels
A balanced diet keeps the body in peak condition and helps advance the healing process. Power foods to focus on include those rich in carbohydrates, fats, zinc, and vitamins A and C (required for the synthesis of collagen). However, what’s most important during the healing period is your protein intake. Protein helps fight infection and carries oxygen through the body, both of which can promote healing and reduce scarring. So, plan to consume a lot of meat, seafood, and dairy. If you’re not eating meat, supplements or soy products are a good alternative (beans and eggs are also an abundant source of protein).
5. Lose Weight
If you know in advance that you’re going to be needing surgery, it may help to lose a few pounds. When you’re overweight, the fat beneath your skin can work against your surgeon’s best efforts to close your wound seamlessly, creating tension that causes scarring.
6. Rest—and Avoid Stress
Following surgery, sometimes your doctor will prescribe rest; heed his or her recommendation! Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you should jump right back into your old routine. Plus, if your old routine involves putting stress on your incision (lifting, bending, or anything else that puts tension on it), your incision could be pulled apart, delaying healing, causing infection, and leading to scarring.
7. Avoid Sunlight
You might think getting a little color on your scarred skin will improve it; but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Scars can easily become sunburned, which can discolor them permanently making them more noticeable; in addition, sunlight can cause the tissue to thicken, which also makes it more conspicuous.
8. Practice Proper Wound Care—and Know the Signs of Infection
Follow your doctor’s orders to a tee, and don’t use ointments or lotions that have not been prescribed (beware the miracle scar-reduction cream scams). Because infection is one of the leading causes of scarring, be sure to know the signs (unusual swelling, colored wound drainage, expanding redness, fever) and contact your physician if you think your wound may be infected.
While your physician may be able to recommend other ways to reduce scarring (silicone wound treatment, prescription medications, massage therapy), these eight techniques should help speed up the healing process and reduce scarring. Another way to reduce scarring? BandGrip. The latest innovation in wound closure, BandGrip is a quick and easy skin closure application that uses micro-anchors to hold the skin together, allowing the body to heal naturally.
BandGrip can significantly reduce scarring, as it doesn’t involve sewing or stapling (and by tiling BandGrip, it can even be used for large surgical incisions). You can see how BandGrip works here, and be sure to talk to your doctor about its benefits before your next procedure so you can minimize your scarring.