Surgery can result in different types of scars, and an important part of any post-op recovery routine is how to treat the incision site properly in order to minimize any scarring that may occur. When undergoing plastic and reconstructive surgery, the incisions and, by extension, scars are in the hands of highly trained surgeons that are known for their suturing prowess.
But once you’re out of the OR, caring for those wounds is up to you and the healing process begins immediately. “I have patients start using medical-grade scar gel the day after surgery while they still have stitches,” says Lesley Rabach, MD, a double board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and co-founder of LM Medical in New York City. “It helps the incision to heal quicker and then it’s all about scar management.”
Scars generally fade over the course of the first year after a surgery, at which point professional scar minimization procedures (think: microneedling, lasers, chemical peels, dermabrasion, etc.) may be employed. A good at-home skincare regimen can ensure the marks disappear before any further treatment is necessary. Dr. Rabach warns against using oils because they have a higher chance of causing milia (a small cyst of oil) around the incision, which can complicate healing. Instead, she recommends the following ingredients to treat surgical scars:
Surgeons have long recommended silicone strips or sheets to help prevent scarring, and using topical silicone gel can be an effective treatment as well. The ingredient can help dramatically reduce the appearance of scars by improving their size, texture, and pigment. Dr. Rabach suggests using a silicone gel once a day while you have stitches and upping the dosage to two times per day once they’re removed. Our pick? SkinMedica Scar Recovery Gel. We like it because it uses lactic acid to brighten and exfoliate the skin and olive oil to help improve tone.
2. Epidermal Growth Factors
Growth factors are proteins that tell cells to grow and heal. According to the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, growth factors within a silicone formula are effective for surgical scar management. “They’re scientifically proven to get deep enough in the dermis to stimulate collagen and help with healing,” Dr. Rabach notes. Once your sutures are removed, she recommends alternating a product with growth factors (we like SkinMedica TNS Recovery Complex) with your silicone gel. Use one in the morning and one at night consistently.
Scars are more sensitive to sunlight than normal skin and can easily darken or discolor. Keeping scars covered is your best bet, but, if sunlight is inevitable, don’t scrimp on sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on top of your scar for 12 to 18 months to protect it. We’re fans of iS Clinical Eclipse SPF 50 because it goes on sheer and is safe for face and body. Don’t forget to reapply throughout the day — every two hours if you’re in the sun or immediately after swimming.
As with any skincare routine, consistency is crucial. Continuously using silicone, growth factors, and sunscreen in the months following your surgery will boost the healing process and save you from additional treatments down the line. Ultimately, patience is the key to success. “It may take almost six months for your scar to disappear,” Dr. Rabach cautions. “But, if you follow the right instructions, it can almost go away.”
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